Q: What can I do to get over the 4 o’clock slump?

A: In the summer of 2009, I was working in the snack stand at a water park in West Windsor, NJ. That summer, my co-workers noticed a phenomenon that they jokingly named "the 2 o’clock Lovich slump." Each day, one to three hours after lunch, my smile would fade, my thinking would become foggy, my posture would sag, and I would feel tired.

As a typical young adult, I expected that around lunchtime I would feel hungry and after eating I would feel energized, renewed, and be able to keep a steady pace at work and school. Once I started medical school and learned more about how the body works, I understood that the food I was choosing to eat would only make me feel not hungry. In truth, I was merely filling up my stomach, not my fuel tank.

Let’s take a look at some of the causes for the afternoon blahs and the corresponding solutions that can keep you from hitting the 4 o’clock wall that so many of us hit.

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blood sugar

Spiked Blood Sugar: Consuming foods high in simple sugar, fat, and empty calories will undoubtedly give you the feeling of being energized. But you are not feeding your body what it really needs. The high highs you get from candy or sugary drinks usually result in low lows.

Solution: Eat low-glycemic foods so that sugar is released slowly into your bloodstream. Eating good fats and proteins slows the rate of emptying from your stomach into your small intestine. This prevents unsustainable rushes that then tumble into periods of low energy.

On Fire

On Fire: Brain inflammation due to a poor diet or following a concussion can persist for a long time, sometimes years and decades beyond the initial event. There are tests your practitioner can perform to find out if your gut, brain, or body is experiencing inflammation.

Solution: Nutritional supplements such as turmeric, resveratrol, and ECGC in green tea can work together to turn off the signals that keep inflammation going. Sometimes this is just what you need to keep the slump from happening.

fake energy

Fake Energy: Caffeine is a quick fix for tiredness, and many people use it. But are you relying on it too much?

Solution: It’s fine to use caffeine from time to time to support your energy. But also make sure you are getting enough vitamin B complex (specifically B1, B3). This will aid in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your body’s energy currency.

inertia

Law of Inertia: Sitting at on your couch begets more sitting on your couch and tiredness.

Solution: The opposite is also true—an object in motion usually stays in motion. When you exercise, you can actually create energy by increasing blood flow and oxygen to your body and brain. Exercise can also wake up your metabolism. The top of the brain stem is home to the area that keeps you awake during the day. Physical exercise helps to control that area and make it more efficient.

brain drain

Brain Drain: If you don’t use it, you may lose it. Are you challenging your brain enough?

Solution:Neurological rehabilitation and brain performance exercises can do wonders for your brain beyond what physical exercise can do. While brain inflammation can choke the neurons and keep them from functioning well, you can also rehabilitate, or exercise, your neurons. This helps improve their endurance and allows them to function at their best for longer. Also, we all have asymmetries in our brain that can change our performance. When performing "neurorehab," we want to precisely exercise the areas that need it more.

sleep

Simply Sleep: Are you getting enough healthy sleep? Just like the type of food you eat, the quality of your sleep matters.

Solution:It is recommended that adults age 26-64 get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each day. Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. Wind down before bed. Keep lights low, invest in a good mattress, and don’t watch the news or read anything over-stimulating. Create a peaceful environment—both physical and mental—that’s conducive to sleep. When you are sleeping, your body regulates hormones, grows muscle, repairs tissue, and stores and retains information.

You can use these strategies to bust the afternoon blahs and make each day a productive one. If you train your body and brain just as you would for any endurance performance, they are bound to grow stronger and beat the 4 o'clock slump.