10 Ways to Help Employees (and Yourself) Beat the Afternoon Slump

The afternoon slump is real. Try these tips for keeping energy and productivity levels up after lunch at work.

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10 Ways to Help Employees (and Yourself) Beat the Afternoon Slump

Here's what you need to know:

  • To boost energy in the afternoon, try hydrating, eating a healthy snack, or chewing gum
  • Take a few minutes for a quick stretch or walk and give your eyes a break from your computer screen
  • Interact with colleagues or listen to some upbeat music in the afternoon
  • Try to take a break outside or brighten up the lighting in the office

The afternoon slump isn’t just a marketing tool for selling over-caffeinated beverages.

It’s real and recognized. Most businesses see a marked decrease in engagement and productivity after employees return from lunch. It’s not just because they all had a turkey club with extra tryptophan: it’s because that’s how our body is meant to work.

The Sleep Foundation outlines there are 2 body systems responsible for our ‘sleep drive,’ or the need to sleep, at any time of the day.

For most people, these alert/tired times follow sleep/wake homeostasis and circadian rhythms — essentially, your internal body clock. The peak times for wanting sleep: between 2-4 am and between 1-3 pm. It’s no wonder that afternoon siestas are favored in many countries.

Some employees seem to cruise through the day without a yawn until the end of their shift. Others feel like zombies about an hour after they get back from lunch. Most workers are among the majority (4 out of 5 according to 1 study) who feel the afternoon energy dip.

In the U.S., siesta time isn’t an option for most businesses. So, getting over that hump without a 6-pack of Mountain Dew is a challenge. Businesses can help their employees re-energize in the afternoon with a few pieces of advice, and a few hands-on methods.

Why are we so tired in the afternoon?

There are several contributing factors that make the afternoon slump even more prominent in some workers. Give your employees the facts on how the rest of their day is impacting their afternoon drowsiness.

Many people aren’t getting enough sleep each night

Not getting enough sleep at night isn’t helping the afternoon slump. The CDC estimates about 1/3 of adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep per night — 7 to 9 hours. If you’re not sleeping enough at night, it will catch up to you during the day.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report, 40% of adults fall asleep during the day at least once a month: about 60 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. Encourage employees to focus on their well-being: including getting enough sleep at night.

Stress can also lead to fatigue

Stress is also a contributing factor. When employees are stressed, either from work or personal issues, their cortisol hormones work overtime. This adds to the feeling of being depleted.

If you’re stressed and not getting enough sleep at night, the problem is amplified. Suggest resources that can help employees manage their stress levels, at work and at home.

You are what you eat

Diet can make matters better or worse: too many carbs or sugars in the morning may get you going, but the crash is real and lingering. Lack of hydration depletes water and electrolytes from the body, adding to fatigue.

Some data suggests even mild dehydration causes reductions in short-term memory, headaches, and poor concentration. For lunch, skip the sweet beverages and opt for water.

10 tips for how to get out of the afternoon slump

There are ways employees and businesses can help pull out of the afternoon slump. Some take a few minutes away from work to maximize the rest of the hour. Others are small changes that can make a big difference.

1. Hydrate and grab a healthy snack in the afternoon

Consider passing out, or recommending, water in the afternoon. A bit of hydration helps boost energy and combat the slump.

Healthy snacks, like yogurt, fruit, or nuts can also help. If you can, keep these on hand for employees to munch on when they’re feeling drained.

2. Chew some gum to increase heart rate and blood flow to the brain

Chewing increases your heart rate and blood flow to the brain. These can help make you feel more alert.

Chewing gum is an inexpensive way to boost your energy, at any time of day. As long as there are no bubble contests, remind employees to try this blood-flow booster.

3. Take a few minutes for a quick stretch or walk

Experts recommend stretching throughout the day to keep your energy levels up. For employees who are at a desk or doing repetitive tasks, this can be especially helpful in boosting energy and reducing the chance of harm.

Experts recommend stretching throughout the day to keep your energy levels up.

Every 20 to 30 minutes, stand up, or stop doing the task, and take a 5 minute stretch or walk. Remind employees with an all-office notice to stop everything and stretch. Or have them set a timer on their computer or workstation to remind them to ‘move-it, move-it’ regularly.

4. Try the 20-20-20 rule for eye health when working on computer screens

Eye fatigue can make the afternoon slump worse. Staring at a screen all day may also damage your vision in the long term.

There’s a simple fix called the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes at the screen, find an object 20 feet away, then stare at it for 20 seconds. This lets your eye muscles relax, reduces mental fatigue, and prevents eye strain.

If employees with glasses stare at a screen all day and are draining the company’s aspirin reserves, they may need a new prescription. Ask them to talk to their vision care provider to make sure their lenses are specialized for computer screen work. This can help reduce eye fatigue and drowsiness.

5. Chill out with a splash of cold water to increase energy

The movie standby to get someone back on track — a slap in the face and a stern ‘snap out of it!’ isn’t office-appropriate, but there is a quick way to snap out of a slump.

Feeling drained on your way to an important meeting? Don’t ask someone to give you a slap. Splash your face with cold water, or towel it off with a cool rag, to realign your energy levels.

6. “Email in person” and interact with colleagues

If you have to shoot off a message to a coworker who’s nearby, walk it over instead. Taking a few minutes to take a few steps — briskly is even better — gives an opportunity to stretch, get away from the screen, and interact with a colleague. There are 3 slump-fighters for the price of 1.

7. Switch to peppy music or grab earbuds in the afternoon

Some people are motivated by music. If your company pipes in elevator music all day, it’s hard to imagine how anyone stays awake.

Consider switching it up to a more peppy pace in the afternoon (or all day) to boost energy levels. If you don’t have music running, encourage employees to pop in their earbuds for a bit of pop in the afternoon to boost their energy levels.

8. Enjoy a breath of fresh air and a burst of sunshine

If possible, a breath of fresh air, even for just a few minutes, can rejuvenate in the afternoon. If it’s a sunny day, you’ll also get a burst of vitamin D.

It’s not possible for all employees — you can’t empty out the entire 4th floor — but encourage a bit of nature (even in an urban jungle). Some research shows even 5 minutes outdoors can boost your mood.

9. Brighten up the lighting in the afternoon

While it might not be possible if you have overhead fluorescents, brightening up the lighting in the afternoon can help. Turn those dimmer switches up to 11.

Employees could add a small gooseneck lamp in their cubes to add a bit of light, or increase the lighting on their screen. Mood lighting isn’t just for date night; it can work in daylight, too.

10. Schedule afternoon team collaboration sessions

Schedule team talks in the afternoon. Unlike meetings, where you’re listening (hopefully) to others speak, team collaboration sessions require input.

If possible, schedule these when you’re all about to slump. The interaction with others (after a few minutes of commiseration) can help boost everyone’s energy as the team gets to problem-solving.

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Plan your most focus-centric tasks for the mornings

There may be a reason surgeons schedule most procedures early in the morning: because they know it’s when they’re most alert. If you can, plan on doing your most focus-centric tasks before lunch, leaving the afternoon for duties that don’t require maximum attention. This may not help you get out of the slump but it may make the fallout easier to deal with.

The afternoon slump is probably costing your business in productivity and customer care. The majority of workers experience it, so offer these suggestions to prevent the energy drain. Anything you do to help can boost their mood and your bottom line.

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