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Beat the Afternoon Slump: 15 Ways That Don’t Involve Coffee

The afternoon slump is a natural part of your biology, but you can feel better during the dip if your sleep debt is low and you’re in sync with your body clock.
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists. Learn more.
Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Published
2022-12-05
Updated
17 MINS
Two women beating the afternoon slump by taking a fitness break and doing squats outside the office

You’ve had a full night’s sleep and your usual morning coffee, and yet you’re still falling asleep at your desk come 3 p.m. The dreaded afternoon slump can happen to any of us, even when we’re well-rested. But what exactly is it and, more importantly, how can you stop it from happening?

Below, we’ll dive into what the afternoon slump in energy is and ways you can beat it, or at least improve it. Plus, we’ll explain how the RISE app can help you boost your energy in the afternoons, and across your day as a whole. 

What is the Afternoon Slump?

The afternoon slump is that period of time in the afternoon when your energy levels dip. You might struggle to concentrate at work, have less motivation to work out, and generally feel sluggish, slow, and unable to think of anything but grabbing another cup of coffee or squeezing in a quick nap. 

You don’t just feel tired during the afternoon slump. Everything from your driving performance to your ethics and self-control takes a hit.

What Causes the Afternoon Slump?

Contrary to popular belief, the afternoon slump isn’t caused by a large lunch (but it can be exacerbated by one). 

It’s caused by your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal biological clock. This clock runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and dictates things like your sleep-wake cycle, when your body produces certain hormones, and when your body temperature fluctuates.  

Its timing can change each day, but your otherwise predictable flow in energy look something like: 

  • You wake up and feel sleep inertia, or a period of grogginess 
  • You get your first peak in energy in the morning 
  • You go into the afternoon slump 
  • You get a second-wind energy peak in the late afternoon or early evening
  • Your energy winds down until bedtime 

So, most of the time, you can blame your body’s natural biology for your afternoon dip in energy. However, there may be other things at play. 

You might feel extra tired in the afternoon when: 

  • You haven’t had enough sleep 
  • You’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm 
  • You’ve got a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea
  • You’ve got a health condition that affects your sleep and energy levels, like ADHD

What Are Afternoon Slump Symptoms?

The afternoon slump feels different for everyone, but here are the symptoms to look out for: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of motivation 
  • Poor mood 
  • Brain fog 

How to Beat the Afternoon Slump?

Tired — pun intended — of feeling tired every afternoon? Here’s how to overcome the afternoon slump. While you can’t rewire your natural biology, there are some science-backed ways you can reduce how much the slump hits you. 

1. Lower Your Sleep Debt

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

Sleep debt is the running total of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s measured against your sleep need, which is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night. 

​​One study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.

To find out your exact number, turn to the RISE app. RISE uses historical phone use data and proprietary sleep-science-based models to calculate your sleep need down to the minute. 

The app can then work out how much sleep debt you’re carrying. We measure this over your last 14 nights and recommend you keep it below five hours to feel and function at your best. 

While you might always feel that afternoon slump in energy, you’ll feel it even more after a night of sleep deprivation or when your sleep debt is high.

To reduce how much fatigue you feel — both overall and during the afternoon slump — lower your sleep debt. 

You can do this by: 

  • Taking a nap: Check RISE for the best time to nap to stop daytime sleep affecting your nights. 
  • Going to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleeping in a little later: Keep this to an hour or two to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm too much. 
  • Improving your sleep hygiene: If you can’t squeeze in any more sleep, focus on your sleep hygiene. This is the set of healthy sleep habits you can do to help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, allowing you to get more sleep overall. Learn more about sleep hygiene here.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.

2. Sync Up with Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can tell you when your afternoon slump will be.

Your circadian rhythm is the reason you feel so sleepy every afternoon, but if you’re not living in sync with it, it can cause even lower energy levels at this time, and across the rest of your day, too. 

