Feeling tired during the afternoon is normal. The hypothalamus of the brain contains a cluster of cells that operate the wakefulness-sleep cycle called the circadian rhythm. These cells typically increase feelings of sleepiness in the evening hours, but mid-afternoon sleepiness also seems programmed into biological schedules, explains Harvard Medical School. However, digestion, dehydration and psychological issues may also play a role in afternoon tiredness as well. People should learn the cause of their afternoon fatigue, as well as what they can do to prevent the condition from interfering with their productivity.
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Although the tendency to become sluggish in the afternoon seems to be hardwired into the circadian rhythm of humans, the type and amount of lunch a person eats also may contribute to afternoon fatigue. When the body digests food, it releases the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), which triggers the areas in the brain associated with sleep. In addition, meals high in carbohydrates can increase levels of the amino acid tryptophan. The body converts tryptophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which increases feelings of happiness and sleepiness. People who believe their lunch could have something to do with their afternoon drowsiness may want to consider keeping a food journal, suggests Columbia University. This lets people pinpoint which types of foods seem to increase their tiredness and allows them to make the appropriate dietary adjustments to combat fatigue.
People who wish to battle afternoon tiredness have many options. Many find themselves more energized after a quick meditation session in the afternoon, and going for a quick walk can also re-energize some. Others may find listening to upbeat music or having a caffeinated beverage helpful in fighting their fatigue. Dehydration can fuel fatigue, so drinking a tall glass of water may also prove beneficial.
Instead of fighting it, some people may find it beneficial to give into the urge to take a daytime nap, suggests Harvard Medical School. Although research is still ongoing, naps may help improve learning, memory, creative thinking and may make people more effective problem-solvers. However, people should keep daytime naps short, ideally 10 to 20 minutes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Longer naps may lead to sleep inertia, which can increase grogginess throughout the rest of the day and make it more difficult to sleep well at night.
Many simple lifestyle modifications may prevent afternoon tiredness. Eating a combination of protein and carbohydrates for lunch may help, suggests the Better Health Channel website. Drinking plenty of water, getting regular exercise, taking a daily multivitamin and adequate rest each night also prove useful. In addition, practicing regular relaxation techniques, avoiding stressful events and situations, expressing emotions and seeking therapy for difficult mental issues can prevent fatigue that's rooted in psychological problems.
People who experience afternoon fatigue that is particularly severe or persistent should contact a doctor to rule out an underlying medical condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome, anemia, sleep disorders, electrolyte imbalances and kidney dysfunction are just a few of many medical conditions that can cause fatigue during the afternoon.