We all know that ‘after-lunch’ feeling, when our bodies slow down, our brains go mushy and we’d rather just take a nap. Some call it ‘food coma’, ‘siesta time’ or, in the medical trade, ‘postprandial somnolence’.
Whatever you call it, it drains your productivity, so how can you avoid it?
I have deliberately constructed the headline to this posting to frustrate a theory that New Scientist column Feedback has been promulgating: that headlines with a yes/no question always lead to a ‘no’ answer.
Should you eat lunch? Of course you should. If you are working hard, physically or mentally, you have been using up energy that you need to replace. But what you eat for lunch, and how you eat it matter too.
What to eat
That after-lunch lethargy happens because food entering the stomach and small intestine activates your parasympathetic nervous system, turning down the volume on many high level neurological functions like thinking and moving and activating your digestive reflexes.
Part of the activation process for your parasympathetic nervous system is the flood of glucose that your digestive tract extracts from your food and secretes into your blood system. Your body then releases insulin as part of its process of managing your sugar spike, working to return blood sugar levels to normal. Insulin triggers the release of two brain chemicals that make you feel drowsy: melatonin and serotonin. Et voila: mental lethargy.
The solution is to reduce the sugar spike and you can do this by carefully selecting the food you eat. The simplest sugars, like table sugar, which is added to a lot of processed foods, converts most quickly to glucose.
So step one is to reduce your lunchtime intake of high glycemic index sugars like sucrose. Foods like white bread, potatoes (and therefore chips and crisps – fries and chips for American cousins), and biscuits – not to mention sweets and chocolates all convert their sugars quickly into glucose and have glycemic indices of over 70. Exchange your white bread sandwiches for wholemeal or, better still, rye bread, and your crisps for nuts will have a great benefit on your after lunch lethargy. Check out the Glycemic Index page on Wikipedia for more examples.
How to Eat
Hard work is hard on your body and mind. So what do many managerial and professional people now do after a long morning of hard work? They grab their lunch and eat it while doing more work. D’oh.
Your mind and body need a break, so, instead, take a break. Use your lunch period to rest, relax, socialize or exercise. Get up, move around, go somewhere different, think about something different, think about nothing much at all. Fresh air and daylight – exspecially for office, warehouse and factory workers whose days are spent in fluorescent-lit, air-conditioned boxes can gain a lot from just thirty minutes of daylight and natural air.
A proper mental and physical break from your work is what you need to revitalize you for the afternoon.
So, two things will make a huge difference to your afternoon effectiveness: choosing the right food for lunch, and taking a proper break to recharge your mental batteries. That is not a lot to commit, in exchange for a more productive and effective day.
My newest book is Powerhouse.
You can learn more about Powerhouse or buy Powerhouse from Amazon: