Have you experienced a drop in energy at around 3 o’clock and can’t focus on your work? You dread to complete your task and you just can’t think clearly? You don’t have any medical condition, you know it is not a hangover, it is not lack of sleep, it is not a cold or low blood sugar, so what is the cause? Sometimes, there is no clear explanation, but certain foods can aggravate or improve your mental acuity in the afternoon. Here are some tips:
- If you are a coffee drinker, try to avoid drinking it in the afternoon. It is natural that you want to reach out to coffee or a latte when you are feeling tired, but caffeine may affect your sleep and in turn, make you feel more tired the following day.
- Limit the daily alcohol intake to 1 serving for women and 2 servings for men. Alcohol is known to slow down reflexes, disturb sleep and worsen hot flashes in perimenopausal or menopausal women.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration makes a person feel more tired and affects cognitive functions of the brain. One way to check if you need more water is to check the color of your urine. It should be almost clear with hint of yellow. If it is darker than usual, you may need more water.
- Avoid simple sugars and a diet high in simple carbohydrates. Too many carbs can make your body produce excessive amount of insulin and as a result, your blood sugar may drop suddenly. If you are eating a carbohydrate, choose carbs higher in fiber or complex carbs and eat them in combination with lean meat, healthy fat, and vegetables. A good example is to eat a piece of fruit with cheese or peanut butter.
- Limit highly processed foods or fast foods, which are generally high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fat. Pay attention to portion sizes and try to incorporate some veggies. In general, processed, or fast foods can make your brain feel “cloudy” in the afternoon. Have you noticed that after eating food from a fast food chain, you want to take a nap?
- Try to eat more natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables. They often work better than coffee to boost your energy. Their water content, antioxidant, fiber and crunchy texture help your brain stay alert.
- Avoid eating large meals and choose your drink wisely. Chew your foods well, watch your portions and try to stop eating when full. Avoid sugary drinks and choose unsweetened flavored or carbonated water or herb teas.
There are some other factors that can affect your memory and alertness. Make sure you are sleeping well 7-9 hours a night, exercising, and managing your stress. Try to get some fresh air after lunch and work in a cool environment.
Some medical conditions can also make you feel tired during the day. They include sleep apnea, vitamin D deficiency, hypothyroidism, and anemia among others. If you suspect having some underlying medical condition, consult your doctor.
For more ideas on how food can improve your mental acuity, talk with your registered dietitian.