If you struggle with low energy as the day goes on, here are 7 highly effective ways to increase your afternoon energy–without taking a nap.
This morning I was thinking about a challenge many people face: a decrease of energy in the afternoons.
Many busy professionals are used to finding ways to “power through” such energy lows. Perking up with caffeinated drinks and/or sugary foods is a culturally acceptable, and often default, response.
Lately, napping has been praised as a healthier alternative. There are specific circumstances under which (done correctly), napping is a good idea. And for many people this daytime practice can reduce sleep pressure, negatively affecting their nightly sleep experience.
Related: Does Napping During the Day Impact Your Sleep at Night
Entrepreneurs passionate about their mission tend to be happiest surfing the waves of their energy as it increases to the crest; fewer have ease or clarity around what to do in a trough.
Yet, to avoid burnout, maintain nightly sleep quality, and secure overall health and well-being, it’s necessary to consider strategies beyond these two extremes. In addition to the “powering through” and napping strategies, consider replenishing expended energy and learning to float.
Look to the cause to select your strategy.
To select an effective strategy, it’s important to understand what’s driving your low afternoon energy.
Think of your energy as water in a bucket. Ideally, after a night of quality sleep, you wake feeling refreshed. You start your day with a bucket that’s full.
Throughout your morning, you expend energy. By the time afternoon rolls around, the water in your bucket has decreased. How much depends on two things:
- how active you’ve been (physically, mentally and/or emotionally) and
- how large a bucket you started with.
If you have a decent sized bucket and you slept well the night before, the best strategy will be to replenish your energy.
However, if your bucket is smaller–for example, you are managing an acute health condition, a chronic illness, or you experienced insufficient sleep the night before–your best bet is to learn how to float in the trough.
Techniques to help you replenish expended energy.
Here are 4 techniques you can use to replenish expended energy:
- Hydrate. Dehydration is an overlooked, yet common contributor to feeling fatigued (and often confused with sleepiness). Refill your bucket with a tall glass of actual water!
- Nourish yourself. It’s common to turn to hyper-palatable foods (i.e. those high in sugar or fat) to help power through an afternoon. While this temporarily works, a more energy-sustaining choice is a macronutrient-balanced meal or snack. Taking an uninterrupted 20-30 minutes away from workspaces to receive pleasure from your food comes with the added benefit of feeling nourished.
- Vary your tasks. If you’ve been sitting at your computer and using mental energy all morning, it’s useful to get physical in the afternoon. While a walk outside in daylight may be enjoyable and useful for helping you sleep at night, this technique doesn’t necessarily imply exercise. If you’re working from home, for example, you can do something simple, such as emptying the dishwasher.
- What excites you? This technique may require more thought, yet yields tremendous value. Boredom can masquerade as low energy. Have the types of challenges that originally interested you been solved or otherwise delegated? Are you spending your afternoons in aspects of your business you find routine, or tedious? Reconnect with something you’re deeply passionate about, and you’ll notice your energy soar.
Techniques to help you float in the trough.
Here are 2 techniques that can help you float in an energy trough. If you have less experience with intentionally slowing down, there may be some initial discomfort. As with learning anything new, however, time, experience, and practice can alleviate this.
- Embrace your body’s request for rest. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, close your eyes, and lie down on your back with your feet flat and knees bent. This position is called “constructive rest”. That’s because it helps to release tense muscles, relieve eye strain, and induce a “relaxation response” in the nervous system.
If you’re unable to honor and surrender to your mind-body’s need for rest during the day, it’s likely you’ll struggle with being still at night. Therefore, becoming a skilled “rester” may have a welcome side effect of improving your sleep.
- Align your To Do list with your energy. Expect that you will begin some days with less water (energy) in your bucket and/or with a smaller bucket. If you also have an over-achieving personality, it may be even more beneficial to set more reasonable expectations about what can get done in a day. If you enjoy making To Do lists, continue with this twist: select the ONE most important thing, that if complete, would make all others either easier or irrelevant.
Related: 4 “Unproductive” Habits That Make You More Productive
The solution to your day may be your night, and vice versa
It’s no secret, however, that for more consistent daily energy, it’s crucial to make your nightly sleep as sound as possible. So here’s my last suggestion:
- Re-prioritize getting better sleep. This might mean increasing your sleep opportunity (i.e. giving yourself more time in bed for sleeping) or getting some help unpacking less the obvious contributors to sleep challenges.
Related: 4 Changes to Make to Your Day So You Get Better Sleep Tonight
Just as there are many reasons why you may feel wide awake at 3 a.m., there can be many causes for feeling “low and slow” in the afternoons. It’s important to consider the underlying reasons, and to adapt your strategy (and techniques) to your situation.
Making more skillful choices about your afternoon energy will not only help you in the second half of your day, but will also preserve your nightly sleep and help you maintain long-term health and well-being.
Originally published May 2022 in Entrepreneur Magazine*.