Afternoon Energy Dips: To Fight or to Lean in?

Are you dragging after lunch at work? Many people hit a bit of a wall with energy in the afternoon hours.

The human circadian rhythm (which governs sleep and wakefulness drives) actually has two energy peaks and two dips a day.  All of our bodies are wired to have a bit of a drop in energy in the afternoon. The graph below shows this, although the exact timings can vary a bit by person.

So what to do? One can try to power through this biological tendency with targeted nutrition (lower carb to prevent a food coma) and exercise (even just a brief walk outside or some light stretching).

But honestly, sometimes I just lean into this if it’s a weekend and I have time to decompress. Even if you don’t nap, sometimes it’s nice to just say- hey, I’m going to enjoy some quiet time and let my body do its thing! My god kids have an afternoon ritual which is literally called ‘quiet time’- their choice whether they nap or just quietly read and chill. Their parents and now I have found what a treat this can be. My second mom also talks about ‘horizontal time,’ which is a similar concept. Both of them nod to taking some time for self care and pausing and can feel like great indulgences.

I find a lot of the frustration from my sleep patients is feeling like their bodies aren’t serving them- like they want to get as much productivity as they can from them. But what if we actually did a bit more to serve the biological needs of our bodies and adjusted ourselves accordingly?

Of course, not everyone has jobs where they can set their schedule, but to the degree you can, I would encourage you to arrange your day based on what you know to be true about your own sleep/wake drives. If mornings are your rockstar hours- block your time for flow state work! If you’re an extrovert and people give you energy, maybe schedule meetings when you need the boost from social activity.

We can push through some energy drops when we have an acute deadline, or a busy period. But if we do it chronically, it increases cortisol and other stress hormones and leaves us burned out.

As the saying goes, you only get one body. What if instead of fighting it, we listened to it and even acknowledged a certain wisdom to its rhythms? I find a lot of my work is helping people rewrite narratives of brokenness or insufficiency to helping make peace and normalizing their bodies as they are.

I invite you to ask yourself where in your life and routine you have the ability to relish the natural dip, to lean into some down time and take it as reinvestment and renewal.

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