THE BLOG
11/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The #1 Way to Beat the Afternoon Slump

Forget what Newsweek is suggesting as a way to beat the afternoon slump and just try this instead: a 20 to 30 minute nap. Seriously. I dare you.

When you're feeling low in the afternoon, it's not because you pigged out at lunch and are now entering a food coma. It's also probably not because your blood sugar is taking a dip, even though a handful of M&Ms or a fat Frappuccino sounds good.

There's actually something else going on unrelated to hunger: your circadian rhythm is cycling through a trough that normally happens about 8 hours after you woke up in the morning. So if you got up at 6 AM, then around 2:00 is when the body seems to slow down, your eyes will start to feel like heavy draperies, and you begin to crave a little shut-eye.

Unfortunately, few of us let ourselves go have a cat nap. Instead, we fall prey to the belief that we're hungry (again!) and need that proverbial pick-me-up. How many people try to get through this lull with a sugary, caffeinated snack or beverage? How many calories does that add up to at the end of the year? I'd venture to guess a good 10 pounds, maybe more.

Naps are sorely underrated in the US, but I'm a big proponent of them. They are calorie free, and will refresh you in ways no snack can. It's true that you can improve your memory and sharpen your brain in a matter of minutes in a quick slumber. If you don't believe me, go here and download info, including an informative PDF about the sleep-wake cycle in particular. It's remarkable stuff.

And if it's the How-To of napping that prevents you from trying it, here are some tips.


The Sleep Doctor's Guide to Napping

  • 8 and 30: Aim to take a nap 8 hours after your wake time, but no later than 3:30 pm (otherwise it could disrupt your ability to fall asleep that night, especially if you're early to bed). Set aside 30 minutes, since it will take you 10 minutes to fall asleep, which leaves 20 minutes for the power nap. Use an alarm clock.
  • Get comfortable: Shake off your shoes, recline on a couch or bed (if available), or in a chair. Turn off or dim the lights, or use an eye mask to block distracting light. Get a blanket to stay warm.]
  • Don't get uncomfortable: The thought of taking a nap in the middle of the day, especially a busy work day, might sound crazy to some (like friends and co-workers). Get over it! Some of the most celebrated and productive (and smart and creative and innovative) people in our history were huge nappers. People like Winston Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, and Albert Einstein. I actually think they can attribute much of their successes to the fruits of their daily naps.

Then, when you wake up, you can go for a healthy snack (to get you through to dinner) and feel free to choose any of the ones suggested by Newsweek.

My pick? I like the sounds of the mini pizza--half of an English muffin with sauce and mozzarella cheese. But maybe that's because I'm hungry. For real. I've already had my nap.

This sleep article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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