Do you ever feel that 2:30 p.m. slump? I know I do, and I’d feel confident in saying that most of you feel it, too. You’re not alone.
While there are early birds and night owls, one thing that is common among most people is the feeling of sluggishness in the afternoon. This is due to the body’s circadian rhythm (the 24-hour-ish master clock that regulates hormones in the brain). It prominently controls the body’s feelings of being tired or awake.One thing that is common among most people is the feeling of sluggishness in the afternoon.
But what many people don’t realize is that it’s not just a lack of physical energy during the afternoon, the brain’s reward processing system also suffers, according to a study conducted by The Journal of Neuroscience.
Simply put: this system is responsible for helping us weigh potential risks versus rewards and decide what – or what not – to do.
Reward response is typically driven by “reward-related factors,” such as the appeal of a reward and personal characteristics, such as whether you are an optimist or pessimist.
In the study, healthy young men were asked to perform a gambling exercise while in a MRI scanner, so their brain’s blood flow could be monitored in real time. Researchers observed the men’s activity three times during the day (10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.,) and found 2 p.m. to be the period when the lowest levels of activity were observed.
So, what does this mean? Rewards received in the morning or evening are more of a surprise than kudos we get in the afternoon. Our “reward system” is more active during the day when our potential for reward is high and risk is low. Other evidence also suggests that our brain varies in response to unexpected rewards, compared to expected rewards. For example, a person’s response to a surprise birthday party compared to a planned birthday dinner. Both are rewarding events, however since the surprise party was unexpected, the brain needs to work harder to understand what’s happening.
How do these reactions to rewards impact your daily life? Psychologists recommend organizing your to-do list from worst to best, ensuring that the things you don’t want to do first are completed in the morning.
For those working a 9-t0-5 job, schedule something positive and rewarding around 2 or 3 p.m. Whether that’s a meeting or taking a walk outside, your body will thank you for giving it a break.
Others suggest working out in the morning because you’re less likely to have schedule conflicts and more likely to exercise regularly. Either way, working out is just good for overall health!
Even weight loss can be tied to when, not just what, you eat. Eating too few of calories in the morning appears to work against us, so eating a balanced breakfast or healthy mid-morning snack will help you lose a few extra pounds (if that’s what you’re looking to do).
And if you’re still feeling sluggish in the afternoon, don’t worry about it – it’s only a temporary feeling.