Find yourself running out of energy at roughly the same time day in, day out? Have you tried everything from more coffee and No-Doz to energy bars and splashing cold water on your face? We're going to take a guess and say none of this is working. But, go figure, this is normal.
Your body clock has a way of winding itself up and down throughout the day. It needs a little kickstart at times, especially if you're crammed behind a desk for extended periods of time. Here, we cover the most common times of the day your power is sucked away and how to recover and continue on with your productive day.
7 a.m.: The Morning Fog
How is it after 8 hours (give or take) of rest and relaxation are you not bouncing off the walls and instead are barely able to form a complete sentence? Blame a little something called sleep inertia. "Sleep inertia can last for up to 2 hours, although it's most severe within the first 10 minutes of waking," says Kenneth Wright, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado. Wright and his colleagues discovered just how severe in a new study, which shows that the mental impairment caused by sleep inertia is akin to being intoxicated.
Deal with your "sleep drunk" with what Tufts University researchers have found to be the best medicine: instant oatmeal with a dose of skim milk. Studies have found that people who ate one packet of instant oatmeal with 1/2 cup of skim milk received a steady glucose infusion, which increased their alertness all morning and improved their ability to process information. Also, adding a little caffeine to the mix, say, a cup of coffee, helped combat and cure the sleep inertia.
1 p.m.: The Lunchtime Letdown
Lunches high in carbs cause your insulin levels to spike and your concentration to dip. Rapid insulin spikes rob your blood of sugar too fast, essentially stripping your brain of the fuel it needs to fire on all cylinders.
If you insist on consuming the carbs, that's fine. But pair the high-carb meal with plenty of fiber. Fiber slows your digestion and the release of insulin. So, say you've got a baked potato for lunch. You best be eating the skin off that thing. The skin packs tons of fiber called pectin, a type of fiber that slows everything down in the gastronomical tract. And when food passes more slowly through the intestines, absorption into the bloodstream proceeds in a more timed-release fashion.
3 p.m.: The Afternoon Slump
Your body is a boxing ring in the afternoon. In one corner, wearing the gold trunks, is your circadian clock, which fights to keep you awake until bedtime. And in the opposite corner, wearing the green and white trunks is your homeostatic system, which competes to make you sleepy. And every day, between approximately 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., the homeostatic system comes out with gloves blazing looking to score a KO.
But the circadian clock isn't licked yet. Give it the secret weapon of a dose of sunlight and fend off the homeostatic system longer. British researchers recently found that when people exercised and got outside in the afternoon during their workday—regardless of the duration or intensity of the movement—they were less likely to feel fatigued, and that translated into a 15 percent improvement in job performance.
6 p.m.: The Preworkout Conk-Out
It's a dilemma: you want to workout but you're too tired to do so. It's probably because after work you've neglected the most important tool for your workout: food. If you haven't eaten anything substantial since lunch, you're body is running on empty.
Before you hit the weights, prepare a snack. The ideal munch totals 250 calories and consists of 25 to 35 grams (g) carbohydrates, 10 to 15 g protein, and up to 5 g fat. Two handfuls of pretzels and two slices of cheese fits the nutritional bill. Also, hydrate! Your best bet, honestly, is to throw back a Gatorade. It will provide instant energy and a nice blood-sugar spike to get you through the workout.
8 p.m.: The Prime-Time Torpor
You've worked all day. You've put in your time. You should be able to just stretch out on your couch with some prime-time comedies and relax, half asleep, half awake, right? You may have earned this comfort, but it's going to screw your body clock up for the next day. "Going to bed a couple of hours earlier than you normally do will throw off your rhythms, while consistency can really help you feel alert during the day," says Philip Gehrman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of the Sciences, in Philadelphia.
Instead of sprawling under the blanket with the TV glowing, turn on some music. Something upbeat and familiar will give your body a boost of energy. What you do with this newfound burst is up to you.
Shut It Off
Finally. Bed. You have been up and running around for hours on end, combatting fatigue with food, exercise, and other methods to keep you on your toes. Close your eyes, and go to sleep. Oh great, you're wide awake.
This phenomenon of not being able to sleep is actually Pavolvian. If you find yourself reading, playing Sudoku, watching late night TV, or doing anything else besides sleeping in your bed, you've trained your body to treat the space not as a sleeping spot but another rec room. So turn off the TV, put the books and games down, and just sleep. Sleep....