It hits like clockwork: The energy nosedive, brain fog and unrelenting urge to crawl under your desk and take a nap.
“No matter how much we want to get done during the work day, the truth of the matter is that we are physically limited by the circadian rhythm of our bodies,” says Paul Hokemeyer, a Manhattan-based psychologist. “This rhythm is nature’s way of telling us when to work and when to rest. And in the afternoon, our bodies go into recharge mode.” In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults’ strongest biological urges to sleep occur between 2 and 4 a.m. (convenient) and between 1 and 3 p.m. (not so convenient). Here’s how to hack your biology to beat those slumps.
1. Chew gum
Chewing increases the amount of blood and oxygen flowing through your head, brain included. As a result, gum chewing makes people more alert and better able to concentrate on the task at hand, per research published in Nutritional Neuroscience.
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2. Turn up the lights
Even if your office doesn’t have view, you can increase your energy levels by plugging in an extra lamp for your desk. When workers increase the amount of light in their offices, they feel less sleepy, are more energetic and enjoy shorter reactions times, according to one Physiology and Behavior study. It only took one hour of extra light exposure for workers to display significant energy benefits.
3. Listen to your favorite upbeat tunes
Research from the University of Toronto shows that upbeat music can fire up your energy levels, as well as your creativity. “Music effectively alters the speed of our brain waves,” says Hokemeyer. “We can turn them up or calm them down depending on the genre of music we plug into.” What’s more, if you know already know the songs, you’ll get an even bigger boost, per the study.
Watch this video and learn how to find motivation from your favorite playlist:
4. Drink some water
When you’re busy at work, you can easily forget to take a trip to you water cooler until you’re completely parched. But in one study of healthy women, scientists with the U. S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine found that dehydration levels as low as 1% cause fatigue, problems concentrating and increased perceptions of task difficulty. “It is amazing how much better people often feel after drinking eight to 12 ounces of cold water,” says fatigue expert and internist Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. While the fluids will hydrate you, the cold temps will help switch on your sympathetic nervous system for an immediate jolt.
5. Watch a funny video
Here’s hoping your office’s network doesn’t block YouTube: In one University of Nebraska study, participants who watched a funny video enjoyed an immediate energy boost, as did people who watched cat videos in a 2015 Computers in Human Behavior study. Researchers believe an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and levels of feel-good dopamine may be to thank.
6. Take a walk
Sitting at your desk all day slows down the activity in your muscles and thwarts your body’s ability to take up glucose with insulin, both of which make you tired. However, simply taking a quick walk around the office or block helps balance insulin and stimulates endorphins for improved energy, says Hokemeyer . If you can, take your walk outside. In one Environmental Science and Technology study, people felt more energetic and reported better moods after walking outside than they did after taking a jaunt indoors.
7. Have a snack
If you feel like your blood-sugar is waning in the afternoon, you may need a snack. But don’t turn to the pretzels or chips you’re probably craving for a quick hit of energy. “These refined carbohydrates will only contribute to your afternoon slump and make you even more sluggish,” says Dr. Kevin Campbell, a board-certified internal medicine and cardiac specialist. Instead, opt for snacks with a mix of unrefined carbs, protein and fat to keep your blood-sugar and energy levels up until dinner. Try stocking the office fridge with an apple and string cheese, a hardboiled egg and whole-grain toast, or Greek yogurt and fruit. In a 2014 study of healthy women, University of California, Los Angeles researchers found that the yogurt’s probiotics increase healthy brain activity to aid in decision making and reduce energy-sapping stress.
8. Play with your ears
“Rub both of your ears between your thumb and forefinger. This stimulates all of the energy meridians throughout your body and will give you a burst of energy,” says Teitelbaum. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners say that when these meridians become blocked, energy cannot properly flow through the body and conditions—ranging from pain to fatigue—can develop.
So strong are the ears’ invigorating powers that in one Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine study, chronic fatigue patients who had their ears stimulated through modalities like acupuncture enjoyed a bigger bump in their energy levels than did those who popped pills. Just do it on the sly so that your cube-mate doesn’t start giving you weird looks.