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Getting Through the Afternoon Slump, Nap-Free

Getting Through the Afternoon Slump, Nap-Free

Psssht, remember when you were young and you used to hate those enforced afternoon nap times? Well, no-one will judge you if you now admit that a daily nap in the afternoon would be a blessing to your adult, full-time employed self.

Unfortunately, for many of us the reality is such that we cannot afford to nap in the afternoon. Trust me, coming from a siesta-loving country, I should know how difficult a nap-unfriendly schedule can be to bear. Like clockwork, your mind will wander around 3pm each day. You might stare off into distance then shake your head to get back into the game, but it’s difficult. Focusing your attention on the screen in front of you requires more effort than you feel you can give. Your mind has just about shut down as you’re overwhelmed with desire to just snooze away.

An online search for afternoon sleepiness cures would have us think that the slump is an occurrence which we can control or eliminate by manipulating external factors such as diet, however, much of this advice is superficial and doesn’t consider the causes of the dreadful slump. There is a good reason why it occurs “like clockwork”.

Why do we “slump”?

Not to worry, the slump isn’t due to the filling lunch you’ve had earlier. In fact, studies have shown that sleepiness will still occur whether a person has skipped the midday meal or not(1).

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Rather, the root cause of our afternoon woes seems to be intrinsic; whether we feel sleepy or alert is dependent on our body clocks. Interestingly, in a 24-hour period we can expect our alertness will drop twice: once during the night (between 2am and 4am) and then again 12 hours later, which for most of us falls in the middle of the work day.

An exception to these hours between 2 and 4 are people who are categorised as “morning-active” and “evening-active” individuals. The timing of when their sleepiness peaks might happen earlier, i.e. later in the day, because their body’s temperature cycle also peaks earlier or later in the day.

It is worth noting that any link between changes in body temperature and changes in sleepiness needs further investigation. In any case, few people will fall either side of the spectrum; most of us sit comfortably in the middle as 3pm finds us droopy-eyed—head resting on the palm, elbow on the desk.

The one thing to avoid

There is one factor which has been shown to enhance how sleepy we feel in the afternoon, and that is boredom.

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In one study, participants who were acutely bored in the afternoon took much longer to react to stimuli than both those participants who were in an interesting environment, and those participants who were bored at a different time of day(2) (in the evening, when we start feeling the pressure to sleep).

One surefire way to induce boredom is by doing monotonous tasks, like driving. The occurrence of accidents in traffic peaks at the time that coincides with the average afternoon slump. Interestingly, there is another peak that coincides with the nightly dip that occurs between 2am and 4am.(3)

Thus, the first rule I follow is to stay away from uninteresting to-dos after lunch. If necessary, I will switch up my workload to keep things interesting. Working in a dynamic environment will undoubtedly help as well. This rule usually helps me feel less or not at all sleepy in the afternoon. On the occasions it doesn’t work, there are a few other techniques, which have so far worked for me, in my battle plan. Best of all, combining more than one has led to bigger benefits in feeling alert and being productive.

Grabbing a coworker for a chat

Having a chat with a coworker or another person in the vicinity (best to avoid someone who tends to monopolise conversation) can both prevent boredom and distract me from fantasising about taking a nap. Research agrees—conversing keeps us engaged and is a technique for countering sleepiness that is preferred by 35% of drivers interviewed in a 2008 study(4).

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Sometimes even small talk can be stimulating enough for me, but what really makes a difference is laughter: it is after I’ve had a few belly laughs that I feel truly refreshed and excited to get back to work.

Taking a brisk walk

Similarly to laughter, a brisk walk in the afternoon immediately makes me more alert. Furthermore, some research has shown that brisk walking (or another vigorous activity performed regularly) can help reduce sleepiness during the day and improve the overall quality of the sleep we get during the night(5).

Standing in natural bright light

Just standing in the window can expose you to enough natural bright light necessary for rejuvenation(6).

A 2006 research study recommends exposure to natural bright light indoors and for a short time period as a countermeasure to afternoon sleepiness, especially in workplaces that aren’t nap-friendly. Participants in the study were more alert after exposure, although it didn’t seem to also have a significant impact on their performance.(6)

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Other alternatives to naps

To be clear, I am not against taking naps—in university I used to take power naps religiously. Sadly, regardless of any personal benefits I’ve seen from them or scientific findings in favour of afternoon naps, they just don’t fit my schedule or my way of work at the moment.

If you can relate to this problem, then I hope the ideas above prove helpful or at least encourage you that naps are not a “must” and they are certainly not the only (maybe not even the best) way to overcome the sudden onset of sleepiness in the afternoon. In fact, for some, sneaking in a nap in the afternoon can later mean the difference between getting a good night’s sleep or lying awake in bed for hours.

