Everyone Gets a 3 p.m. Slump, but There’s a Reason *You* Might Be Sleepier Than the Average Person Around This Time
It's 3 p.m., and you've hit the dreaded afternoon slump. You're tired, sluggish, and sleepy. The struggle to power through the rest of the day is real (cue that second or third cup of coffee). While this is common for many people, some folks feel sleepier than the average person in the afternoon. These people have what's called a "napper" sleep chronotype. Below, we chatted with a sleep expert to learn more about it, plus tips on how to deal.
What is the napper sleep chronotype?
The four sleep chronotypes refer to when a person naturally feels sleepy and alert throughout the day. Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, a physician, certified sleep specialist, and sleep coach, explains that the morning bird chronotype means you feel most alert in the morning, and then your alertness gradually declines as the day continues. On the other hand, she says the night owl chronotype is less alert in the morning, and their energy levels increase as the day progresses. Meanwhile, the afternoon chronotype feels most awake and energized during—you guessed it—the afternoon.
Then there's the napper sleep chronotype, which a 2019 study published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences found many people fall into. "In this chronotype, individuals tend to feel alert when they wake in the morning but have two periods of decreased alertness or sleepiness in the late afternoon around 3 p.m. and again in the late evening around 10 p.m.," Dr. Holliday-Bell explains. "They tend to feel pretty alert during the times in between."
If you experience those two slumps throughout the day and get especially sleepy around 3 p.m., those are telltale signs that you, too, fall into the napper sleep chronotype. (If you're unsure, tracking when you tend to feel awake and sleepy during the day can help you identify your sleep chronotype.)
So, why do you get *really* sleepy around 3 p.m.?
Everyone experiences the 3 pm and 10 pm energy dips due to our circadian rhythm. "Your circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle that controls your levels of alertness and sleepiness throughout the day in addition to other metabolic and endocrinologic processes," Dr. Holliday-Bell explains. "In that 24-hour cycle, there is a known slight dip in the level of alertness in the mid-afternoon, commonly known as the mid-afternoon or post-prandial slump. Alertness subsequently increases and then dips more significantly as the late evening comes around."
The difference between the napper chronotype and the other sleep chronotypes is that nappers have a more exaggerated version of the normal circadian rhythm. Therefore, they experience more significant decreases in levels of alertness during the afternoon slump. The reason behind it, however, is still unknown. "We are not currently aware of what specifically causes the decrease in levels of alertness during the afternoon, but think it may be an evolutionary remnant from when midday napping was beneficial for survival," Dr. Holliday-Bell says.
How to align with the napper sleep chronotype
Once you identify that you're a napper sleep chronotype, how do you deal with the extra afternoon sleepiness? We tend to function best when we go with the flow of our natural circadian rhythm. So, planning your day around your alertness windows can be helpful. In other words, don't book important meetings around 3 p.m.
And, if possible, Dr. Holliday-Bell says one of the best things you can do when that sleepiness hits is take a power nap. "This will help get you through the afternoon slump and actually wake up with more energy and increased focus and productivity," she says. So, permission to schedule a recurring naptime appointment in your Google calendar.
Even better news: Dr. Holliday-Bell says power naps don't need to be long to reap the benefits—15 to 30 minutes will do the trick—making it easier to squeeze them into a busy day. As for the late-evening slump around 10 p.m., her advice is just to call it a night and go to sleep. The increased sleep drive during that time will make it easier to fall asleep, so take advantage as you drift off to dreamland.
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