3 O'clock Slump?

Taking control of afternoon fatigue.

It starts with a yawn -- a gradual onslaught of warmth and delirium, so powerful that you find your eyelids drooping and your chin giving way to the weight of your forehead. Such a sensation might be appealing, a provocative invitation to get some much-needed rest, if not for the blinking of unchecked messages and assortment of deadlines that hover about you. It's only 3 o'clock, a mere two hours past lunch with two more to go, and you are deep in the throes of a daily attack -- a "slump," if you will, that almost seems viral in its disabling effects.

Perhaps giving the problem a name can help overcome it. Mention the "3 O'clock Slump" in any work environment, and you'll hear a disgruntled chorus of understanding. So, what exactly are the causes of this affliction, and what can you do about it?

Louise Jacobson, nutritionist at the Church Health Center's Hope and Healing Center, says lack of sleep the night before can bring on the slump, whether it's "a few yawns or a fight to stay awake." Natural body rhythms also come into play, so if you're more productive in the morning or afternoon, arrange your schedule accordingly

A major culprit behind mid-day doldrums is poor nutrition. Jacobson offers a few questions to determine if your food choices are wrecking your afternoon: "Did I skip breakfast this morning? What did I have for lunch? Did I fill up on caffeine?"

It's certainly possible to overdo the latter. Says Jacobson: "I think all the studies have shown having more than four cups of coffee can really send you crashing in the afternoon." For lunch, a balance of proteins and carbohydrates is ideal to maintain energy throughout the day. Jacobson says to try "low-fat proteins like turkey or chicken, grilled chicken with some fruit, tofu with steamed vegetables, or beans in a salad." She also emphasizes the importance of drinking plenty of water and not consuming alcohol with meals. "Some people have a martini or beer or other liquor at lunch. That's a depressant, so avoid it."

Later in the afternoon if you get hungry, don't ignore the pangs. "[They] only get stronger and more out of control," says Jacobson. But as you stand in the break room in your weakened state, beware of the vending machines' siren song. Resist that Snickers bar in its coiled silver slot -- crunchy peanuts, caramel, nougat -- and consider other options.

"You may just need to eat a little something to keep going until dinner," says Jacobson, "such as a piece of fruit or a handful of trail mix, or even a can of low-sodium V-8 juice and a handful of pretzels or crackers."

Claiming to beef up the diet or act as a substitute for nutrients, herbal supplements boast a growing market. Ginkgo biloba, in particular, is touted by believers as a "cure-all" for many common ailments, including afternoon fatigue. But do such supplements help -- and are they wise? "I don't think there's been enough research done to substantiate the claims that are made," says Jacobson.

Instead of reaching for supplements or succumbing to Snickers, try these alternatives instead: "A rapid 10-minute walk will raise the energy level faster than probably anything," says Jacobson. Or a brief chat with co-workers "can bring you out of that lull."

Now, that's something anyone can handle.

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