It’s the middle of the afternoon. If you can barely keep your eyes open and even simple projects seem incredibly complicated, you’re not alone. Afternoon fatigue is common in the workplace, at home, and on the road. Anyone can be tired, but according to many experts, women suffer from this affliction more than men do.
What causes afternoon drowsiness? In her book Outsmarting Female Fatigue, Debra Waterhouse, MPH, RD, lists more than a dozen contributing factors. These range from medical conditions like anemia, hypothyroidism, diabetes, low blood sugar, sleep apnea, adrenal gland insufficiency, clinical depression, chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome (CFIDS), and fibromyalgia to lifestyle factors like diet, dehydration, being out of shape, spending too much time indoors, and stress. Fortunately, medical conditions can be treated (see a healthcare provider to check for those listed above), while anyone’s diet and lifestyle can be improved.
To start, make time for breakfast. Then and at lunch, consume protein and unrefined carbohydrates. Skipping meals or eating only a skimpy salad can result in afternoon exhaustion as much as a high-carb lunch can. Because large meals draw blood from the brain to digestive organs, try replacing big meals with several small ones. Reduce or avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates—their energizing influence is fleeting at best.
While there’s no denying that caffeine fights fatigue, too much can leave you feeling irritated or anxious, reduce your efficiency, or interfere with sleep. Flavonol-rich chocolate—everyone’s favorite health food—may boost blood flow to the brain and help prevent fatigue in some individuals. Just be sure to watch the amount of sugar.
Green oats, known in the twelfth century for their ability to enhance mood and concentration, may once again become famous as an ingredient in supplements for improved mental function. Now an Israeli company is testing oats to find the most effective variety. In the meantime, green oat teas and tinctures may help stabilize afternoon energy.
The Right Fats Provide Energy
Ironically, a low-fat diet—still considered by many to be the path to good health—can leave you exhausted. The body needs fat, including saturated fats, which provide a concentrated source of energy. Fats provide the building blocks for cell membranes and hormones, act as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins, and improve mineral absorption.
Long shunned because of its saturated fats but now vindicated as a heart-healthy food, coconut oil is an excellent choice. Look for virgin organic brands from around the world. Research published in medical journals shows that coconut oil boosts energy and endurance, enhances physical and athletic performance, and helps relieve symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Of the many herbs associated with health, adaptogens are among the most frequently recommended for people with energy issues. Adaptogens are safe tonic herbs that you can take for long periods. They have few (if any) side effects, help normalize all of the body’s systems, and enhance the body’s ability to deal with stress.
Ginseng is the most famous adaptogenic herb. Both American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) are rich in saponins called ginsenosides. Studies suggest that these saponins may be the reason ginseng strengthens the mind and immune system, while helping to balance blood sugar. This year Mayo Clinic researchers tested an extract of American ginseng on cancer patients to treat their fatigue and exhaustion. Those who received 2,000 mg daily (the largest of three doses tested) experienced greater overall energy levels, fewer problems with fatigue, and improvements in their mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), the plant that used to be called Siberian ginseng, is prized in Russia as an invigorating tonic that restores vigor and memory, improves overall health, and increases stamina. Today it is best known in the U.S. as a tonic that fights fatigue.
Rhodiola (R. rosea), an adaptogen long used in Asia and Eastern Europe for increased physical stamina and mental performance, has been shown to improve students’ exam results. It also enhances the speed and strength of young athletes during competition.
Schisandra (S. chinensis) is another Asian adaptogen becoming popular in the West. For more than 50 years, tests conducted on athletes, flight attendants, hunters, and soldiers have demonstrated this herb’s ability to increase stamina and concentration while reducing fatigue and recovery time.
In addition to recommending adaptogens, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar prevents her own afternoon slump with a green drink. “Spirulina is wonderful in tomato juice with a squeeze of lemon,” she says. “Or I add a little cayenne to warm water with lemon. A quick walk through the garden with a nice cup of hot or iced lemon balm tea calms the nerves and rests the soul.”
Last but never least, enjoy the invigorating power of scent. Japan is the leader in research on aromatherapy in the workplace, where essential oils of lemon, peppermint, and other plants are used in dosages so low they can’t be detected by the human nose. In one study, students more than doubled their test scores with the use of aromatherapy. In another, computer users made significantly fewer typing errors when lemon oil was infused into the room. Just breathing essential oils such as peppermint, lemon, frankincense, black pepper, cinnamon, cypress, pine, cedarwood, fir, spruce, juniper, or eucalyptus can improve your afternoon efficiency, increase alertness while driving, and help you cope with stress. For a quick pick-me-up, place a drop or two of essential oil on a tissue and seal it in a plastic bag or jar. Open the container and inhale as needed.