SEP 21, 2017 06:37 AM PDT

The Mid-Afternoon Slump: It's Not From Food

That mid-afternoon slump that seems so familiar isn't really about having too much food at lunch, or not having enough sugar. While a candy bar commercial might make you think you need a sweet treat to be yourself again, the reality is it's likely the brain's reward center that's responsible for the afternoon fog and not a lack of chocolatey goodness.

The region of the brain that processes reward feelings is the least active during this mid-afternoon period, regardless of food intake and that is what leads to the lack of motivation and a feeling of fatigue that can be overwhelming.The way our brains process reward is thought to be intricately connected with mood disorders and even addiction. A disruption in this region could be part of the biology behind depression and other mood disorders. The research, from a team at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia suggests that when the brain slows down in processing rewards, the result is a lack of vigor, a feeling of tiredness and a dip in productivity. Understanding how the brain's reward system can ebb and flow could lead to new and better treatments for substance abuse, depression, and anxiety.

Experts have gone back and forth over what causes a slump in attention and productivity after lunch. From blood sugar to chemicals in food, the information has been confusing at times. The team at Swinburne used a gambling task, something the brain responds to because winning a game is an easily recognizable reward in the brain. Using 16 healthy young men, the activity was carried out at intervals during the day. Times included 10 am, 2 pm and 7 pm.

While the volunteers were engaged in the task, functional MRI scans (fMRI) were conducted to show, in real time, which areas of the brain were active. Looking at the blood oxygen levels on these scans was how the activity was determined, and the results were a bit of a surprise. It's been thought that the reward center was least active at night and more active during the day, following the circadian rhythm of work and sleep, however, it's a bit of a paradox. The brain has learned to expect rewards during the more active daylight times, so it doesn't work as hard to get them. It's as if "rest leads to rust" as it does in physical exercise.

When completing the tasks, the MRIs of the volunteers showed much less activity during the day. This lack of activity is what leads to that blah feeling of low productivity. The activity takes place in a region of the brain called the left putamen. Since it's been ingrained in most of us that rewards come during the day, without much activity required to seek them out, this region takes a bit of a break, and that slowed down effect is felt. Since we tend to not expect rewards first thing in the morning or the evening, the brain goes into a busy phase of actively searching for reward opportunities, and that provides more of a boost.

Jamie Byrne, a clinical psychology Ph.D. candidate at Australia's Swinburne University of Technology, and lead author of the new study explained, "Our best bet is that the brain is ‘expecting' rewards at some times of day more than others because it is adaptively primed by the circadian system." In other words, it's not about the food; the brain is just wired this way so step away from that candy bar. Going forward the team would like to see how the information can be used to plan a more productive day or ward off depression symptoms, but first, a larger study would need to happen, and then more data can be analyzed. The video below has more information, check it out.

Sources: Swinburne University of Technology, Business Insider, Journal of Neuroscience

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
NOV 10, 2018
Health & Medicine
NOV 10, 2018
Heart Attack Or Panic Attack? Knowing When To Seek Help
Chest pain, shortness of breath, and feelings of impending doom are all symptoms representative of both heart attacks and panic attacks. For this reason, i...
DEC 05, 2018
Cardiology
DEC 05, 2018
The Case For Sexual Healing In Heart Patients
Sex is an important component in the lives of most healthy adults. As such, it is essential for providers working with post-coronary patients to advise the...
NOV 19, 2018
Plants & Animals
NOV 19, 2018
Communal Rearing Better Prepares Mice for the Real World, Study Finds
Researchers have long understood early-life experiences to influence actions and behavior later in life for humans, but can be same be said about animals?...
NOV 26, 2018
Neuroscience
NOV 26, 2018
Conditioned Taste Aversion (CTA)
The negative reaction to certain foods when encountering a food due to adverse post ingestion consequences is called Conditioned Taste Aversion (CTA)....
DEC 19, 2018
Drug Discovery
DEC 19, 2018
Promising Drug for ALS?
ALS, standing for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the nerve cel...
DEC 27, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 27, 2018
Decoding the Different Body Languages of Your Dog
If you pay close attention to your dog’s barking and body language, you’ll begin to recognize specific patterns. More specifically, the context...
Loading Comments...