Luckily for us non-nappers, the field of sleep research is still relatively new and exciting and so there are studies being carried out testing how even quirkier solutions, like chewing gum, can contribute to helping us feel more alert. What I want to know is, have you yourself any alternatives to suggest? Because where I am, 3pm is approaching fast…

(1) Akerstedt, T., Polkard, S. (2004). Predictions from the three-process model of alertness. Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, 75(3), A75-83.
(2) Mavjee, V., Home, J.A. (1994). Boredom effects on sleepiness/alertness in the early afternoon vs. early evening and interactions with warm ambient temperature. British Journal of Psychology, 85(3), 317-333.
(3) Langlois, P.H., Smolensky, M.H., Hsi, B.P., Weir, F.W. (1985). Temporal patterns of reported single vehicle car and truck accidents in Texas, USA. Chronobiology International, 2, 131-146.
(4) Anund, A., Kecklund, G., Peters, B., Akerstedt,T. (2008). Driver sleepiness and individual differences in preferences for countermeasures. Journal of Sleep Research, 17(1), 16-22.
(5) Vuori, I., Urponen, H., Hasan, J., Partinen, M. (1988). Epidemiology of exercise effects on sleep. Acta physiologica Scandinavica. Supplementum., 574, 3-7.
(6) Kaida, K., Takahashi, M., Haratani, T., Otsuka, Y., Fukasawa, K., Nakata, A. (2006). Indoor exposure to natural bright light prevents afternoon sleepiness. Sleep, 29(4), 462-469.

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Wouldn’t you like to be able to eat twice as much as you do now without gaining weight? If so, I have good news for you because this is possible when you learn how to increase metabolism.

How Much Do You Know About Metabolism?

Before we get to the meat, let me say that metabolism is a term that describes all the chemical reactions in your body.[1] These chemical reactions keep your body alive and functioning, however, the word metabolism is often used interchangeably with the metabolic rate or the number of calories you burn.

The metabolic rate is a rough estimate of how much energy your body needs to simply stay alive and perform all its biochemical reactions. These reactions require energy, aka burn calories.

Imagine that your brain alone consumes nearly 20% of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure at rest),[2] your digestion and the detoxifying system come second, repairing tissues third and so on.

Staying alive is expensive for your body and its two main currencies are fats and sugars.

When I am talking about improving your metabolic rate (metabolism), I mean improving the amount of energy, your body requires to (pretty much) lay down in bed and do nothing for 24 hours.

Extra physical activity, extra thinking or fighting illness are things that require a lot of energy (burn a lot of calories) but they don’t really increase metabolism… actually they can decrease it.

Can You Naturally Change the Speed of Your Basal Metabolism?

The answer to this question is yes and you can also achieve an increase in metabolism and a drop in body fat by eating more.

Shocked? Well, I was too.

The way I came across this phenomenon is quite funny. Over my 10 years as a coach, I helped many busy professionals to naturally increase their metabolism by getting them leaner, fitter and stronger but, at the beginning of my career, I actually had no idea whether they were losing weight because of an increase in metabolism or because we created a calorie deficit with diet and exercise.

When I was training my clients regularly, they would lose weight. Every time I would take a few weeks of vacation, I would come back to London and find out that most of them gained back a generous amount of weight despite the fact that they were following their diet and they swapped our weight training sessions with cardio.

On the contrary, when they were going on vacation, they would do zero exercises and binge like there was no tomorrow but come back either lighter or weighing the same (but looking more muscular).

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Observing this phenomenon happening over and over again, got me curious about the mechanics of our metabolism and the ways to hack it.

Was it really possible that by relaxing and eating more food, someone could actually maintain his/her current weight or even be losing fat?

Driven by the desire to answer this question, I spent a good amount of years researching and testing different food strategies until I finally cracked the code to an improved metabolism that allows you to eat like a king and look like a Greek God.

Does Eating More Increase Metabolism?

Before I explain why eating more increases your metabolism, let me dig into something that I see people doing much more often: “eating less and moving more.”

It is quite common to see people embarking their yearly weight loss journey (usually after Christmas or Easter) by following very restrictive diets and bombarding their body with several hours of exercise per day.

Despite the short-term effectiveness of this approach, in the long run, if the goal is to increase metabolism and lose a lot of fat over an extended period of time, this simply won’t work.

As I have mentioned before, eating fewer calories and exercising more are energy-consuming activities for your body. In the first case, your body needs to use its own energy reserves to top up the missing energy it needs to fully function; and in the second, it takes your body extra energy to contract your muscles.

