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Afternoon Energy Boosters

Feeling lazy after lunchtime? Follow these tips for beating the afternoon energy slump.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Does this sound familiar? You're going full steam ahead in the morning, plowing through work assignments or household tasks. You take a quick break for lunch -- or maybe just grab something at your desk -- and plan on getting right back to your routine. Instead, at about 2 p.m. you find your attention wandering and your focus flagging, and all you really want to do is take a nap. How can you get a quick energy boost to keep you going?

What's Causing the Afternoon Slump?

First, you should understand where that sudden crash probably came from. "There seems to be a natural rhythm or set clock in our bodies, so many people tend to feel a little sleepy around 2 or 3 in the afternoon," says Lona Sandon, RD, MEd, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "There seems to be something natural about this lull. Some cultures have the siesta, and people find that they're more productive and better able to concentrate if they take time off after lunch and come back later."

WebMD's sleep expert, Michael J. Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep, explains that midday sleepiness is like a miniature version of the drowsiness you feel just before bedtime. "It has to do with a dip in your core body temperature," Breus says. "Right before you go to sleep at night, your core temperature begins to drop, which is a signal to the brain to release melatonin. The exact same thing happens on a smaller scale between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. It's a mini-signal to your brain to get sleepy."

But don't blame it all on your body's internal clock -- your body makes you sleepy, but your own eating habits may make you fatigued -- for a double whammy leading to a massive energy crash. "Often, people don't fuel their bodies well enough when they start the day," Sandon tells WebMD.

If you're feeling sluggish in the early afternoon, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I eat breakfast?
  • What did I eat for breakfast? (A cup of coffee doesn't count.)
  • What did I eat for lunch? Was it from the vending machine?

Your answers may point to the problem. A cup of coffee on the run for breakfast and a candy bar from the vending machine for lunch may give you the quick jolt of sugar and caffeine you need to get started, but not the long-term fuel you need to keep going, Sandon says. "They will only help for a very short time, and it's not enough to keep the body and brain functioning at their peak."

Foods for an Energy Boost

If you want to beat the midafternoon slump, start first thing in the morning with a good-quality breakfast. (We lecture our kids about it, but how often do we take our own advice?) Most women should be eating about 300 to 400 calories for breakfast, and most men, about 500, says Sandon. Instead of coffee and half a Danish, try these options:

  • A bowl of cereal with skim milk and a glass of juice or piece of fresh fruit
  • Two slices of toast with peanut butter and a banana
  • An English muffin topped with a scrambled egg and a slice of low-fat cheese

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