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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 September 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

    More Tips on Getting in Shape

    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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