Fighting Off Sleepiness: Myths and Facts
Myth: A candy bar or can of soda will give me a kick-start.
Fact: Sugar will give you a temporary lift, but when it wears off you're
likely to be even more tired than before.
People are often tempted to seek out the soda machine or the candy counter
when they hit that afternoon slump. When we are fatigued, our bodies often
crave a rush of fuel to keep us going, and Shives says that studies bear out
this anecdotal experience.
"Research shows that if sleep-deprived people are offered an array of foods,
they disproportionately choose sugary and/or fatty items," she says. "Our
bodies crave foods that have a high glycemic index because they provide a quick
boost of energy."
The trouble is, when the sugar high wears off, you are likely to feel even
more tired than you did before. One study found, for example, that an hour
after drinking high-sugar energy drinks, sleep-deprived patients were sleepier
and had more lapses in concentration than patients in the control group, who
didn't drink the sugary drink.
To minimize afternoon drowsiness, Shives recommends that you eat a light
lunch. "Avoid fats, sugars, and carbohydrates," she says. "Have some lean
protein -- but be sure to keep it light."
Myth: Exercise will only make me more tired.
Fact: Moderate exercise can help combat drowsiness and leave you alert and
Exercise is an excellent way to ward off an after-lunch circadian dip, says
Shives. It doesn't have to be a big time commitment: "You don't have to
spend hours at the gym," she points out. "A brisk 10-minute walk, or some
vigorous stretching, will give you a quick pick-me-up."
Shives advises patients to pinpoint the time they typically get tired in the
afternoon and to take an exercise break right before that time. "Don't wait
until you start to feel tired," she says. "Walk around the block or do some
stretches before your circadian dip hits, or you'll never get out of your
According to Miran, "Daily exercise is the best natural sleep aid there is.
Even a 20-minute walk taken at least four to five hours before the normal
bedtime will help you fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep." It is
important not to exercise too close to bedtime, because the stimulation can
disrupt your sleep. (Miran cautions that you should always check with your
physician before beginning an exercise regime.)
Myth: Sleepiness is normal -- I just have to live with it.
Fact: If you experience persistent sleepiness, you should consult your
doctor: It could signal an underlying condition that requires treatment.
Sleepiness may be a fact of contemporary life, but that doesn't mean you
should ignore it. If you often feel drowsy during the day, you should consult
your physician. Drowsiness could be a sign of an underlying health condition
that should be addressed.