After a long, productive morning, you have lunch and you feel ready to take on the afternoon by finishing the rest of the tasks on your to-do list…until, out of nowhere, the 3 p.m. slump hits hard. Suddenly, you’re a little drowsy, your morning energy has all but disappeared, and you want nothing more than to switch off the computer screen and take a long nap. If you can’t do that, then you might reach for a large cup of coffee instead—but while that will get you through the rest of your day, it will also keep you up late. Instead, try some of these ideas to boost your energy in the afternoon without caffeine.
One thing to remember about this afternoon exhaustion is that there’s no real way to avoid it completely. It’s basically your body’s natural sleep cycle telling you that it’s time to take a nap, and while it’s possible to do things to lessen the feeling, it’s hard to get rid of it completely. Most people head to their local coffee shop around this time, but it’s definitely not the only way to feel more motivated and energized. The following science-backed tips will help you get through the rest of the day without that jittery feeling later on.
- Find something to laugh at.
Need a quick break that leaves you feeling more energized and motivated? Find something to laugh at, whether it’s a funny TikTok or a YouTube video of a movie scene that never fails to amuse you. One study looked at the heart rates and energy expenditures of people who were amused, and found that genuine laughter can increase both. Research also shows that laughter can relieve stress, lower blood pressure, improve your mood, and increase endorphins—just like a light workout.
- Go for a walk.
When you feel like your eyes are starting to close, close your laptop and go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a long one—even 10 or 15 minutes is enough to give you a nice boost of energy, even more than you would get from coffee. A 2017 study published in the scientific journal Physiology & Behavior compared the effects of daily caffeine consumption with short periods of physical activity (like walking). Researchers found that these short intervals of activity, like walking up and down the stairs, were more effective in increasing energy levels for people with chronic insufficient sleep.
- Eat a healthy breakfast and small lunch.
As a more preventative measure, opt for a breakfast that is high in protein and low in carbs, and then aim for a smaller lunch. Research shows that a well-balanced breakfast delivers energy slowly over the course of the morning, rather than all at once, which could lead to a later slump. A breakfast high in carbs (like pancakes) can lead to a spike in blood sugar, which can result in a loss of energy later (like at 3 p.m.).
Research also shows that eating a large lunch can cause your body to produce serotonin, which can leave you feeling tired. Try to keep your lunch on the small side and filled with energizing foods, like nuts, eggs, or beans.
- Get a workout in.
It’s not possible for everyone to schedule a midday workout, but if you’re able to do it, it’s definitely not a bad idea. One study looked at people who took a break to exercise during the work day, and found that doing so could improve self-productivity. Aside from that, exercise is just an overall great natural energy booster: it encourages oxygen flow and blood circulation, leading to greater energy levels.
- Chew some gum.
As weird as it sounds, chewing some gum might increase your energy. A series of studies examined how chewing gum affects a person’s mood, and discovered that it might enhance alertness and sustained attention. But don’t just start chewing like a madwoman: another study found that participants who chewed gum at a relaxed and natural pace after eating increased their energy expenditure. Hey, it’s worth a try—at the very least, your breath will smell great!
Researchers in Wales set out to test the theory that chewing gum can improve both mood and cognitive function by subjecting 133 volunteers to stress tests, monitoring their heart rates, and measuring cortisol in their saliva. Subjects who chewed gum during the study—both fruit and mint gum were used, though the flavors weren’t put in a head-to-head test—were more alert and reported more positive moods than subjects who didn’t have gum. Chew on that.
- Listen to some of your favorite music.
When you start to feel drowsy, crank up some of your favorite music, especially if it’s upbeat and fun. Research has shown that the feel-good chemical dopamine was found to be 9% higher in volunteers who were listening to music they enjoy. Uplifting music is best for boosting alertness and attention, so be sure to listen to something that makes you want to dance.
