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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 January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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