In both cases, your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure at rest) doesn’t vary much; therefore your metabolism stays unchanged.[3]

A different scenario happens when you eat less and move more for an extended period of time (weeks or months). In that case, your metabolism will slow down because your body is receiving a “we have little access to food and we need to run away from threats” signal.

Your metabolism is like your bank account.

To understand this concept, let’s imagine that you have $4,000 coming into your bank account each and every month. The money you spend on housing, transport, food and leisure are calibrated according to this monthly income.

Now, imagine that a rich uncle starts to send you $1,000 each day. What would you do? Probably, you would save that money for the first two or three days but, when you notice that $1,000 keep on coming every single day, you would likely start to spend more right?

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What if, instead of a rich uncle sending you money, a poor uncle needed your financial help to pay for the treatments of his illness? You would probably try your best to adjust your spending according to your old $4,000 monthly budget.

That’s exactly how your body reasons:

More Resources Coming in = More Energy Released (Improved Metabolism)

Fewer Resources Coming in = Less Energy Released (Decreased Metabolism)

Note that activities like weight training[4] and high-intensity interval training (HIIT),[5] when combined with an increase in nutrient-rich foods, will also improve your metabolism.

For this reason, today, when I coach a new client, I always start by increasing their daily food intake and their physical activities. Usually, people are quite confused because they come to me to lose weight and I tell them to eat more but, without fail, the next weekly weight-check shows a lower number.

Be aware that not all foods are equal and only certain foods have the power to increase metabolism to a noticeable extent.

Foods That Increase Metabolism

Doubling up on Snickers bars won’t improve your metabolism and you know that. What you may not know is that certain foods that are marked as “healthy” doesn’t help you with increasing your metabolism. They also make you gain weight.

Before giving you a list of foods to eat or avoid, let me explain a simple principle of human biochemistry.

Your body uses energy from three (or four) main sources:

  • Sugars: whether you eat a Snickers bar or a banana, the carbohydrates contained in both get absorbed in the gut and become blood glucose (the basic form of sugar our body utilizes as a source of energy).[6]
    When blood glucose is present in the bloodstream (elevated levels), the body always uses it as its primary source of energy. When blood glucose levels drop (this phenomenon happens when you’re using these sugars to fuel a physical activity or when your pancreas produced a spike of insulin and stores that glucose into fat and muscles), your body starts to release fatty acids into the bloodstream to use as a source of energy.
  • Fatty acids: either from your own fat cells (adipocytes) or from whatever fat-containing foods you ate in the past 2-3 hours. Fatty acids are a slower and more consistent form of energy than sugars that your body can utilise.
  • Amino acids: Amino acids are the broken-down form of proteins. Proteins cannot be used by the body as a source of energy, not even in their broken-down form. Your body can transform amino acids into glucose with a process called gluconeogenesis.[7] This is a very inefficient process where a decent amount of energy gets wasted (and that’s a good thing for us but I’ll get to that later).
  • Ketones: when you don’t feed your body any source of carbs (or proteins in excess), your liver produces an alternative source of energy called Ketones. It can replace the need for glucose (most of it at least).[8]

Now that you know the four energy sources the body can use to fuel its metabolism, let’s get to the meat (quite literally).

To make this simple for you, I am going to divide foods into three categories:

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  1. Red Flags – Avoid the red foods because they slow your metabolism. They are usually extremely low in micronutrients and high in antinutrients (agents that are highly toxic). They are highly processed or spike your insulin levels (therefore stopping your fat burning process).
  2. Orange Foods – Limit your consumption of orange foods. The orange foods on the list are suboptimal choices but they don’t have a negative impact on your metabolism when consumed in moderation. In fact, they contain a decent amount of micronutrients and, if eaten in small amounts, they shouldn’t stop your fat burning process.
  3. Green Foods – These are foods to consume most. Green foods will improve your metabolism and should be the main bulk of your diet.

Next, I’ll get into details exactly what foods to eat and avoid:

Sugars and Carbs

Sugars do not directly improve metabolism because they stop the process of fat utilisation. There is an exception to this rule though. When you eat a diet extremely low in carbohydrates and sugars for an extended period of time (two to six days onwards), introducing carbohydrates and sugars can actually improve metabolism quite a bit.

Unfortunately, for most of us that love eating bread, pasta, fruit and yoghurt, unless we were on a low-carb diet for the past few days, these foods are not an optimal choice.

