It’s 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, do you know where your energy is? There’s a reason why line-ups at coffee shops are always long around this time of day – and it’s not just because the specialty brewed coffees taste so good!
Our energy levels naturally dip in the afternoon because of our circadian rhythm – the 24 hour cycle that guides our body physically and mentally, based upon the light and darkness of our environment. Our circadian rhythm is really a hormonal rhythm. It uses the cortisol hormone to wake us up and the melatonin hormone to help us fall asleep. In this rhythm our cortisol naturally starts to decline in mid-afternoon. So this decrease in cortisol – coupled with the effects of chronic stress – is one of the main reasons why we experience an energy crash in the afternoon that sends us off in search of the nearest caffeinated beverage.
For most of my patients, this energy crash is one of the greatest challenges that impedes their ability to achieve a desired work/life balance. For example, my patient Joan is a corporate lawyer in a large firm. Joan finds she is effective at getting her work completed in the morning once she’s had a good night’s rest. However, after lunch she finds her energy levels drop significantly. This drop in energy affects her focus and concentration making it difficult to complete work in a timely manner, which means Joan needs to stay late at the office. Joan has a young daughter and wants to leave the office at a reasonable time so she can have dinner with her family and spend quality time with her daughter before she goes to bed.
I know there are a lot of people like Joan who struggle with the afternoon energy crash, so I would like to share my favourite tips for dodging the (energy) doldrums. Next time you feel your energy levels start to drop, instead of lining up for that cup of coffee, consider trying one of my natural energy boosting suggestions below.
1. Exercise – Exercise gets our blood pumping and gives us energy. If you don’t have time for a gym break, try going for a 5-10 minute brisk walk outside, or if you’re in a tall office building, try descending and ascending a few flights of stairs. If you have the space, try a few sets of squats, push-ups or jumping jacks in your office. Why not make it fun and instead of a group coffee break make it a group exercise break? Whatever type of quick exercise you do, the key is to get your heart rate up so your blood is pumping.
2. Water – One of the symptoms for dehydration is fatigue. Do you know how much water you drink on a daily basis? Chances are, if you’re not drinking at least 8 glasses of water (plus additional glasses for every cup of coffee you have) you are likely dehydrated. Caffeine is a diuretic which causes increased trips to the bathroom, meaning each time we are losing water from our body. Therefore, drinking caffeine puts us into a vicious cycle where we drink caffeinated beverages for energy, becoming dehydrated in the process. This results in us feeling even more tired once the caffeine buzz has worn off. Next time you feel your energy crashing try drinking a big glass of water instead.
3. B Vitamins – B Vitamins are an essential component in the production of our body’s energy, and when we’re under stress our B vitamins are used up rapidly. A deficiency in B vitamins can leave us feeling fatigued and sluggish. If you find most days your energy is drained after a busy, productive morning, try taking a good quality B vitamin at lunchtime to help reduce the afternoon energy crash. Better yet, talk to your naturopathic doctor about B12 injections to find out if this therapy is right for you. I have found a lot of success in treating patients with burnout with B12 because it gives them the coffee “high” without the negative effects of caffeine that tax the body. One tip with B vitamins is to take them early enough in the afternoon so that they won’t affect your ability to fall asleep.
4. Protein – Lastly, just as breakfast is important to help us stay energized throughout the morning, a well-balanced lunch is equally important to help us maintain our energy and focus for the afternoon. I recommend that my patients increase their serving of protein for lunch and decrease the carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted into melatonin, which is a hormone produced by our bodies to help us have a restful sleep. So if you’ve just eaten a big plate of pasta for lunch chances are your energy will dip quite rapidly once your body has digested the meal. To avoid this energy crash I recommend having a simple, but well-balanced lunch. My favourite suggestion is some protein (i.e., chicken, fish, eggs, meat or tofu) on a bed of veggies and greens, topped off with some olive oil.
(Originally posted August 2015)