And if you can, feel free to belt it out as well. A study published in the Journal of Music Therapy showed that participants who were told to sing reported that doing so made them more energized and less sleepy.
- Smell something citrus-y.
Keep a stash of fresh lemons and/or oranges nearby for that afternoon sleepiness—taking a big whiff of one of these citrus scents just might improve your mood and make you feel ready to take on the rest of the day. In one study, Brazilian scientists had participants spend five minutes smelling substances, including sweet orange essential oil, and then have their vital signs measured. Those who smelled the orange oil were less anxious, and that lasted beyond the test. Lemon balm may also boost cognitive performance and mood.
- Take regular breaks throughout the day.
When you have a lot to get done, you probably assume that you need to sit down and crank through everything before you give yourself a break. While that seems like the most productive way to work, it probably isn’t. According to the New York Times, some experts believe that you can be more productive in the long run if you work in 90-minute increments. Working for 90 minutes and then taking a break gives your brain some time to rest and recharge, which is good for you physically and mentally. Try taking small breaks throughout the work day, and you might find that the afternoon slump doesn’t hit as hard.
- Take a power nap.
Sometimes the only thing you can do to get through that exhaustion is get some rest. It’s not possible if you’re working in an office (at least one that doesn’t offer nap pods), but if you’re at home, give yourself a break to take a quick power nap. And we do mean quick: experts say that the ideal power nap is 10 to 30 minutes long, which can combat drowsiness, improve your mood, make you more alert, and improve cognitive performance. Longer naps might leave you feeling groggy, so stick to 20 minutes to wake yourself up.
- Drink water throughout the day.
It’s probably no surprise that not drinking enough water can make things even worse after lunch. Studies from the University of Connecticut have shown that even just a 1.5% loss in normal water volume can lead to fatigue and an inability to concentrate—and those authors say that women are especially susceptible to this. Other studies back this up, so be sure you’re sipping water throughout the day, especially as it gets later.
- Step away from your desk.
If you’re not able to take a walk outside, then at least give yourself a few minutes to get away from your workspace. Go stand by a window, walk up and down the stairs, or even just go into a different room. Just make sure you’re standing up and moving in some way: Studies show that even walking around inside can help you feel less drowsy.
A great time to do this is during lunch. Instead of eating in front of your computer, go somewhere else, whether it’s the office kitchen or your backyard. A German study published in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the psychological consequences of eating at your desk by studying groups of people who ate at their desk or went out for lunch. They found that the people who went out reported greater feelings of relaxation and an overall better mood.
- Meditate for a few minutes.
Here’s another benefit of regular meditation: It can actually give you more energy. Research published in Biological Psychiatry found that even short mindfulness exercises can reduce inflammation markers, reducing the stress that might lead to us being so tired in the afternoon. Other studies have looked at the way meditation affects the brain and have found similar results: that it can relieve stress that could cause exhaustion. Download an app like Headspace and take five minutes to just breathe.
- Schedule your to-do list accordingly.
One trick to being as productive as possible, even if you can’t get rid of that 3PM fatigue? Plan your to-do list around your circadian rhythm. According to Psychology Today, most people have a peak in alertness around 8 to 9 a.m., and may be sleepier between 1 and 3 p.m. So, plan to get your hardest and most time-consuming tasks done earlier, and leave some simple things for the afternoon. That allows you to take more of a break when you really need it.
- Go outside for a few minutes.
Can’t go for a walk? At least go outside the office or your home, even if it’s just you standing on the sidewalk for five minutes. A series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being outside makes people feel more alive and energized. When you feel that drowsiness hit, head outside to breathe in the fresh air and get a dose of vitamin D.
- Sniff some peppermint oil.
Citrus scents aren’t the only types of essential oils to have on hand when you need energy. Peppermint oil has been said to give a little boost—just sniff it or put some on your temples. It smells great and makes you feel a bit more alive. You can even mix it with orange essential oil for a two-for-one boost.