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First step to staying awake at work: Get enough sleep the night before, regardless of how much a challenge it is.
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updated 4/7/2008 8:36:19 PM ET 2008-04-08T00:36:19

When Anthony Nguyen and his colleagues at 10.Deep Clothing in Brooklyn feel the afternoon fatigue set in they go straight for the bikes and skateboards kept at the office. A couple laps around their studio's large, open floor plan get them alert and running for the last few hours of the day.

Not everyone has a bike or the space to ride it around their office. But Nguyen and his co-workers have the right idea when it comes to beating the afternoon slump that occurs somewhere around 2 and 3 p.m. Namely, get up and move around.

There are things we can do to avert the slump before it starts. The most obvious: Get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. "If you don't get enough sleep, your body doesn't restore itself to get ready for the next battle," says Stefan Aschan, owner and founder of Strength123, which provides nutrition and fitness programs both online and in New York City.

Diet contributes to energy levels too. "Eating a lunch that is too big is the most common reason for feeling sleepy in the afternoon, says Rebecca Solomon a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. "All your energy goes into digesting the enormous meal."

The goal is to keep the body's Cortical and Cortisone levels even since they're the hormones released by the body in reaction to stress — they produce the fight or flight response. Their levels are elevated when you have sugar, caffeine and processed food, so you feel awake and energetic. But a few hours later, when those levels drop, you're sluggish.

Solomon recommends eating a meal that's balanced with healthy fats (from olive oil or avocados, for instance) with protein and healthy carbohydrates (whole wheat bread or pasta). The portion will vary for people of different sizes, but a general rule is you should be hungry about four hours after the meal.

Another healthy eating habit: Consume small portions of foods throughout the day, including almonds, carrots and hummus and fruit. Enjoy lunch around 1:30 or 2 p.m., just before the time you normally feel fatigued.

Once you've eaten a healthy lunch, take a brisk 10- to 15-minute walk to get your blood circulating. The fresh air and sunlight will reinvigorate you. Along the same lines, manage your stress by closing the door to your office and laying on the floor for about 10 minutes with your eyes closed. You might not fall asleep in that time, but it's a great way to focus on breathing instead of the stress of the day.

Nguyen, the clothing designer in Brooklyn, says his office has several windows that look out over the Brooklyn waterfront. Since they start work at about 10:30 a.m., they tend to stay later — until after sunset. It's when the sun sets that he gets sleepy.

"That's completely normal," says Jeffrey Saltzman, an organizational psychologist with the HR consulting firm Kenexa. "It's part of a natural cycle." Meaning, when the sun goes down, we get tired; when it rises in the morning, our body stops producing the hormone melatonin and we wake up.

Career coach Mary Ann O'Neil helps her clients get through the afternoon with some unique ideas. She recommends keeping a large jigsaw puzzle in a public area, such as a lunch room or water cooler space, that employees can add to as they walk by. Looking for shapes and colors will get those creative juices flowing. If that doesn't work, try keeping a crossword puzzle or Sudoku at your desk. The online version is too addictive, so stick with the paper games. "It keeps your mind going, but it takes the brain off business mode," says O'Neil, founder of the leadership training firm One to One Leadership.

For a quick pick-me-up, keep complimentary e-mails and notes from friends and co-workers in a drawer. Pull them out and read them when you need a jolt of positive energy.

Sometimes your energy level has to do with the amount of work on your desk — or lack of it. Saltzman, the organizational psychologist, conducted a study about employee's perceived workload and how it relates to their happiness at work. When staffers have "the right" amount of work, they feel positive. When they're overworked, they still feel happy because they feel their company needs them. In contrast, when they have too little work they feel depressed. "They felt that not having enough work means you're not being valued," says Saltzman.

He took that concept a step further. When those employees feel undervalued, they get depressed. Depression often causes people to feel fatigue. Ultimately, when someone doesn't have enough work to do, they may feel tired.

Perhaps that's a recommendation to employers: To keep your staffers awake, pile on the work.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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