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5 Ways to Beat the Afternoon Slump

Naps, walking and nature may be as effective as caffeine and sugar

mature couple taking a nap

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Studies show that a short afternoon nap can boost alertness and cognitive function.

It happens to all of us. While you may fire on all cylinders in the morning, the inevitable afternoon blahs hit hard around 3 p.m. It's tempting to reach for caffeine or a sugary treat for a boost, but those options could have a negative effect on your diet or sleep patterns. Here are some healthy alternatives to perk up your afternoon.

Take a nap

For retirees or people with flexible work environments, an afternoon nap could revive you and help with long-term cognitive function. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an afternoon nap of about 20 or 30 minutes is best for boosting alertness and mental performance — and doesn't interfere with nighttime sleep. A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society also suggests that an afternoon nap of around an hour is ideal for improving cognitive functioning among older adults, Medical News Today reports.

"The results support the hypothesis that a moderate-duration nap taken during the post-lunch dip is associated with better overall cognition," according to the study. "Older adults who did not nap or napped longer than 90 minutes (extended nappers) were significantly more likely than those who napped for 30–90 minutes after lunch (moderate nappers) to have lower overall cognition scores after adjusting for possible confounders." The research was led by Junxin Li of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at Johns Hopkins University.

Go for a short walk

Another new study suggests that 10 minutes of walking — or climbing a couple of flights of stairs — is actually more effective in boosting energy than consuming 50 milligrams of caffeine, Psychology Today reports. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia and published in the Journal of Physiology & Behavior, analyzed sleep-deprived young adults who frequently used caffeine to improve afternoon alertness. They found that 10 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity exercise was a better energy booster than the 50 milligrams of caffeine, which is about the caffeine content of a can of soda.

Enjoy some dark chocolate

Research from Northern Arizona University showed that a dark chocolate, low-sugar snack could benefit memory and general brain health. The study found that after eating chocolate with 60 percent cacao, participants' brain scans showed they were more alert and attentive. 

Eat nuts and seeds

"Snacking on nuts (or seeds) prevents blood sugar fluctuations that would otherwise cause energy dips," nutritionist Michelle Schoffro Cook told Rodale Wellness. In addition to providing protein, which stabilizes blood sugar, nuts also may give you a boost from omega-3 fatty acids — especially walnuts and pumpkin seeds. The brain is about 60 percent fat — and needs fat to stay strong, Cook said.

Enjoy nature, any way you can

Even if you don't have time for a full walk in the afternoon, taking 40 seconds to view greenery can help boost your mood, according to an Australian study cited online in the Boston Globe. Another study found that just listening to a nature soundtrack can have benefits. "Nature sounds can have a restorative effect on our cognitive abilities," lead author Jonas Braasch, a musicologist at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told HuffPost. "Participants favored the mountain stream signal 6-to-1 over the traditional white noise signal."