Refresh With Microbreaks

Chris Delany

Partner

Wouldn’t it be nice if at least one workday could pass without feeling the dreaded afternoon slump? Many people feel tired and lazy after lunchtime, and there is a biological reason for it.

Our bodies have a natural rhythm that gives us a bit of a lull around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. This happens because our core body temperature drops and signals the production of melatonin, making us sleepy. The same process takes place before bedtime as well, but thankfully, we’re close to sleeping and not at our desks with a pile of work to complete.

Of course, you can’t blame everything on your internal clock. What you eat and how you spend your day also plays a role in how fatigued you feel late in the afternoon. A lot of people don’t fuel up their bodies properly in the morning, and they crash and burn in the afternoon. If you’re running on coffee in the mornings with nothing to eat, that’s going to negatively impact you later in the day.

The afternoon slump doesn’t just hit Americans who are pulling 8-to-5’s. In Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica, people take siestas. These short naps are also popular in Italy, Greece and the Philippines. In France, billions of sandwiches are sold each year as the French take leisurely afternoon breaks at the bistros. Even factory workers in China are being encouraged to use their breaks for power naps.

Microbreaks and Their Benefits

Since many of us simply can’t put our heads down on our desks at 2 pm, we need to be creative about how to keep motivated during the afternoons, and that’s where microbreaks come in handy. Microbreaks are short breaks of 30 seconds to five minutes  that can improve mental sharpness by 13 percent.

Let’s explore some of the benefits of taking microbreaks throughout your day, thanks to research from the Orca Team.

Increased Productivity  

Studies show that taking regular breaks of just one-and-a-half minutes is enough to increase worker productivity by 6.45 percent. Bump that number up to two minutes and productivity increases by 11.15 percent.

Enhanced Mental Alertness

Though getting a good nap in is a bit more difficult than taking a break, those who are able to snooze for a few minutes reap the best rewards. A 40-minute nap improves mental alertness by 34 percent, and a 20-minute nap is more beneficial than sleeping in an extra 20 minutes.

Reduced Pain and Discomfort

Sitting at a computer desk all day takes a toll on the body. In one study of workers suffering from pain in their wrists, hands and forearms, a five minute break each hour eliminated discomfort.

How to Refresh Your Day with Short Breaks

As wonderful as microbreaks sound, how can you incorporate breaks into your day when you’re already pressed for time? As it is, the average American works 9.2 hours a day, and more often than not, that’s without a break. It’s estimated that only one in three American workers actually takes a lunch break, and the remaining two or three either eat lunch at their desks or skip it entirely.

So what are some of the ways that you can squeeze these small but powerful breaks into your day? Put down that sandwich and let’s find out!

Stand and Stretch

Even a super picky boss can’t stop you from standing up and stretching. Stretching brings oxygen to the brain and wakes you up. It also prevents pain and stiffness from settling in. Check out these 12 simple stretching exercises that you can do at your desk.

Get Moving

Stretching is good, but actually moving away from your desk is better. Not only do you get the benefits of more oxygen and decreased tension, but also you remove yourself from the same scene you’ve been looking at all day and get your blood pumping.

Rest Your Eyes

Relaxing your eyes for just 20 seconds relieves eye strain and improves vision. It can even help you prevent eye diseases like nearsightedness and farsightedness. Explore these quick and easy eye exercises that you can do to fight the afternoon slump.

Check Out Facebook

You might find this surprising, but going on social media can give you a small boost. The key is to check out Facebook or Instagram for a minute or two and then get back to work rather than spending hours on it. One study showed that employees are 10 percent more efficient when they check their news feeds regularly.

Drink Water

Water should be your first choice since it doesn’t have any added sweeteners or caffeine, which can make you more tired. Bottled water, tap water or fountain water will do just fine. Take a sip and refresh your body. Add a lemon or lime wedge for added taste.

Eat a Snack

Snacks are important. By keeping your body fueled throughout the day, you can almost avoid the afternoon slump entirely. What you eat matters. Stick to high protein foods that curb hunger such as trail mix or cheese. Fresh fruit or cold cut veggies also good choices.

Take a Walk

If you can, take a quick walk around your building. This way, you get your body warmed up, relieve stiff muscles and push oxygen to your brain. The fresh air is rejuvenating and can offer you a new perspective on that afternoon project or report.

You can’t make microbreaks a priority unless you recognize the value in them. Microbreaks are an effective way to fight the afternoon slump and make you a happier, healthier and more productive employee.

About the Author: Chris Delany
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