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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 May 22, 2019

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

1. Cat Camel Stretch

Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

Here’s a video to guide you through:

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2. Go for a Walk or a Run

This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

3. Jumping Jacks

Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

4. Abductor Side Lifts

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

5. Balancing Table Pose

This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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    6. Leg Squats

    Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

    Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

    The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

    7. Push Ups

    You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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    An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

    Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

    This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

    8. Bicycle Crunches

    There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

    Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

    9. Lunges

    Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

    Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

    This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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    10. Bicep Curls

    You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

    Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

    Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

    Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

    Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

    These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

    You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

    Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

    More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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