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Do you suffer from afternoon apathy syndrome?


Do you or your colleagues nod off in the afternoons? Or just slide with glazed eyes and fuddled brain through a long vague teatime of the soul? Well don’t worry, it’s not a culpable lack of attention or engagement any more, now it’s a syndrome!

New research suggest that 12 million British workers (over 40% of the total UK workforce) are suffering from workplace lethargy, termed ‘Afternoon Apathy Syndrome’ or AAS by expert nutritionists.

The report, commissioned by Ryvita, reveals that workers are regularly lunching on heavy, high-carbohydrate meals resulting in AAS. Nearly half of workers choose to eat a starchy baked potato for lunch at least once a week, and over a third opt for a weekly burger or another form of fast food. Pasta is also a popular choice with 18% eating it for lunch at least three times a week.

Nutritionist Fiona Hunter, who was involved in the research, comments: “Many people think that they are boosting their energy levels by eating high carbohydrate lunches when in fact they are creating the opposite effect. Heavy, high carb meals increase levels of the chemical serotonin to the brain that in turn leads to drowsiness. What’s more, large meals tie-up our energy levels in the digestion process as blood supply is directed to the stomach rather than the brain where energy signals are sent to the body.”

AAS is significantly more prevalent with women than men. Contrary to social expectations that women are more nutritionally savvy, just 35% of men report suffering from AAS compared to 52% of women. Many women actually skip the midday meal altogether with nearly a fifth missing lunch at least three times a week. Almost half choose to eat lunch at their desks while men are more likely to dine out at a café, pub or restaurant than women.

Nutritionist Fiona Hunter comments: “The fact that men are leaving their desks at lunchtime is helping them fight the effects of AAS. Fresh air and exercise, even if it is only a ten minute walk to the pub, can increase your heart and metabolic rate causing you to feel more alert. Workers can also help themselves to feel less drowsy by choosing to snack regularly throughout the day on foods that provide a healthy balance of carbohydrate and protein.”

“AAS is clearly an issue that employers need to take seriously as this survey shows that it is affecting nearly half of their workforce. Providing a staff canteen with a selection of healthy meals and snacks is one way of combating the effects of the energy dip.”

Avoiding AAS, tips from Fiona Hunter
– Avoid heavy carbohydrate rich lunches – a high carb lunch increases the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Serotonin acts as a natural sedative making us feel sleepy.

– Drink a large glass of water before you start eating. It will help fill you stomach and reduce the risk of dehydrating and also prevent you from becoming dehydrated in the afternoon. Even mild dehydration is enough to make you feel tired and lethargic.

– Avoid alcohol – this can lead to dehydration.

– Make time to get up from your desk and if possible get a breath of fresh air – this will help to speed up you metabolic rate, making you feel more awake.

– A cup of coffee after lunch can help keep you alert particularly after a heavy lunch, but remember you shouldn’t really be drinking more than six cups of coffee a day.

Six cups of coffee a day? I would never go to sleep at all.

Should HR advise staff on diet, getting fresh air etc, or is that beyond our remit? Post your comments below.

What if you say go out and get a breath of fresh air, and they get run over!
Where does the responsibility end?

Terri Turner
Senior HR Advisor

1. My experience suggests that desk diners DON’T eat heavy meals at lunchtimes….lack of fresh air and stagnation of the blood are the culprits

2. YES HR should be advising but lets do it from the point of view of productivity rather than health conciousness

Whilst we are at it let’s try to do something positive about the long hours culture…that is probably as damaging to the afternoons as a desk lunch…start the day knackered and you’ll fizzle out half way through.

Rus Slater
Senior Trainer
07966 381628

One Response

  1. Lunch times
    Also a break in routine work in the afternoon which necessitates movement away from the desk and up some stairs or out of the building is useful. We were not designed as human beings to sit all day at the desk and as such we experience stiff joints and fatigue if we do this for long periods of time.

    Encouraging staff to break by trusting them to be away fromt their desks can be useful in increasing productivity and also lessening the stress on them being away and culpable to account for every minute of their time.

    Low carb snacks in canteens or snack options sends a positive message about reducing the carb intake at lunchtime and making fruit juice available as a drink option as well as good clear quality water also helps.

    We are doing work with a call centre which enables staff to have many breaks during the day away from the phones and this has improved performance and reduced stress.

    Robert Edwards

    [email protected]

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