beating the afternoon slump

Most people have experienced the afternoon energy crash – typically between 2 and 4 pm. This ‘3 pm slump’ is a common affliction and it can derail your productivity and contribute to low mood. There are good biological reasons behind the afternoon slump, but, you don’t have to experience it to the extreme every day.

What causes the afternoon energy dip?

Our body’s naturally experience a dip in energy in the afternoon. This is due to the circadian rhythm – depending on the time you wake up in the morning, your body will start to produce melatonin between 1 and 5 pm in the afternoon. This creates a sleepy feeling.

So, you will feel sleepy in the late afternoon. But, many people feel excessively sleepy due to other factors such as cortisol dysregulation, poor diet and overconsumption of caffeine.

Dietary factors such as not consuming enough healthy fats, having too many simple carbohydrates or too much sugar, skipping breakfast, and eating excessively large meals can all contribute to a larger-than-normal energy drain. These things also interfere with blood sugar stability, causing your body to perceive a lack of available fuel, resulting in less energy. Eating a very large lunch will also divert energy to your digestive tract, exacerbating the problem.

Cortisol dysregulation is another common problem, that is caused by lack of sleep, consistently feeling stressed, and poor diet. Cortisol influences the body’s circadian rhythm by spiking in the morning to wake you up, and then falling throughout the rest of the day. However, cortisol is also produced during times of stress, and if stress levels remain constant, your body loses its healthy cortisol pattern. This can lead to difficulty waking up in the morning and fatigue throughout the day.

Caffeine consumption interferes with both blood sugar and cortisol. The artificial energy boost is often followed by an energy crash. Excessive caffeine consumption over time can lead to a flattened cortisol curve and unstable blood sugar that leads to cravings and energy slumps.

beating the afternoon slump

Ways to counter the afternoon energy slump naturally

Monitoring the behaviors that make the natural energy dip worse is the best place to start. Following these guidelines will help you to minimize – not maximize! – the 3 pm slump:

  1. Eat a healthy breakfast composed of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein. Good examples are avocado toast on whole grain bread, with an egg or tofu scrambled eggs with quinoa. Even a well-balanced protein shake will work in a pinch!

  2. Reduce your coffee consumption to one cup with or after breakfast. Switch to green tea, which contains catechins that minimize the effect of caffeine, later in the morning.

  3. Stabilize your circadian rhythm by managing stress and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. You can read more about managing stress here.

  4. Don’t overeat at lunch and focus on getting a blood sugar-balancing meal that contains protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

  5. Avoid sugar consumption since it interferes with blood sugar levels. Save an energizing treat, like a square of dark chocolate, for the time when your energy levels naturally start to dip. Grab my healthy chocolate recipe here.

Bonus tips for beating the slump

These additional tips will help you to crush your afternoon energy crash:

  1. Take a 15-minute nap or a 15-minute walk in the afternoon.

  2. Rub a few drops of an energizing essential oil, like peppermint oil, into your palms and breath it in a few deep breaths.

  3. Stand up a few times each hour to keep blood flowing.

  4. Prioritize high attention to detail tasks for the morning when your focus is sharper, and leave more energizing tasks that involve networking or group work for the afternoon.


Our brain is not meant to be intensively active for huge stretches of time, and the afternoon dip in energy is caused by biological factors inherent in our circadian rhythm. This is why building in an afternoon break, which might include a quick nap or leisurely walk, can help to boost your productivity and energy levels.

That said, there are plenty of things that you can do to make sure that you are not further contributing to energy drain. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep regularly and on a consistent schedule, eat balanced meals that focus on protein and healthy fats at regular intervals, and reduce consumption of sugar, caffeine and processed foods. By working with – not against – your body, you will start to feel more vital in no time!