You might out of sync with your circadian rhythm if: 

  • You’re a night shift worker
  • You’re living out of sync with your chronotype — perhaps you’re a night owl forcing yourself to wake up early, for example. We cover how to make the most of your chronotype here.
  • You’ve got social jet lag — when your body clock doesn’t match your social clock, which can be caused by an irregular sleep schedule. For example, about 87% of us go to bed at least two hours later on the weekend compared to during the week.

Luckily, you can work to match up your daily life to your circadian rhythm and boost your energy levels. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule: Even on weekends. And get out in natural light first thing. Your circadian rhythm is generally a reflection of your light and sleep-wake times over the last two to three days, so slight changes aren’t a problem, but you want to aim for consistency.
  • Eat meals at roughly the same time and during the daytime: A big lunch isn’t the main cause of the afternoon slump, but a big dinner too close to bedtime can keep you up at night, and irregular meals can change the timing of your circadian rhythm.
  • Check your Melatonin Window on RISE: This is the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. As melatonin helps prime your body for sleep, going to bed at this time will help you fall and stay asleep. 

The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day, showing you when your body naturally wants to wake up and wind down for bed, and when your Melatonin Window is each evening. Sync up your day to match to boost your energy levels in the afternoon, and all day long. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

3. Schedule Your Day to Make the Most of Your Afternoon Slump

The RISE app syncs with your Google or Apple calendar to show you the best times to do tasks based on your energy schedule.

By lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, you can reduce how hard the afternoon slump hits you each day. However, this dip in energy is still a natural part of your biology and you’ll probably always feel it to some extent. 

So, if you can’t beat it, work with the slump, instead of against it. 

Use RISE to see when your afternoon slump will be each day, and then schedule your day to match. 

For example, if possible, schedule easier tasks for your afternoon slump like admin, emails, and low-stakes catch-up meetings. Save demanding tasks, like writing, coding, or giving presentations, for your peaks in energy.

You can learn more about how to stay productive through your afternoon dip here. 

4. Take a Break 

Sometimes, you can’t even knock out easy admin tasks during your afternoon dip in energy. This is when it’s best to step back and take a break. 

Go for a walk, get some mindless household chores done, or do a relaxing activity like reading or listening to music. Come back to work when your energy levels start lifting and you can actually be productive.

On the weekends, use your afternoon slump for some quiet time. Read, watch TV, or join the kids for nap time (more on the power of naps below). 

Research shows judges rule less and less favorably on cases over the course of their work day, but taking a break helps them reset. Taking small but frequent breaks, and not waiting too late in your day before you take a break, is best. And breaks have even been shown to help you stay focused on your goals

5. Work on a Task That Requires Problem-Solving Skills 

It may not feel like it when you’re in the grips of fatigue, but the afternoon slump may be the best time to work on a task that requires insight, creativity, and problem-solving skills. 

Research shows you may perform better at these skills during non-optimal times of your circadian rhythm. 

So, while the afternoon is usually best reserved for easy tasks, try tackling a tricky task on your to-do list during your afternoon slump to see if your brain can think up novel solutions during this time. 

6. Take a Nap 

Taking a nap will help to lower your sleep debt and boost your energy levels if you’re sleep-deprived. But an afternoon nap can also help to boost your energy, mood, and performance, even if you’ve been getting enough sleep recently. 

Your afternoon slump is the ideal time to nap, too, as snoozing now shouldn’t make it harder to fall asleep come bedtime. 

A 10-minute nap in the afternoon has been shown to boost energy, vigor, and cognitive performance, with some of these benefits lasting more than 2.5 hours, which should get you through the rest of the workday. 

Just be sure to keep your nap to 10 to 20 minutes long, or you run the risk of feeling sleep inertia when you wake up.

You can learn more about how long a power nap should be here.

7. Get Some Exercise 

When you’re feeling groggy in the afternoons, the last thing on your mind is working out. However, getting some exercise can help to shake off fatigue, so you can come back to work feeling refreshed. 

You might not be breaking any personal bests in the gym, but your afternoon dip in energy could be the best time to work out if you want to save your energy peaks for work and family time. 

