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Employee Wellness: 5 Ways to Beat the Afternoon Crash

Fatigued female wearing glasses pushing glasses up holding eyes. Female is sitting at a desk in front of an open laptop. There is a coffee cup, plant, paper, and pens still on her desk. The background is blurry but there is a shelf with a plant, lamp, and decor.

It’s 2 p.m. and you are yawning, tired, extra moody, and have a headache. You feel like you could devour all of the carbs and sweets in the vending machine and will likely rip off the front case if it does not dispense your tasty treat faster. We’ve all been there. You my friend, are having the “afternoon crash.”

What is the “afternoon crash”?

First, we have to start with the circadian rhythm. You might be saying, “the what?” Well, basically, it is your sleep-wake cycle over 24 hours. It is what tells your body to be awake and to sleep. The strongest dip is between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. (when most of us are sleeping, so that makes sense) and the second strongest dip is between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. (when most of us feel that afternoon crash).

Naturally, you are going to feel more tired during the 2-5 p.m. time frame. But, lifestyle factors can either make it much worse, or, they can make it barely noticeable. The choice is yours. Here are a list of 5 factors that can help make or break your afternoon productivity at work.

1. Sleep

Only 1/3 of adults say they get the recommended amount of sleep. What is the recommended amount of sleep? Experts say 7-9 hours per night. Sleep has been shown to be the biggest culprit of the afternoon crash. How can you increase your quality of sleep and catch more Zs?

  • Reduce electronic screen time the hour prior to bed

  • Create a bedtime routine, and stick to it

  • Create a cool and dark sleeping environment

  • Try some aromatherapy with lavender oil

  • Use an acupressure mat to help to relax and put you to sleep faster

2. Nutrition

Help to reduce the crash before it starts by creating balance in your meals. Having a breakfast, lunch, or morning full of sugar and carbohydrates is going to cause your glucose to spike and then crash resulting in fatigue, headaches, and moodiness. These symptoms mirror the symptoms for the afternoon crash, exacerbating its effects. You want to think:

Balanced meals = protein + carbs + fat

What does this look like?

  • Some breakfast ideas: avocado toast with egg, and Greek yogurt with berries topped with granola

  • For lunch: a sandwich on whole wheat bread with meat and lots of vegetables

You want to also try to keep balance when you are craving those afternoon crash carbs and sweets. Having a snack prepared and at your desk such as trail mix will help you from taking that trip to the vending machine.

3. Movement

Getting your blood pumping can help to improve the afternoon crash. Studies have shown brief stair walking to be as effective as a cup of coffee.

How can you exercise while at work?

  • Take the stairs

  • Set an alarm on your phone to get up from your desk every hour

  • Do some at your desk exercises

  • Request a standing desk

  • Set a steps goal for the day and track via your phone

  • Use your lunch break to get outside and go for a walk

4. Sunlight

Helps to regulate our melatonin/serotonin rhythms, which improves mood, energy, and sleep quality. Sunlight also gives increased energy levels by boosting vitamin D synthesis. If you work inside a building with little access to the sun, your melatonin/serotonin rhythm can get out of whack. Incorporating some of these tips for getting more sunlight during your workday can help to keep those rhythms in balance and improve your mood, energy, and sleep quality.

  • If you have a small meeting, see if your coworkers want to hold the meeting outside - they might be just as eager as you!

  • Eat your lunch outside

  • Starting a walking club (bonus- incorporates movement and sunlight)

5. Taking a metal break

Sometimes you just need to take a break. There are ways to take breaks and fully disconnect and there are ways to take breaks and still be productive. Follow some of these tips for giving your mind the break it needs.

  • Put down what you are working on and close your eyes for a few minutes to reset.

  • Brainstorming with a coworker on a particular project can help in many capacities. You will get some movement in by walking to their desk. You are changing your environment which can help you to reset your mind. And you are also getting a different point of view therefore contributing to your productivity.

  • Do you have several items on your to do list for the day? Have you hit a wall with the current task you are working on? Switch tasks. This will allow your brain to break up tasks and restart with a new.

  • If all else fails, nap. If you are able to, take a 15-30 minute power nap in your car during your lunch break. If your company provides nap or relaxation rooms, take advantage of those benefits. Of course, always check with and follow your company’s policies.

Bottom line

The afternoon crash is biologically programmed to happen. But, to what extent is up to you. By tweaking some lifestyle factors, you can create a drastic improvement in the tolerability of your afternoon crash.

Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by downloading our brochure.

Written by: Claire Dewechter, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern


2. CDC


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