Itís 3 P.M. and youíre fading at work.
It's 3 P.M. and you're fading at work. While you may be shooting yourself in the foot with poor food choices (we're looking at you, morning donut and vending machine temptations) or not getting enough sleep (five hours isn't cutting it), you need something you can do right now to make it through the rest of the work day. If hitting the office nap room for a quick power nap isn't an option (though if it is, do that!), you're not doomed to crawl through the remaining hours at the office at a snail's pace of productivity. Skip the afternoon cup of coffee (which may keep you from a good night's sleep) and try one of these caffeine-free solutions to your afternoon slump.
1. Reach for the Cinnamon
Peppermint often gets all the credit for kicking our senses into high gear (and it can provide a beneficial energy boost when smelled or eaten), but another scent has shown even more promise in keeping us alert -- cinnamon. According to a 2005 study from the North American Journal of Psychology, chewing cinnamon gum or even more effective, sniffing cinnamon-scented things has been shown to increase an individuals attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory and visual-motor response speed. To beat the afternoon slump, take a whiff of a bottle of cinnamon essential oil or pop a piece of cinnamon gum.
Related: The 9 Best Foods for Your Brain
2. Snack on Prunes
Push aside all your preconceived notions about prunes. Yes, your grandma eats them and yes, they can help with constipation. But these dried fruits offer benefits outside of the bathroom, including providing boron, which studies show may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, and key antioxidants, as well as being an excellent form of energy. According to a 2001 study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, prunes do not cause a spike in blood sugar likely because of their high fiber (if you choose the whole fruit instead of prune juice) and sorbitol content, which is metabolized slowly by the body.
3. Sip a Kombucha
You've seen it at the supermarket. Heard your hippie friend say he's brewing it in his closet. But have you tried kombucha for yourself? You may want to give this fermented beverage a try the next time you need an afternoon boost. "Kombucha has many health benefits including energy gain and focus," says Emily Littlefield, a Santa Monica-based nutritionist. "Kombucha is so powerful because it is a fermented probiotic drink that can aid in healing the body in many ways from better skin to stronger immunity." The slightly carbonated, slightly funky drink can take some getting used to, but this no-fat, low-calorie, low-sugar beverage can provide the perfect boost to help beat your afternoon slump. Want even more wake-up benefits? Choose an invigorating flavor like ginger or citrus.
Related: Secrets of 16 Strange and Popular Superfoods
4. Let Nature Refresh You
Even if it's just for a few minutes, you can increase your afternoon energy by getting outside of the office, says Jimmy Minardi, founder of Minardi Training and certified personal trainer. "A change of scenery can change your mood and give you a quick energy boost. While any kind of exercise is sure to reinvigorate you when you're feeling sluggish, actually getting out into nature can up the effect even more," he says. In fact, a 2009 study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that just 15 to 20 minutes outside can increase your energy as much as a cup of coffee. Other studies have shown that even five minutes in a green environment upped the participant's mood and self-esteem, so go outside, find some green and return to work ready to tackle the rest of your to-do list.
Related: The Ultimate Do-Anywhere Lunch-Hour Workout
5. Go Nuts
Pass on sugary snacks that deplete your body and choose a handful of almonds or walnuts -- both of which are brain food, recommends nutritionist Emily Littlefield. Compared to other common snacks, nuts have an optimal nutritional make up of healthy, high-quality vegetable protein and fiber and important minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium. Healthy fats help you stay energized and full, and fiber helps the body digest the food slowly over time. Walnuts also contain serotonin, which impacts your feelings of happiness and well-being, while both almonds and walnuts contain the essential amino acid phenylalanine, which increases brain power. Even better? Combine nuts with slices of apple for a tasty protein-fiber combo, says Littlefield.
6. Practice Brisk Breathing
Can't leave your desk but feeling your energy dwindling? A few breathing exercises can invigorate you and give you a heightened feeling of awareness, says personal trainer Jimmy Minardi. Instead of the deep, slow, calming breaths experts recommend for decreasing stress, aim for a quick succession of short breaths to reenergize yourself. "Try to inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose for about 15 seconds, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen," he says. The goal of the quick breaths is to stimulate the kind of breathing that would occur during exercise.
7. Just Chill Out
Have you ever tried a plunge pool? After a dip in one of these chilly pools, you'll know what a cold water wake-up feels like. In a 2007 Polish study of whole-body cold therapy, the treatment significantly improved the participant's mood and feelings of quality of life. Another 2014 study from the North American Journal of Medical Sciences showed that exposure to cold activates your sympathetic nervous system and increases levels of endorphins and noradrenaline in the blood. In other words, it creates a small jump start in heart rate, blood pressure and alertness. Unless you work at a luxury spa, your work likely doesn't offer an in-office plunge pool, but you can still get some of the same effect by washing your face, hands or back of neck with really cold water.
Related: 12 Refreshing Spa Water Recipes
8. Choose a Better Bar
When you're hitting a wall at work, it can be tempting to grab a snack with the perfect claim -- an energy bar. But Gabrielle Francis, a New York-based chiropractor, naturopath and acupuncturist, says to be wary of them. "There's a fine line between energy bars and savvy marketing that puts a healthy-sounding twist on what's essentially a Snickers," she says. According to Francis, the ideal energy bar should contain fewer than 25 grams of carbs and 10 to 15 grams of protein from hemp or nut butters or whey, pea or rice proteins. Avoid soy isolates, chemical sweeteners, preservatives, artificial colors or flavorings or anything hydrogenated. Better yet, switch to all-natural raw protein bars like those by Go Macro, ProBar or Omega Bars, which contain a few simple ingredients such as nuts, nut butters, seeds and fruit.
Related: Meet the Women Who Are Changing Health and Wellness
What Do YOU Think?
What do you do when you hit an energy slump? Do you reach for yet another cup of coffee or do you go a more natural route? Have you tried any of the ideas mentioned in this list? Or do you think you will? What other caffeine-free ways would you recommend for boosting energy? Share your ideas and suggestions with the rest of the Livestrong.com community in the comments section below!
Related: 5 Ways to Make Your Own Energy Bars