Sugars like fructose (found in fruit or commercial sugar) actually decrease metabolism and should be limited. Heavily processed sugars and carbohydrates should be also limited. Here is the colour list of sugars and carbs that affect metabolism:

Red Flag Sugary Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Dried fruit
  • Commercial and packaged corn
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • All sorts of candies and lookalike
  • Packaged fruit juices and purees
  • Sugary dairy products like flavoured yoghurt, condensed milk etc
Orange Sugary Foods You Should Limit:
  • Bread and flour-based products
  • Milk and also vegan milk alternatives that are sweetened
  • Most fruit (exceptions are in the green list below)
  • Potatoes and potato starch products
  • Oatmeals and other grains
Green Sugary and Carb-Containing Foods That Improve Metabolism
  • All berries except strawberries
  • Tubers like squash, carrots, parsnips etc
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White rice
  • All green vegetables

Fats

Fatty acids and fats, in general, can improve or decrease metabolism depending on their composition.

Red Flag Fatty Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Margarine and hydrogenated fat
  • Lard
  • Gmo oils
  • Most vegetable oils from seeds and peanut oil
Orange Fatty Foods You Should Limit:
  • Nuts
  • Meat fat
  • Nut oils (macadamia, almond, cashew etc..)
  • Seeds
Green Fatty Foods You Should Eat Daily
  • Extra virgin olive oil (non-heated)
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter (organic)
  • Egg yolks (free-range)
  • Bone marrow

The fatty foods in the green section tend to be very effective in increasing metabolism, especially in the absence of carbohydrates because they stimulate the production of ketones (I’ll talk about this later).

Bear in mind that 1 gram of fat has 2.5 times the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrates; therefore “eating more fats” to increase metabolism should be done very gradually to avoid weight gain.

Proteins

Eating food not only sends regulatory signals to your brain about abundance vs scarcity of resources, but it can also increase your metabolism for a few hours. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).[9] It’s caused by the extra calories required to digest, absorb and process the nutrients in your meal.

Protein causes the largest rise in TEF.[10] It increases your metabolic rate by 15-30%, compared to 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats

Eating protein has also been shown to help you feel more full and prevent you from overeating, in fact, a study found that people were likely to eat around 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet.[11]

Also, proteins help preserve muscle mass.[12] The more muscle mass we have, the higher our basal metabolism is.

For these reasons, the first nutritional advice I usually give to clients is to reduce sugars and increase proteins. This quick swap is often enough to kickstart their metabolism and commence the fat burning process.

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Red Protein Sources That Should Be Avoided
  • Cheap whey proteins
  • Soy proteins
  • GMO meat
  • GMO eggs
  • Packaged meat
Orange Protein Source to Be Limited
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned fish
  • Canned meat
  • Gluten-rich products like Seitan
  • Farmed fish
Green Protein Sources to Have Daily
  • Free-range meat
  • Free-range eggs
  • Wild meat and fish
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Collagen and beef protein hydrolyzed

Note that this is a general categorisation of the foods that, when added to your diet, have the power to increase or decrease metabolism. There are some specific foods and supplements worth mentioning because they have been proven to improve metabolism by increasing thyroid output or resting heart rate, they are as follows.

Other Foods and Supplements

Cold water

Drinking water may temporarily speed up your metabolism. Studies have shown that drinking 17 ounces (0.5 litres) of water increases resting metabolism by 10-30% for about an hour.[13]

This is not a surprise since our body is made up mainly by water and proper hydration is key to a fast metabolism. This calorie-burning effect may be even greater if you drink cold water, as your body uses energy to heat it up to body temperature.

MCT Oils or Powders

Medium-chain triglycerides or MCT have been shown to improve metabolism by stimulating Ketone production.[14] Coconut oil contains MCT fats and, when used as a replacement for cooking oil can help you improve metabolism.

You can buy the concentrated version of MCT oils and eat it separately to further enhance this effect. Either way, coconut oil or pure MCT oil can be a great addition to your diet if you’re following a ketogenic or intermittent fasting protocol.

Caffeine

Caffeine and coffee have been shown to improve metabolism by improving heart rate and, therefore improving calorie consumption.[15]

Green Tea

Green tea

is thought to increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation, and to reduce fat production and absorption.[16]

Bottom Line

In this article, I just covered the basics of food and metabolism but, there are many other non-food related things you can do to improve your metabolism, like improving your sleep quality and following certain exercise routines.

For now, just know that making small and gradual changes to your diet can increase your metabolism and improve your general health. Starting from changing one habit at a time is always the best strategy to accomplish any goal.

Once you improve your diet, your hydration and your supplementation you can think about testing more advanced “bio-hacks” or techniques like ice baths and fasted HIIT training.

And remember, having a higher metabolism doesn’t only help you lose weight and keep it off but it also give you more energy and a feeling of vibrancy. If you give it time, it really is worth the investment.

Featured photo credit: Fitsum Admasu via unsplash.com

Reference

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