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Mind & Body

How to avoid the mid-afternoon slump

We are biologically wired to be sleepy in the afternoon, but a few simple tweaks to your daily habits can boost energy levels and see you through the day without yawning, says MALENA HARBERS


“Sleep comes naturally in two blocks – a short period in the afternoon and a longer one at night,” says Dr Rebecca Robbins, who specializes in sleep and circadian disorders at Harvard Medical School. It’s one of our circadian rhythms – the body’s 24-hour clock. What’s more, our body temperature dips between 2pm and 4pm. “It’s another circadian rhythm that increases our urge to sleep in the afternoon, too.” With more of us working from home, Robbins encourages taking a 15-minute power nap as the ultimate energy restorer. But if napping isn’t an option, try one of these energy-boosting lifestyle hacks instead…

Get outside

“Sunlight is one of the strongest inputs to our circadian rhythm,” says Dr Robbins. Exposure to the sun’s blue light in the morning will kick-start the ‘awake’ phase of your rhythm; and, in the afternoon, it can get you through the PM slump. Go for a short walk in the morning, eat your lunch outside whenever possible and, at the very least, open your window. “A bright day can have an alerting effect similar to two shots of espresso, without the jittery side effects,” says Dr Robbins. On a typical day, 10 to 15 minutes of natural-light exposure is sufficient to feel invigorated.

Control your breath

Breathing techniques can transform your energy levels. “Most people are used to being energized and wired, but, if you use your breath properly, you’ll be energized and calm instead,” says Emma Seppälä, a science director at Stanford University and author of The Happiness Track. When we inhale, our heart rate increases; when we exhale, it decreases. “Slow down your exhale to slow down your heart rate,” says Seppälä. “Breathe in for four counts and out for eight, lengthening your exhale as much as you can.” Do this for five to 10 minutes and you’ll notice the vitalizing effects immediately.

Scent your surroundings

Aromatherapy can have remarkable effects to improve your alertness, as Xavier Quattrocchi-Oubradous, founder of botanical skincare brand Cosmydor, explains. “Essential oils used in aromatherapy interact with our limbic system, which controls how tired or energized we feel.” He champions peppermint, lemon, cinnamon, orange and grapefruit to increase your energy and help you feel more awake. Try using the oils in a diffuser, smelling them straight from the bottle or, for fast results when sleepiness sets in, applying a fragrance rollerball to your pulse points, where blood circulation is closer to the surface. “What’s most important is to choose one scent and stick to it.”

Eat more protein

The key to keeping your energy levels up with diet is protein. “Add it to every meal, especially at breakfast,” says London-based registered nutritionist Kamilla Schaffner. “It drives the slow release of carbohydrates in your body, preventing your blood sugar, and subsequently your energy levels, from crashing later in the afternoon.” Drink plenty of water, too. “Dehydration is known to cause fatigue and a loss of mental focus,” she says. When it comes to supplements, Schaffner suggests a daily vitamin B complex, which combats tiredness and fatigue. “B vitamins are water soluble, so they’re flushed out much more quickly with diuretics like caffeine or alcohol.” Reduce your coffee intake and increase your hydration to get the most benefit from them.

Boost the right brainwaves

A recent study published in Neuroscience Research reveals that you can stimulate certain types of brainwaves with sounds. But while some experts still say there’s not enough evidence to make these claims, apps that aim to change brain activity have cult followings by those who swear by the results. Try Mindicine to target beta brainwaves ­– associated with alertness and critical reasoning – using soothing sounds in short, five-minute blocks. Both Calm and offer specifically designed music tracks featuring chimes and bowls, electronic music and forest sounds, for instance, to help you concentrate – and to help increase productivity, too.

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