If you find yourself catching flies throughout the day or wishing you could scout out a quiet, shady spot for a quick nap, you’re not alone. Excessive daytime sleepiness affects around 18 percent of the population.
Beyond diagnosed sleep disorders, many factors can contribute to your feelings of drowsiness, including nutrition, obesity, and alcohol consumption amongst others. Feeling sleepy can be particularly dangerous for construction workers, who often handle heavy equipment, work at higher elevations, or perform physical tasks.
“Daytime sleepiness can be a bigger problem than just addressing the 2 to 3 p.m. slump,” says Malina Malkani, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You’ve got to look at the whole picture to get a sense of what’s going on.”
To uncover what’s causing your daytime drowsiness, here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you getting plenty of sleep?
Before beginning the nutrition conversation, Malkani says individuals need to practice “good sleep hygiene.” While people have different needs when it comes to sleep, she says, “research says between seven and nine hours a night is the sweet spot.”
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. One of the best ways to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep is to stick to a schedule: a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
2. Are you skipping breakfast?
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is especially true for people who work in construction, as it comes with continuous, physically-taxing activity.
“A good breakfast is a really important meal. It replenishes the energy source that your muscles need,” Malkani explains. “If you think about it, your muscles have just gone without a meal or snack for on average eight to 12 hours” when you wake up.
Malkani recommends choosing breakfast foods that offer a balance of high-fiber carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. A quick, easy breakfast encompassing all of these food groups is quick oats soaked overnight in the refrigerator with milk (dairy or non-dairy) and either served cold or warmed in the microwave, topped with walnuts, peanut butter, bananas, or other fruit.
“This helps stave off hunger and gives you a nice, sustained level of energy throughout the morning until you make it to lunch,” she says.
3. What are you eating for lunch?
A balanced lunch is just as important as a balanced breakfast. Opt for meals that vary proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, such as whole grain pita stuffed with hummus and vegetables, and plain yogurt with fruit and nuts, Malkani says.
“Take a good hard look at your lunch,” she urges. “If you get a good balance of nutrients at lunch, it will help stave off that energy dip that often happens so quickly after we eat.”
If you’re feeling a little drowsy by mid-afternoon, you may be tempted to turn to caffeine, which is okay in moderation, Malkani says. Moderation means about 400 milligrams per day, which is approximately four cups (as in the measurement—not mugs) of brewed coffee.
“The problem with turning to caffeine in the afternoon is that it can disrupt your sleep cycle later on,” she explains. “Then, you end up in a vicious cycle of not sleeping well and then needing more caffeine to get through the next day.”
4. How much physical activity are you getting?
Construction is already a physical job, but changing up the movement throughout the day can keep you alert. Doing some jumping jacks, stretching, or taking a brisk walk, as long as your doctor has cleared you for exercise, can clear your mind and boost your energy, Malkani says.
“Any movement is better than no movement,” she says. “Activity is interesting because there’s some research that says you want to be active for at least 30 minutes every day, but not too close to bedtime, or you might have trouble winding down.”
5. How is your overall wellness?
Because they’re stimulants, tobacco and alcohol can impact overall health and wellness, which can affect sleep, contributing to daytime drowsiness. Limiting alcohol and quitting smoking can greatly improve energy levels.
It’s also a good idea to visit your doctor regularly for check-ups to monitor your overall health. Certain nutrient deficiencies—such as iron, potassium, vitamin B-12—can also cause fatigue, Malkani says.
Making small changes over time adds up to a healthier lifestyle, she suggests. Slowly embracing a healthier diet, going to bed a little earlier each night, moving a little more, and cutting back on caffeine, sugar, or nicotine can go a long way in helping stave off the very real struggle with daytime drowsiness.