Julie Tucker
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How to combat the 3pm slump

Anyone who has worked in an office will probably have experienced the “3pm slump” – a mid-afternoon feeling that you’re about to fall asleep at your desk. A common complaint, it can begin to kick in at around 1pm. Its name comes from the fact that 3pm is when you’re likely to be most sluggish.

While you may think it happens simply because you’ve been working too hard and need a break, it’s an actual scientific phenomenon. It can also have a devastating effect on your day. Around 3pm, employees start feeling restless, tired and unable to focus on their tasks.

Why do we have a 3pm slump?

The main reason why we feel tired and can’t focus at around 3pm is down to our sleep pattern. How we sleep is dictated by our body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, or sleep homeostasis. This regulates many behavioural and physiological processes including alertness, sleep, temperature control and hormone production.

The circadian rhythm tries to keep everything in the body balanced, so as our alertness decreases, our need for sleep increases. It normally happens around 12 hours after we were last in a deep sleep. For most people, deep sleep occurs between around 2am and 3am, so 12 hours later, we start feeling extremely tired again.

Letting you know you’ve been alert for too long, the 3pm slump is telling your body you need a breather to restore your natural balance. You can experience unpleasant physical symptoms, apart from extreme fatigue and yawning, including extreme lethargy and slight changes in vision.

If you’re long or short-sighted, you can normally compensate for this during the day and don’t notice, but when your eyes are very tired, you can experience blurred vision. You may experience a feeling of muscle weakness and tingling, and you could even become quite irritable and feel depressed for no apparent reason. Other symptoms can include a headache, stomach ache and a craving for carbohydrates.

What makes the 3pm slump worse?

While these feelings are common among office workers, other factors can make you feel worse. If you consumed alcohol the night before, or you had even a small quantity at lunchtime, such as one glass of wine, this can make you sleepier by 3pm.

Sleep deprivation in general can also worsen the feelings. If you’re not sleeping well due to circumstances beyond your control, such as noise from a neighbouring house or business, or you have a baby or sick child in the house, you’re probably feeling frazzled anyway.

When you’re stressed or anxious, either due to a personal situation or because of your workload, for example, the 3pm slump can be so much worse.

Other causes can be spending too much time on the computer without taking the relevant screen breaks, having back-to-back meetings without a proper break, not eating well, or not drinking enough water and getting dehydrated.

How can you start to feel better?

Even though the 3pm slump is a natural occurrence, based on biology, there are several things you can do to help the brain feel less sluggish when it strikes.

The most important thing to do is to have a break. Even taking just ten minutes out and going for a walk to stretch your legs can help. Listening to music can also help, as research proves it to benefit cognitive performance. Play an uplifting high-energy tune that you enjoy by putting on your headphones. You will feel instantly invigorated and noticeably livelier!

Snacks and hydration are also crucial. Eat healthy “brain foods” rather than sweet, sugary snacks. Go for a lunch that includes either tuna or salmon, cottage cheese, fresh vegetables, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, granola, or hummus.

Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Although one cup of coffee is okay, don’t think consuming gallons of caffeine will make you feel better. It will have the opposite effect if you overdo it.

Working in a coworking space makes it easier to combat the 3pm slump, as having a flexible work space means you can organise your day more easily around your needs.

If you start feeling drowsy, simply put your work on hold; take a break for a healthy snack and beverage until you start feeling revitalised.


© Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock.com

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