Plus, a 2020 study found those who were either at risk for or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes experienced more metabolic benefits when they worked out between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., compared to when they worked out between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. 

8. Drink Caffeine in the Morning, But Avoid it During the Afternoon Slump 

It can be hard to avoid the siren call of a cup of coffee when the afternoon slump hits. But, caffeine can last in your system for more than 12 hours, meaning an innocent 3 p.m. cup of joe could keep you up come bedtime. This will hike up your sleep debt and make your afternoon slump even worse the next day. 

However, caffeine can help you get through the afternoon slump in another way. 

Caffeine has a half-life of three to seven hours. This means it takes about three to seven hours for the amount of caffeine in your system to go down by half, and another three to seven hours to go down by half again, and so on.

If you drink a cup of coffee at 8 a.m., it may already be half out of your system by the time your circadian rhythm plunges you into an afternoon slump. 

However, by delaying when you drink your morning coffee by about 90 minutes or so after waking, you could ensure there’s still some caffeine in your system by the afternoon to keep energy levels a little higher. 

Caffeine is a great way to shake off morning sleep inertia, however. So, if you try this, focus on getting morning light and exercise to wake yourself up first thing without coffee.

And be sure not to drink your coffee too late in the day. RISE can work out your caffeine cutoff time based on your circadian rhythm each day. This is the time you should have your final coffee to give your body enough time to break down all the caffeine by bedtime.

You can learn more about when you should stop drinking coffee here. We answer all of your caffeine and sleep questions here.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.

9. Socialize with Friends or Colleagues 

Socializing can boost your energy. So, if you’re struggling through a mid-afternoon energy slump, head over to a colleague’s desk for some energizing small talk (if they’re also in their energy dip) or work together on a collaborative task. You can also take a break and call a loved one or schedule a catch-up with a friend during this time. 

Dopamine and oxytocin are released when you socialize, boosting your mood, reducing cortisol levels, and lowering stress. 

Want another reason to invest in relationships? It could help to improve your sleep and therefore energy — both throughout the day and through the afternoon slump. 

Research shows those with healthy relationships experience better quality sleep (although there’s no agreed-upon definition for sleep quality yet). And when you go to sleep earlier and sleep for longer, your social interactions the next day may be better, creating a virtuous circle. 

Research has also found a link between positive social interactions between couples and better sleep efficiency, the measure of how long you spend actually asleep in bed. 

10. Get Some Natural Light

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when to get and avoid bright light.

Light is the most powerful zeitgeber, or a cue that times your circadian rhythm to the outside world. It’s important to get light first thing in the morning to reset your circadian rhythm for the day and tell your brain it’s time to be awake and alert. But light can also help you perform better in the afternoon. 

One study asked participants to do a performance test during their afternoon slump under either dark light, white light, or blue light. 

The results showed those who did the task under blue light conditions had shorter reaction times and therefore performed better. Blue light has also been shown to help to boost alertness, memory, and mental performance. 

Sunlight is mostly blue light, so you can use your afternoon dip in energy to get outside for a walk or work outside or by a window, if possible. 

You can also buy a light box to get artificial blue light while working. Just be sure to avoid blue light in the run-up to bedtime as it can suppress melatonin and make it harder to fall asleep.

Check RISE for the best time to avoid bright light. The app can also remind you to get bright light in the morning, which can help reset your circadian rhythm for the day, helping you fall asleep come bedtime and boost your overall energy levels.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their get bright light reminder.

11. Eat a Healthy Lunch 

We know we said your lunch isn’t the cause of the afternoon slump, but it can make things worse if you eat the wrong things. Carb-heavy lunches or sugary snacks can make your afternoon dip in energy even lower than it would usually be.

Research shows a heavy lunch causes more sleepiness and poorer performance on simulated driving tests than a light lunch does.

Opt for lunches with lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and whole grains, and veggies. 

