It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. You’re sitting at your desk at work. Lunch seems long gone, and the end of the day might as well be an eternity from now. You couldn’t stomach another coffee even if you wanted to. You’re paralyzed by a cloud of fatigue, you realize, staring uselessly at the computer screen.
Sound familiar? The human body, like many living things, operates on a circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. This cycle causes our bodies to naturally crave sleep in the afternoon, if in fact we woke up early in the morning in order to start the work day at 9:00 AM. It’s no coincidence, apparently, that many Mediterranean cultures have the custom of the “siesta,” an afternoon rest period when stores close, after which they reopen later in the day. However, our capitalist, globalized work culture does not allow for such things. “Hard-working” employees are expected to begin their output as early at 7:00 AM and somehow push on until 8:00 or 9:00 PM. Forward-thinking companies like Google, however, are well-known for incorporating rest and recreation time into their employee’s daily schedules – mimicking the work philosophies of many Japanese corporations. The Huffington Post’s offices are outfitted with “napping pods” so that employees can grab a little shut-eye if they’re feeling drowsy.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, an expert at WebMD, explains that midday fatigue is the exact same thing as nighttime tiredness. At both times in the day, your body temperature drops, signaling a release of melatonin – the hormone that regulates sleep – into your bloodstream. The melatonin causes your brain to want sleep.
Aside from the anti-sleep battle we are all seemingly fighting every day, daily eating habits can also add to the serious tiredness we feel in the afternoon. Hypoglycemia, a drop in our blood sugar levels, is the main culprit. Whereas the human body was designed to burn fat as energy, our modern diets of complex carbohydrates and caffeine do not provide it with the correct fuel. We would be less tired if we ate more healthy fats (nuts, avocado, beans) and less carbs. Also, eating smaller portions throughout the day will help prevent sugar-level peaks and valleys, which also cause fatigue.
Another weapon in your arsenal against afternoon tiredness is movement. Runner’s World magazine claims that sitting for extended periods of time is detrimental to the body and simply not natural. Research conducted by Dr. Joan Vernikos, formerly of NASA, found that the more a body interacts with the force of gravity during the day, the better. In scientific terms, standing up and moving, produces more of the lipoprotein, lipase – an enzyme that takes fat from the bloodstream to the muscles, to be processed as fuel.