Feeling unusually tired around midday or in the early afternoon is not uncommon. If it occurs after strenuous exercise that one is not accustomed to then it may not be entirely unexpected. Similarly a person may experience midday to afternoon fatigue if they did not have a restful sleep. However, these “slumps” or “dips” can sometimes occur for no known reason. It may even be a symptom of an underlying disease like diabetes or heart conditions and therefore needs to be assessed by a medical doctor.
What are slumps and dips?
Slumps and dips are common terms used to describe tiredness and particularly severe tiredness (fatigue). Often it arises suddenly, unlike the gradual tiredness that slowly develops during the course of a typical day. These slumps or dips can be a symptom of some underlying diseases. However, these slumps and dips are more likely to arise for common dietary and lifestyle reasons, like insufficient food intake or a lack of sleep.
Most of us feel refreshed and revigorated after a night’s sleep. It is during this period of sleep that our energy levels are restored. If the sleep is sufficient in duration and quality then your energy levels should sustain you for most of the day. For most people, their energy levels are highest in the early parts of the day and gradually wanes by late evening. Sometimes there is a significant loss of energy (tiredness) that arises around midday or early afternoon which should not occur.
Causes of Slumps and Dips
Fatigue is a common symptom of many diseases and disorders. It may be constant or intermittent. In some conditions, even the slightest effort can lead to severe tiredness. It is therefore difficult to identify the exact cause of these midday to afternoon slumps. Some of the more common causes have been discussed below but there may also be other conditions responsible.
Although 8 hours of sleep is recommended, some adults can manage adequately on 6 hours. Sleeping less than this is usually a problem as is sleeping for more than 9 hours. Just as important as quantity is the quality of sleep. Both REM and non-REM sleep cycles are necessary for sleep to be of suitable quality. If quantity of sleep and/or quality is compromised then this can lead to midday slumps or afternoon dips.
Low Calorie Intake
Calories are a measure of energy and the calories in food indicates the energy potential within it. Adults need approximately 2,000 to 2,500 calories daily with active people requiring more calories and sedentary people requiring less. For various reasons the calorie intake may not be sufficient for a person’s daily needs. From starvation to extreme dieting and fasting, a low calorie intake can lead to slumps and dips despite adequate sleep.
There are many nutritional deficiencies that can cause symptoms like fatigue. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency followed by vitamin D deficiency. Anemia is commonly caused by iron deficiency. This means that the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood is reduced and less oxygen can be the cause of fatigue even with minimal physical activity. Vitamin D deficiency may also contribute to fatigue.
Various substances can cause midday slumps and afternoon dips for different reasons. For example, caffeine is a commonly used stimulant to counteract tiredness but when it wears off then the tiredness may return. Caffeine can also affect the quantity and quality of sleep if consumed close to bedtime. Nicotine may also have a similar effect as it is also a stimulant. Alcohol can also have an impact on sleep and contribute to midday to afternoon tiredness. Various drugs and illicit substances may also be responsible.
Diabetes mellitus is a global health problem. One of the major symptoms of diabetes is fatigue. People with poorly managed diabetes mellitus may experience episodes of fatigue. It is not uncommon for this to appear as episodes of midday slumps and afternoon dips. Although type 2 diabetes is increasing in incidence, many cases remain undiagnosed and initially do not appear with typical symptoms.
An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) is another possible cause of midday fatigue. With less thyroid hormones circulating, the metabolism is lower than normal. As a result people with hypothyroidism experience persistent tiredness which may worsen with even minor physical activity. This could account for midday slumps and afternoon dips, if the hypothyroidism is not properly treated and managed.
The heart is responsible for distributing oxygen throughout the body by pumping blood. If the heart is not functioning optimally then blood circulation and oxygen distribution is impaired to varying degrees. From heart attacks to heart failure, these conditions can cause fatigue. Sometimes the fatigue is ongoing whereas at other times it only arises with physical activity as the heart is too weak to compensate for the physical demands.
How to avoid midday slumps?
The cause of the midday slump needs to be identified. Conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism and heart diseases need to be medically managed. It is therefore important to seek medical attention for midday slumps and afternoon dips to exclude or confirm medical conditions that may require treatment. However, a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes can be helpful in preventing these slumps and dips.
- Ensure sufficient sleep by maintaining an early and consistent bedtime. At least 7 hours of sleep should be scheduled for the night.
- Create a suitable environment for a comfortable sleep. This usually involves cooling a room, ensuring a dark silent environment and using comfortable sleepwear.
- Do not consume stimulants like caffeine before bedtime. Alcohol should also be avoided as it can disrupt the sleep cycles that are necessary for a refreshing sleep.
- Avoid heavy meals before bedtime and do not indulge in late night snacks. This can cause a disturbed sleep especially if there is underlying conditions like acid reflux.
- Exercise may be helpful. It can help to increase energy levels and possibly avoid midda slumps. Exercise may also help to improve the quality and quantity of sleep.