Want to have more energy through the day? Are you cranky, tired or both by 4pm? Calmista blogger Charlotte Watts reveals how to beat low energy levels and avoid the afternoon slump
It’s a tough time, that 3-6pm window where blood sugar levels, energy resources and often, simple enthusiasm for the day is waning. When clients describe that dreaded energy slump time, they are often amazed by my soothsaying abilities to pinpoint its looming at 4pm. But this is pure biochemistry talking; cortisol (our primary stress hormone) levels naturally dip at this time (our bodies are actually preparing for sleep!) and this stress hormone plays a large part in our energy, mood and motivation levels. I test most clients for cortisol levels throughout the day and although it can be initially raised in the face of chronic stress, often we see an afternoon decline by the time they’re coming to see me – often for fatigue and even exhaustion.
Blood sugar lows
With lowering cortisol, comes dropping blood sugar levels. Sugar (as glucose) is used up for energy by every single cell in our bodies, every second we are alive and we can all feel the difference between good, sustained levels when we feel clarity, easy energy and a healthy relationship with the food around us. If you have been roller-coastering up the peaks and down the troughs, stress, caffeine and sugar may have resulted in difficulties finding sustained balance, where those mid-afternoon hours can present a particular challenge to level and motivating energy.
This is a catch-22 for all of us; flagging brain energy sends a ‘fuel-up quick’ signal that attracts us to the substances that will raise sugar most quickly. We can feel jangly, moody, unable to cope and ravenous in the face of this survival mechanism, so resisting the vending machine may be beyond our rational control.
Sugar (as glucose) is used up for energy by every single cell, every second we are alive
Lowering levels of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin naturally occurring around 5pm can have us looking for a fix that raises mood in any way we can. It is probably no surprise that serotonin (and therefore our sugar-seeking behaviours) is naturally lower pre-menstrually. If you’re like me, one of the first signs that a period is nigh is noticing a chocolate bar magically appearing in my hand. Now this unconscious behaviour is slightly exaggerated but if stress and PMS coincide, this knee-jerk self-medication is a glaring sign to slow down and look after myself.
Here are my tips to ensure you get an deep your energy through the day:
1. Don’t miss meals
Fuel up before to limit the steep declines – breakfast and lunch are not to be missed or you may feel the downward spiral too late to limit it with blood-sugar supporting snacks like nuts. Working through lunch is a false economy if it leaves you with depleted resources and poor focus by 4pm.
2. Snack smart
To keep going without turning to the quick-fixes that keep us trapped in sugar craving spirals, choose some canny snacks that provide that sweetness and also drip-feed not sudden spike energy. Nak’d Cashew Cookie Bars, dried mango and fresh pineapple cubes are my favourite when the knee-jerk sweet cravings have really set in.
3. Enlist a mood buddy
Find a friend who has the similar issue and a good sense of humour. Laughing raises feel-good beta-endorphins to right low brain chemistry. Chuckling at your body’s idiosyncrasies with your buddy isn’t just bonding in the face of adversity, it can actually break that craving cycle.
4. Get out
Not just running away from yet another birthday cake, but getting into some natural light to naturally raise serotonin levels, get beta endorphins naturally rising so you don’t feel the need to pump them up with sugar and increase circulation for good blood flow to the brain.
Yet another beta endorphin riser, stretching circulation booster and reduces stress by releasing tension held in muscle when we sit locked into one position and stew with our head stuff.
6. Rest and let the slump happen
Our brains have natural lulls to rest and recuperate. This is continually happening but can be felt most acutely at 4pm; also a time where we might feel a need to get things done before the end of the working day. If you go with it for five to ten minutes and sit away from your work, you’ll be able to watch it pick up again – refreshed and possibly with new perspective.
CHARLOTTE WATTS’ is nutritionist and yoga teacher whose work has focussed on how nutrition and yoga can meet to help people cope with the type of demands we face in the 21st century. Her practice and teaching of mindfulness weaves these together and has culminated in her new book The De-Stress Effect: Rebalance Your Body’s Systems for Vibrant Health and Happiness. She has also authored The De-Stress Diet (with Anna Magee), 100 Top Recipes for Happy Kids, 100 Best Foods for Pregnancy and 100 Foods to Stay Young.