Put down that energy shot! There's no need to chug crazy canned concoctions or buckets of coffee to get through the day without a 3 p.m. slump. We found 28 quick and easy tips to up energy levels—no unpronounceable chemicals required.
1. Work out midday.
When that mid-afternoon urge to doze rolls around, hit the gym instead of the sack. Studies suggest working out can actually increase productivity enough to counteract that time away from the office. Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels: effects of worksite health interventions involving reduced work hours and physical exercise. von Thiele Schwarz U, Hasson H. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2011, Dec.;53(8):1536-5948.
2. Power nap.
Avoid the temptation to pull a Rip Van Winkle, and take a quick midday power nap instead. Studies show the optimal amount of sleep is 10 to 20 minutes to get through the day without throwing off the night's sleep. Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Milner CE, Cote KA. Journal of sleep research, 2009, Oct.;18(2):1365-2869.
3. Hit the candy bowl.
Sure chocolate's got caffeine, but that's not the only reason it offers a quick pick-me-up. Flavonoids found in cocoa have been shown to boost cognitive skills and improve mood. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort. Scholey AB, French SJ, Morris PJ. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 2009, Nov.;24(10):1461-7285. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in an acute improvement in visual and cognitive functions. Field DT, Williams CM, Butler LT. Physiology & behavior, 2011, Feb.;103(3-4):1873-507X.
4. Drink some joe.
We can say from experience six back-to-back cups of coffee is a recipe for instant crash-mode. But one cup is usually just right. One study found that a single cup of coffee was enough to keep sleepy drivers on a long haul more alert at the wheel. Effects of coffee on driving performance during prolonged simulated highway driving. Mets M, Baas D, van Boven I. Psychopharmacology, 2012, Nov.;222(2):1432-2072.
5. Go outside.
Head into the great outdoors—even if some woods aren't nearby, a green park will do. Just 20 minutes outdoors is enough to feel more alive. How's that for an energy boost?
6. Eat regularly.
The body needs fuel (a.k.a. food) to function, and without it our energy and mood can spiral downward. However regular, healthy meals and snacks can improve cognitive function. What is the role of food in preventing depression and improving mood, performance and cognitive function? Lombard CB. The Medical journal of Australia, 2001, Feb.;173 Suppl():0025-729X. But keep in mind not getting enough sleep can also cause us to eat when we're not actually hungry, so check in with that stomach before munching down. Sleep curtailment is accompanied by increased intake of calories from snacks. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2008, Dec.;89(1):1938-3207.
7. Reach for complex carbs.
Wondering what to eat to fuel up? Complex carbs (like whole grains) are a good bet. The dose of glucose they provide serves as food for the brain, and one study found a meal of complex carbs made subjects feel more energized. The effects of high-carbohydrate vs high-fat breakfasts on feelings of fullness and alertness, and subsequent food intake. Holt SH, Delargy HJ, Lawton CL. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 1999, Aug.;50(1):0963-7486. Studies have also found low-carb dieters to be moodier than those who do eat carbs. Long-term effects of a very low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat diet on mood and cognitive function. Brinkworth GD, Buckley JD, Noakes M. Archives of internal medicine, 2009, Dec.;169(20):1538-3679.
8. Sip sugar-free drinks.
Studies suggest sugary energy drinks can leave us crashing as soon as one hour later. A high sugar content, low caffeine drink does not alleviate sleepiness but may worsen it. Anderson C, Horne JA. Human psychopharmacology, 2006, Sep.;21(5):0885-6222. The shocker: The effects are the same even without the caffeine! That's right, caffeine-free sugary beverages can cause a crash, too.
9. Stretch it out.
Just a few desk stretches may be enough, but studies have suggested a little yoga could fight depression and anxiety or other stress-related disorders. Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Streeter CC, Gerbarg PL, Saper RB. Medical hypotheses, 2012, Feb.;78(5):1532-2777. Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. Streeter CC, Whitfield TH, Owen L. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 2010, Aug.;16(11):1557-7708.
10. Add some greens.
In a stuffy office, a houseplant can help filter out pollutants like volatile organic compounds (or VOCs for short) and ozone. And those chemicals can have both long and short-term effects, including energy-draining allergies and headaches. Volatile organic compounds: do they present a risk to our health? Rumchev K, Brown H, Spickett J. Reviews on environmental health, 2007, Jun.;22(1):0048-7554. The health effects of non-industrial indoor air pollution. Bernstein JA, Alexis N, Bacchus H. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 2007, Dec.;121(3):1097-6825. Add a plant, though, and those threats could diminish.
Laughter's a proven stress-buster, but studies suggest laughing can boost energy levels, too. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Bennett MP, Zeller JM, Rosenberg L. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 2003, Apr.;9(2):1078-6791. Humor: an antidote for stress. Wooten P. Holistic nursing practice, 1996, Feb.;10(2):0887-9311. (Feel free to use this as permission to go on YouTube for the next 30 minutes.)
12. Open the curtains.
Environmental cues play a huge role in thebody's energy grooves (a.k.a. circadian rhythms), and sunlight can also help alleviate seasonal affective disorder. But there's no need to invest in a light therapy box if there's a sunny window available.
