Beat Afternoon Fatigue Without Coffee!

Stop the midday slump!
A woman holding a coffee cup kisses her baby's head while sitting at a laptop

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, you can feel your eyelids becoming heavy, a headache growing, and a hazy fog overcome you. You’re craving your second (or third!) coffee, a sweet treat, or maybe just a nap. Yes, it’s the dreaded mid-afternoon slump. Whether you’re at home with the kids, busy at the office, or getting through a weekend full of activities, life doesn’t come to a stop at 3 pm. Here are five naturopathic doctor-approved ways to defeat afternoon fatigue and maintain increased energy levels from the beginning of the day right to the end.

Balance your blood sugar

By far the most common cause of mid afternoon fatigue is reactive hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. This typically happens when lunch meals consist of mostly carbohydrates and/or refined sugars and lack adequate protein and healthy fats. This combination raises our blood sugar rapidly and results in low blood sugar or ‘crash’ up to 4 hours post lunch. Symptoms of low blood sugar can include fatigue, sugar cravings, headaches, and feeling weak, shaky or even anxious.

To combat this, ensure you consume 20-30 grams of high quality protein as well as healthy fats for breakfast and lunch. Add chicken or salmon to your salads, beans or lentils in soups, egg salad sandwiches, Greek yogurt or nuts and seeds. Adding protein to your lunch helps to blunt any fluctuations in blood sugar and also provides you with the necessary nutrients to fuel the rest of your day. This change alone can remedy mid-afternoon fatigue in many! Choosing healthy mid-afternoon snacks can also help to stop the slump before it happens. Try cut veggies with hummus, fruit with nut butter, or a trail mix to keep you going strong until supper. 

Stay hydrated

Dehydration is common in our fast-paced lifestyles, and this alone can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness or lightheadedness, irritability and muscle aches. Even mild dehydration and electrolyte depletion can drain your energy and leave you feeling tired. For adults, ensure you consume approximately two litres of fluid per day from water or herbal teas. If plain water isn’t your thing, consider adding fresh lemon, herbs (such as mint), or frozen berries to your beverage. Herbal iced teas are another great option especially over the summer months. Keep a water bottle close by and take regular water breaks during your day to make sure you are getting your required intake. You can also make delicious hydrating foods with an electrolyte kick to bring along for lunch!

Take a break and move

If you’ve been staring at a screen for most of the day, mid afternoon is the perfect time to get up and stretch your legs. Get outside, walk around your building or do some gentle stretching by your desk. Any sort of activity will get your blood moving and help decrease mid afternoon fatigue and declining energy levels. Not only will a walk outside literally be a breath of fresh air, studies have shown that even a relaxed midday saunter can lift moods and increase our ability to handle stresses at work for the remainder of the day.

Choose green tea over coffee

Instead of your usual 3 pm coffee break, opt for green tea instead. Green tea has about a third of the caffeine as coffee, which while still providing you with a mental ‘boost’ will have a less detrimental effect on your sleep and stress hormones. Coffee intake results in a more superficial type of energy boost and can leave you feeling jittery and mentally wired. Green tea, on the other hand, contains potent antioxidants like Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes a calm alertness and mental focus.

Consider adrenal fatigue

Afternoon sluggishness can be a sign of adrenal fatigue especially in combination with low energy in the mornings (think dragging yourself out of bed and directly to the coffee maker) and an energy boost later in the evenings around 9 or 10 pm. The adrenals are the body’s primary stress glands and it’s their job to produce the hormone cortisol. In healthy persons, cortisol is made overnight and is released in highest amounts in the early morning. With prolonged or chronic stress our cortisol rhythm and levels become disrupted, leading to lowered cortisol levels in the morning and afternoon. These alterations in cortisol production and release is commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue and can be a major factor in low afternoon energy levels. Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue include trouble sleeping, weight changes, low blood pressure, inability to handle stress or feeling overwhelmed, blood sugar fluctuations (see #1) and more. The best way to assess your adrenals is through blood or saliva tests via a regulated health professional. Treatment for adrenal fatigue can be diverse, but focuses largely on ensuring enough rest and relaxation is had while supporting the adrenals directly with various herbs, vitamins, and minerals.

First and foremost, make sure you are nourishing and hydrating yourself properly. Add in some mid afternoon movement for a winning combination. If that fails you, have your adrenals assessed by a qualified health practitioner and use green tea in place of coffee until your own energy reserves can get you through the day.