Have you ever felt starving an hour after a meal? Do you hit that 3 pm slump when you are so sleepy your eyes keep closing and all you can think about is a big cup of coffee and a sweet treat? You’re not alone! Many people experience an afternoon slump or a mid-morning slump.
If you are generally in good health, there are several factors that could influence your slump: sleep, nutrition, exercise, and blood sugar balance.
Not Enough Sleep
Everyone talks about it, but no one gets enough of it. Are you tired from the night before? Did you have 8 – 9 hours of sleep opportunity (time in bed)? If not, your body could be tired because sleep is essential for us to “take out the mental garbage” and process memories. The flashcards you learned need to be filed away so you can use them when you need them – the brain does all of its filing at night while you sleep. Most adults need 7 – 9 hours of sleep yet most people are not in bed long enough to get that much sleep. If you need to, schedule your sleep time like anything else. Block out your sleep time as busy. It’s more important than your work email or the latest Netflix binge worthy show.
Not Enough Food, Especially Protein
Did you skip breakfast again? Or was it dinner? If you aren’t eating at least three meals a day, you may be skimping on nutrition. What does this mean? Your body is HUNGRY. We hear a lot about overconsuming food but under-consumption is also a problem. Your body needs a baseline amount of food to function properly. If you are recovering from an illness, surgery or very active the amount of food you need will greatly increase your baseline. If you aren’t eating enough your body may feel tired and want to sleep all the time. You may not have enough energy to work out or even do normal things around the house.
When you are eating, pay special attention to protein. Did you eat some protein at breakfast? Breakfast sets the mood for the day. After an overnight fast, we are the most sensitive to glucose (blood sugar). If you start the day with a big blood sugar spike, from a baked good or fruit, your later meals will likely also create a spike. Your body wants to keep everything in balance (homeostasis). Carbohydrates alone will create a large sugar spike so your body releases insulin to bring you back into balance. When you are glucose sensitive your body can overcorrect with insulin release which causes a blood sugar drop. This may lead to you becoming hungry long before lunchtime rolls around. Eating a protein-rich breakfast with eggs or some salmon will help to keep your blood sugar balanced and avoid that mid-morning slump. It also sets you up to have more stable blood sugar throughout the entire day with fewer spikes and drops.
Too Heavy a Workout
Somehow it doesn’t seem possible but you can work out too hard. If your morning workout is too hard it can make you tired for the rest of the day. Morning workouts before going to work can be the most challenging – you use up all the gas in the tank and have too little to get your actual work done. Working out after fasting can add to this because your cortisol is highest during the morning naturally with our circadian rhythm. Fasting and working out are stressors on the body that increase cortisol in the short term. Arguably, they are good stressors but the context here is important. In the morning in a fasted state cortisol (our get out of bed hormone, which also doubles as a stress hormone) is the highest it will be for the day. It is important to support your body with fuel and some compassion. Fasting + high cortisol + intense workout = a lot of stress for your body. Pour some caffeine on top and you have a burn out waiting to happen. What is best for your body will change throughout your life. When everything is coming up roses and you feel great, those high intensity hour long workouts can be amazing! When things are coming up more like weeds, then you may have to adjust. Eat something before working out. Consider splitting your workout into several sessions. Opt for something less intense. Movement and working out are important to maintaining health but you need to discover your Goldilocks zone – not too much, not too little, just right.
Blood Sugar Balance
Do you feel starving only an hour or two after you eat? Do you get hangry when you eat a meal later than planned? Do you get anxious and jittery or have headaches that are relieved when you eat something? You may have dysregulated blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes and drops make some people feel like they are having a full-blown panic attack but once they get something in their stomach everything subsides. If this sounds familiar you can make a few tweaks to help keep your blood sugar more balanced. Never eat naked carbs, like a piece of fruit or bread without some protein or fat. If you want a piece of fruit, pair it with a piece of roasted turkey (protein) or some nuts (fat). Eat a bowl of greens before you start your meal. Greens contain fiber that helps to slow the release of glucose into your bloodstream after the meal. Go for a walk or have a quick dance party after your meal. It feels good and gives your body the chance to use some of the fuel you just ate and keep your blood sugar from spiking.
Keeping these tips and tricks in mind can help make your day a little less slump-y. Sleep, nutrition, movement, and blood sugar balance are imporant health pillars in the functional meicine space. They help provide a strong foundation to build on.
Megan Pfiffner MS, CNS
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