13. Chew-se wisely.
Instead of nodding off during an endless meeting, eat a small piece of candy or pop a piece of gum. One study found chewing gum can increase alertness and improve mood. Effects of chewing gum on mood, learning, memory and performance of an intelligence test. Smith A. Nutritional neuroscience, 2009, Jul.;12(2):1476-8305.
14. Think fast.
It may not sound so easy when those eyelids are drooping, but making the brain work a little quicker may help the body follow suit! Thinking faster (i.e. reading at a quicker pace, brainstorming in a group, or learning a new concept) made one group of study subjects feel more energized. Manic thinking: independent effects of thought speed and thought content on mood. Pronin E, Wegner DM. Psychological science, 2006, Nov.;17(9):0956-7976.
15. Take a cold shower.
It's all about the polar bear swim. Researchers have even suggested a three-minute long cold shower could be enough to counteract some of the effects of chronic fatigue.
16. Take a few deep breaths.
Nope, it's not just the key to resisting the urge to scream at that stupid driver. Deep yoga breathing from the diaphragm gets blood pumping, which also may boost energy all day long. Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Jerath R, Edry JW, Barnes VA. Medical hypotheses, 2006, Apr.;67(3):0306-9877.
Whether at the gym or just dealing with the daily grind, it can be hard to remember to drink enough water. But even mild dehydration can cause sleepiness, so try chugging a glass or two when fatigue strikes. Impact of mild dehydration on wellness and on exercise performance. Maughan RJ. European journal of clinical nutrition, 2005, Mar.;57 Suppl 2():0954-3007. Or, better yet, stay hydrated all day long!
18. Flick a switch.
Circadian rhythms can have a big impact on how alert we feel, but one study found feeling more awake (at any time of day) can be as easy is flipping on some lights. Preliminary evidence that both blue and red light can induce alertness at night. Figueiro MG, Bierman A, Plitnick B. BMC neuroscience, 2009, Aug.;10():1471-2202.
19. Turn up the volume.
Don't just turn on to tunes to chill out. Listening to music and tapping those toes significantly increased college kids' alertness in one study. The effect of personality type and musical task on self-perceived arousal. Lim HA. Journal of music therapy, 2008, Sep.;45(2):0022-2917.
20. And sing along.
Even Dummies know singing requires breath control. Belt it for a full song, and there's plenty of extra oxygen pumping to feel energized as well as the adrenaline of taking it to the (karaoke) stage. Plus, one study showed singing significantly increased energy levels among college students (more than just listening quietly to tunes). The effect of personality type and musical task on self-perceived arousal. Lim HA. Journal of music therapy, 2008, Sep.;45(2):0022-2917.
21. Do something interesting.
Plan to do the most engaging or interesting task of the day during the sleepiest time of day (typically around 3 p.m.). One study found that being interested in a task makes it significantly easier to stay awake (despite an energy lull). Boredom effects on sleepiness/alertness in the early afternoon vs. early evening and interactions with warm ambient temperature. Mavjee V, Horne JA. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 1994, Nov.;85 ( Pt 3)():0007-1269.
22. Adjust the temperature.
Being too cold may cause the body's temperature to drop, which tells it "time to sleep!" The human sleep-wake cycle reconsidered from a thermoregulatory point of view. Kräuchi K. Physiology & behavior, 2006, Oct.;90(2-3):0031-9384. Throw on a sweater or turn up the heat to fight off that drowsy feeling.
23. Choose the window seat.
Consistently dozing off in class or meetings? Move closer to a window. The daylight, fresh air, or even simply a natural view can all help boost alertness. On the flipside, a frantic street view may make it harder to focus.
24. Be social.
Studies have found people who are less social are generally less happy and don't sleep as well. And compared to sedentary or quiet office work, chatting it up made study subjects feel more awake. Comment on short-term variation in subjective sleepiness. Eriksen CA, Akerstedt T, Kecklund G. Perceptual and motor skills, 2006, May.;101(3):0031-5125.
25. Seek some lemon-aid.
Sniffing certain scents (a.k.a. aromatherapy) is rumored to have all kinds of mood benefits, but lemon oil is one of the only essential oils with proven support. Lemon is considered a stimulating scent, and one study showed it improved subjects' moods. Olfactory influences on mood and autonomic, endocrine, and immune function. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Graham JE, Malarkey WB. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2008, May.;33(3):0306-4530.
26. See red.
Studies have shown the color red is associated with winning and self-confidence. Perception of the color red enhances the force and velocity of motor output. Elliot AJ, Aarts H. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 2011, Aug.;11(2):1931-1516. Try looking at some red or violet hues (or wearing them) to feel more awake.
27. Straighten up.
Slouching over the computer could cause fatigue earlier in the day. Sit up straight, though—that's shoulders back, eyes dead ahead, and lower back slightly arched—to feel more energized and possibly even get a boost of self-confidence. The effects of upright and slumped postures on the recall of positive and negative thoughts. Wilson VE, Peper E. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 2004, Dec.;29(3):1090-0586.
28. Leave the desk.
Chowing down in front of the computer makes overeating even more likely. Playing a computer game during lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake. Oldham-Cooper RE, Hardman CA, Nicoll CE. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2010, Dec.;93(2):1938-3207. But getting away from the desk at lunchtime could help reenergize and refocus, too. Whether it's a quick walk or a long lunch, take some time to wake up away from the glowing screen. Those emails can wait a few minutes. Really.
Originally published April 2012, updated July 2015.