A 2022 study found a diet high in prebiotic and fermented foods reduced perceived stress and improved subjective sleep quality, so reach for foods like bananas, chickpeas, kimchi, and tempeh.

You can learn more about what gives you energy here, including which foods to eat and which to avoid.

12. Avoid Sugary Snacks 

When your energy’s flagging, you may start craving candy or a sugary energy drink for a quick post-lunch pick-me-up. But sugary snacks will spike your blood sugar levels, and this rush will come with an inevitable sugar crash, leaving you more tired than before.

If you’re snacking in the afternoon, opt for energy-boosting snacks like peanut butter, hummus, or low-fat greek yogurt.

Nothing but sugar on offer? Head out for a quick walk. A 10-minute walk has been shown to boost your energy more than a candy bar.

13. Stay Hydrated 

Beyond a healthy lunch, make sure you’re drinking enough water.

Mild dehydration can cause fatigue, making the afternoon slump even harder to deal with. Plus, surprisingly, the very act of drinking water can make you feel more alert, even if you’re not tired. 

So, prioritize hydration throughout the day, and make an effort to get up and grab a glass of water when you start feeling sluggish after lunch.

The small bout of physical activity involved in getting it, and the potential for socializing — if you bump into a colleague in the staff kitchen or family member in your home — will boost your energy levels, too. 

14. Take a Cold Shower 

Need to jolt yourself out of an afternoon funk fast? Try hopping into an icy shower. Cold water can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism for an energy boost. 

If you’re in the office, try splashing your face with cold water, instead. 

15. Listen to Your Favorite Music 

If you need an excuse to put your headphones in at work, this is it. Your favorite playlist may help you get through a tiring afternoon. 

Research shows listening to your favorite music can boost your energy levels, whereas listening to relaxation instructions or sitting in silence can make you feel calmer, but also more tired.

If you’ve opted for an afternoon nap, music can help shake off sleep inertia when you wake up, too. A study found “excitative music” helped to shake off post-nap grogginess, regardless of whether participants liked the music or not, but sleepiness was reduced the most when they listened to music they liked. 

Bonus points if you dance along to the music for some added energy-boosting exercise. There’s even evidence to show that singing and tapping along to the beat can help reduce tiredness and increase energy.

Boost Energy During the Afternoon Slump and Beyond 

The afternoon slump is a natural part of your circadian rhythm, but there are things you can do to make it easier. First up, use the RISE app to find out your sleep need, lower your sleep debt, and sync up with your circadian rhythm. This will give you more energy during the afternoon, and throughout the rest of the day. 

Next, work with your afternoon slump, not against it. Check RISE for the timing of your energy dip and schedule easier tasks for this time. You can also take a nap, get some natural light, and get some exercise to boost your afternoon energy levels. 

Summary FAQs

Why do I get an afternoon slump?

The afternoon slump is part of your circadian rhythm, or your internal body clock. The timing differs from person to person and may change for you from day to day, but you get an energy peak in the morning and early evening, and a natural dip in energy in the afternoon.

How do I stop a slump in the afternoon?

You can boost your overall energy, including in the afternoon, by keeping your sleep debt low and staying in sync with your circadian rhythm. To get through your afternoon slump, schedule easier tasks for this time, take a nap, get some exercise, or get outside for some natural light.

Why am I tired at 3pm?

The most likely reason you’re tired at 3 p.m. is because of your circadian rhythm, or your body’s internal clock. Your energy levels are naturally higher in the morning and early evening, and lower in the afternoon. You may also be tired at 3 p.m. if your sleep debt is high or if you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm.

Afternoon slump without caffeine

Get more energy during the afternoon slump without caffeine by taking a nap, getting some exercise or natural light, eating a healthy snack, drinking a glass of water, socializing, or listening to your favorite music.

Foods to avoid afternoon slump

Avoid sugary foods and simple carbohydrates during the afternoon slump, as these foods can cause a sugar rush and then a sugar crash, leaving you more tired than before. You should also avoid caffeine during the afternoon slump as consuming it this late in the day can keep you up at night.

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