By Hannah K. Puder

Ever find yourself guilty of surfing social media between emails around 11 a.m.? Or find yourself nodding off around 2–3 p.m.? Staying mentally engaged at work can be difficult, especially if you have a desk job or one requiring repetitive tasks.

So why do we have these dips in energy throughout the day? Often, the slack in energy is due to a decrease in the body’s production of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Commonly known as the “fight or flight” hormone, cortisol also regulates the body’s energy levels throughout the day by breaking down protein, carbohydrates and fats to convert them into energy.

Most of us produce our lowest cortisol levels at night, allowing us to fall asleep. Cortisol levels rise slowly and hit their highest peak at around 8:30 a.m., peaking again around 1 p.m., and lastly around 6 p.m. So, between these bursts of energy, we naturally feel a little lethargic.

So, what can we do to keep our brains active during those lulls in cortisol production? Taking brief breaks from your computer can help refocus your mind on your activities. Experts suggest the 20-20-20 day: every 20 minutes look at something about 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows your brain to refocus when you go back to your task at hand.

Brief spurts of exercise can also increase your energy levels during a lull. Neurologist Wendy Suzuki highly recommends exercise because of its instantaneous effects: “Exercise is one of the most transformative things you can do for your brain today. The Immediate effect on the neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline improves your mood.” Even the simplest movements can get your blood flowing.

To get the benefits from exercising, you don’t even have to leave your desk! Stretches are a great way to loosen up and relax your body. Neck stretches help release the built up tension in the shoulders. Incorporate a little exercise into your daily routine, like parking farther away from the office, taking a walk on your lunch break, or jogging in place for 30 seconds.

Staying well hydrated by drinking water — not soda, not coffee — is another great way to stay mentally alert. While caffeine can temporarily stimulate the body’s production of adrenaline, the effect quickly wears off. Too much caffeine and not enough water can leave you dehydrated. According to the USGS, 73% of the brain is water. A cool, refreshing drink of water replenishes the oxygen levels in the brain and increases the blood flow which improves concentration and cognition. The amount of water an individual requires varies, but the average person should aim to drink 6 to 10 cups of water a day.

So how can you prepare to stay active before you start work for the day? Talk with your Priority recruiters before starting an assignment to find out about the working conditions. Ask if the area you are assigned has a place to walk during lunch break, and water fountain locations. Stay hydrated and mentally alert for your best performance.