The midafternoon can be a difficult time for the body and brain as your energy levels fall and your brain begins to feel sluggish.
Most of us begin to feel drowsy around 3 p.m. because we've been awake for a big chunk of the day and the body-mind needs a break. As day turns to night, the lack of light causes a gradual increase in production of the hormone melatonin, which tells our bodies it’s time to sleep. But melatonin production (and that of other hormones that make us sleepy) may also increase after eating, particularly after consuming certain foods or large quantities, so we may experience afternoon drowsiness as a result of lunch.
Drowsiness is good at night, when we want to sleep, but unhelpful in the afternoon, when there are usually a few more hours of work ahead. Many of us respond to that afternoon slump by reaching for a caffeinated beverage or a sugary snack to perk us up.
Next time, try the exercise below instead to get your body moving and breathing, but first, let’s talk about how it works.
Many athletic coaches follow the logic that putting your hands overhead allows more air to get into your lungs, thus helping you recover faster after an intense workout. Well, it turns out this may in fact be true.
One study, conducted by Boston University, looked at arm position and how it affected air intake and oxygen consumption. The researchers found that subjects who held their arms at shoulder height while consciously breathing consumed more oxygen and increased their air intake than they did when they held their arms at their sides. These benefits continued for two minutes after their arms were lowered.
The belief is that elevating the arms increases the use of the diaphragm, the muscle at the base of your lungs that is responsible for breathing.
In addition to arm position, the way in which we breathe also matters. Conscious breathing is an effective means for giving a natural energy boost to the body and mind. Conscious breathing means focusing on lifting/expanding the rib cage, opening the chest, and drawing in long, deep breaths. This increases our air intake because lifting the rib cage gives the diaphragm, which expands and contracts the thoracic cavity to aid in breathing, more room to move—which allows the lungs to fill more fully. When we sit hunched over a desk, our rib cage compresses the diaphragm and compromises our breath, resulting in more shallow breaths. By lifting the rib cage, we expand the thoracic cavity and we’re able to draw in more oxygen.
The following yoga pose and breathing technique will help you do just that.
Sit cross-legged, engage your low belly, and lengthen your spine. Then raise your arms out to your sides at a 60-degree angle with your palms facing forward. Curl your fingers into your palms, but let your thumbs stick straight up. Inhale and draw the thumbs together overhead. Let the thumbs touch, and then exhale as you lower your arms back to the 60-degree starting point.
Repeat for about one minute or at least 10 breaths. Then relax your arms, placing your hands in your lap. Close your eyes and take three long, deep breaths. When you open your eyes, you will feel energized and ready to get through the rest of your day.