Depending on what time you wake up and go to bed, you probably get a little sleepy around three or four in the afternoon each day. That’s due to your body’s natural circadian rhythms, or body clock, which prompts a slight drop in your core temperature about eight hours after you get out of bed in the morning. But some days, that late-afternoon slump hits a little earlier than usual and it’s all you can do to keep your eyes open and your head from hitting the desk before lunch. Off-kilter circadian rhythms could be to blame, but more likely, it’s the little things you and everyone else who occasionally needs a noontime nap do throughout the morning that lead to early bouts of fatigue.
Hitting the snooze button multiple times
If you set the alarm a few minutes earlier than you need to wake up so that you can hit the snooze button at least once before having to rouse yourself, you’re also setting yourself up for a day of yawning and battling heavy eyelids. While sleeping, the human body cycles through different sleep stages, including the deepest and most restorative one, REM. Hitting the snooze button might ensure five extra minutes of sleep in the morning, but the sleep itself will be poor, because that’s not enough time for your body to reach the REM stage. As a result, you’ll feel even less rested once you turn off the alarm entirely and drag yourself out of bed, even if you got a good night’s sleep otherwise.
Drinking a coffee milkshake instead of a regular cup of joe
Stand outside any Starbucks on a weekday morning, and you might be surprised at how many people walk out with a caramel Frappuccino, a toffee mocha, or another, similar sugary drink. Coffee gets a bad rap, but it actually boasts a plethora of benefits when taken in moderation. However, moderation doesn’t include a boatload of sweeteners and cream. In fact, the combined sugar-and-caffeine high just leads to a staggering energy crash later. You might be flying high after gulping down that Frappuccino, but you’ll likely be dragging your feet a couple hours later.
Try cutting back by using a little less sugar in your coffee every day, or make the switch to green or black tea, which has a slightly milder flavor than coffee and may not require as much sweetener. If the idea of coffee without a hefty amount of sugar is unfathomable, add a little cinnamon to it as well—a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests that cinnamon might help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Skipping breakfast (or any meal, for that matter)
Breakfast is called the most important meal of the day for good reason. If you eat dinner at 7 p.m. and wake up at 7 a.m., that’s twelve whole hours that your body’s gone without food. That’s why it’s important to eat in the morning—in other words, break your fast—to rev up your metabolism and give your body a much-needed boost of energy. Without sustenance, the body’s metabolic rate and other important processes slow to a crawl to compensate for your rapidly dwindling energy supplies. This happens whenever you go too long without eating, but forgoing breakfast is particularly bad: blood sugar levels drop, dragging alertness levels down with them and making meal skippers lethargic, cranky, and all the more likely to overeat—and then deal with another energy lull—later.
Hunching over the keyboard
Do you find yourself channeling the Hunchback of Notre Dame whenever you’re in front of the computer? Perhaps you’re slouching your way through life altogether. However minimal or infrequent, poor posture depletes energy supplies faster than you realize. It misaligns joints and forces muscles to bunch up and work harder than usual in order for your slumping skeleton to have extra support, and that physical strain eventually leads to mental fatigue.
Forgetting to fill up your water glass
Even mild dehydration can cause the body and brain to feel more sluggish than usual. Water helps move blood through the veins and heart, so too little water in the system makes it harder for the blood to pass through, requiring the heart to pump that much faster in order to supply cells and organs—like the brain—with life- and energy-sustaining blood. Eight glasses a day is a good goal to work toward, but keep in mind that everyone’s water needs are different because everyone’s body is different. Plus, many foods and beverages that we consume throughout the day contain water as well. Regardless of how you hydrate yourself, just make sure you’re getting enough water to keep you awake. Drinking a glass of cold water often helps shake away the desire for sleep.
Stressing out over something
Maybe it’s a 2 p.m. report deadline hanging like a dark cloud over your head, or maybe it’s a whole slew of projects and situations worrying your mind. Whatever the case, stress is one of the most common culprits behind fatigue for many people. When you’re truly stressed, that triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, which sends adrenaline production into overdrive, elevates your blood pressure and heart rate, and invariably leads to utter physical and mental exhaustion later. Anxious people tend to breathe shallowly, which deprives the brain of oxygen and makes it even sleepier. If the stress continues into the night, chances are, it’ll keep you tossing and turning until morning, setting the course for another tired day.
It’s all too easy to throw off your circadian rhythms, but fortunately, there are simple ways to defend yourself against midday slumps. Sipping a glass of cold water is one way, as is taking a short walk outside (sunlight sets off arousal signals) or around the office, eating smaller meals and snacks that have a healthy balance of carbs and protein throughout the day, and taking deep, controlled breaths. It’s natural for energy levels to dip from time to time because of seasonal changes and hormonal fluctuations, and there’s not much we can do to always prevent that from happening. But if you spend most afternoons in a fog, unable to focus on anything more than the idea of your warm, cozy, inviting bed at home, you might be making one of these morning mistakes. It’s possible that an a.m. shake-up is just what you need to stave off a noontime snooze.