- Many people experience an energy dip around 2pm as stress hormones and blood pressure drop.
- Some experts say it's like trying to get work done after a few drinks.
- Taking a true break outside or jotting down some new ideas may help you get through the dreaded slump.
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If you've ever started out a productive day armed with a coffee and a detailed to-do list, only to find yourself losing steam by 2 or 3pm, you're not alone. The afternoon slump is real.
That energy dip is so pronounced that you may as well be trying to get work done after a few shots of whisky, according to Russell Foster, chair of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford.
Mackenzie Sweeney, who goes by @the.productivity.coach on TikTok, shared Foster's findings in a multi-part series about neuroscience and productivity. She said that not all times of day are created equal when it comes to getting work done.
The performance change between your peak and low point for productivity can be equivalent to the effect of the legal drinking limit, Sweeney said in the video. It takes between two and four drinks in one hour to reach a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, at which point an adult is considered too drunk to drive.
"Essentially, between deep work time and the 2pm 'I want to crawl into a hole' feeling, it's the equivalent of trying to do work with drunk goggles on," Sweeney said.
Your body and brain might be winding down in the afternoon
At your productive peak, you have your hormones and blood pressure working on your side. Both rise and fall according to a 24-hour circadian rhythm that can follow a few different patterns.
Most people experience higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the morning and see it drop throughout the day. Blood pressure typically peaks around midday and drops in the afternoon and evening.
Sweeney recommends people do work that requires deep focus when both cortisol and blood pressure are high. You might feel less alert as they fall throughout the day, and when combined with post-lunch blood sugar fluctuations, you're more likely to feel tired and foggy in the afternoon.
Taking a true break is the key to re-starting your productivity
For those who feel their energy start to fade after lunch, taking a break at some point between 2 and 3pm can save your afternoon.
When Sweeney says break, she's talking about a hard stop - that means close your computer, move your body, and get outside if you can. If you can leave your phone at home or in a different room, try unplugging from technology entirely.
Getting some physical activity and sunlight is likely to jog your energy, and pausing work will have you feeling fresh when you return to where you left off.
If you have no choice but to push through afternoon fatigue, Sweeney suggested changing up the type of work you're doing. She tells her clients to brainstorm or approach creative tasks when they're tired because they may be less likely to second-guess themselves.
"The time you come up with an idea is not the same time that you should be acting on that idea," she said in another TikTok video.