Late-afternoon slowdowns are natural, explains Susan Swadener, PhD, RD, dietetic internship director and lecturer in the Food Science and Nutrition Department at California State University San Luis Obispo. "Your enzyme levels go down, which is part of your diurnal pattern to slow down the body's processes to get ready for the evening and sleep," she says.
To fight afternoon fatigue, adopt good nutritional habits throughout your day. It's essential to have a healthy breakfast in the morning, advises Dr. Swadener, who's also a registered dietitian in private practice. Make sure you eat lunch, too, with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Afternoon snacks are a good idea, especially if they incorporate some protein. Foods high in protein can increase norepinephrine and epinephrine production, which helps you stay alert. Some examples of quick and nutritious snacks: string cheese and an apple; sliced cheese or peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers; yogurt; a handful of almonds or walnuts; or trail mix.
And don't forget one of the most common directives to your patients: "Push the fluids." Have a glass of water or nonfat milk with your lunch, and make sure you keep your water bottle handy at your desk.
As for coffee, "you don't want to be drinking it constantly to keep your energy level up, because you'll just crash afterwards," Dr. Swadener says. If you don't abuse caffeine, one cup of coffee in the morning and one in the afternoon is found to be most effective in increasing your alertness.
Change It Up
Desk tasks can make you drowsy. Daniel Markovitz is president of TimeBack Management, which specializes in applying Lean manufacturing principles to increase personal productivity for healthcare workers. He's found—and research such as a 2003 study in Ergonomics and a 2007 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine supports these conclusions—that taking mini-breaks and then returning to the task at hand can refresh you and make you more productive.
You also get energy by using it, so a brisk walk around the hospital or walking up and down a couple of flights of stairs can increase circulation and blood flow to the brain. "You don't even have to get up from your desk," Markovitz says. "Just by changing the nature of the work you're doing, it's refreshing to your brain." That might mean switching from dictation to administrative work, or from scheduling to research.
And remember the value of play, Markovitz advises. "We tend to discourage going on Facebook or playing a video game at work. But if you take a 15-minute break to do something that's pleasurable, that causes your brain to fire in different ways, that can be another helpful adaptation."
Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer based in California.
Interactions are Engaging
You've just finished a brain-numbing administrative report, and you've got 10 minutes before your next task. Don't just fill that time with checking your email.
Corporate consultant Daniel Markovitz advises another tack: Walk down the hall to touch base with colleagues. "You don't have to get into an involved conversation about their QI project. Just ask them how it's going for them," he advises.
Breaking up a busy day with exercise or a social call can get you over the doldrums hump, he says, because "you're getting up and interacting with someone. At the same time, you're doing something that's really important for the hospital: You're strengthening those bonds and interrelationships with people.—GH