Tips to get any doctor through the midday slump

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published May 6, 2019

Key Takeaways

The dreaded afternoon slump. It happens to almost everyone. Around 2:30-3:00 p.m., you feel like you could just close your eyes and sleep like Rip Van Winkle in the Catskill Mountains.

Believe it or not, there are many ways to beat this groggy, sleepy feeling, and most of them do not involve an extra strong shot of caffeine. Here are some suggestions. Try them and see which one works best for you.

Take a power nap. Although snoozing for a bit may seem to be the antithesis of productivity, naps have been shown to actually increase alertness, boost productivity, and enhance creativity. Experts recommend taking power naps as early as possible, so they won’t interfere with nighttime sleep. After lunch is the perfect time. Find a quiet spot with some privacy. If you have your own office, stick a note on the door that says “Back in 15 minutes.” Conference rooms with no meetings scheduled or even the backseat of your car can also be great spots. And don’t forget to set your cell phone alarm—10 to 20 minutes are ideal.

Tidy up your desk and clean out your inbox. Neither of these activities require a lot of focus or deep thinking, but they are productive, and will help you reset yourself mentally. Seeing a visibly cleaner workspace will give you a little boost. And seeing a visibly cleaner inbox will perhaps relieve a little stress.

Exercise or get outside. Whether you’re confined to your desk for endless rounds of paperwork or EHR updates, or fated to walk the halls all day, exercise is something you can incorporate almost seamlessly into your day. If you’re stuck sitting, isometric, stretching, and other simple exercises can give you a boost physically and mentally. Isometrics are simply tensing a muscle and holding it for 5 to 10 seconds. You can do this with any or all parts of your body, including your arms, thighs, calves, chest, abdomen, shoulders, back, and buttocks. Or try chair yoga. Or simple leg and arm lifts. If you’re not sure where to start, there are plenty of articles and videos that will show you how. Or, jog the stairs or walk at maximum speed up and down a few hallways. Perhaps the best idea would be to take a break and head outside, for a little fresh air and some greenery. Take your lunch outside and split your time between eating and taking a walk. The sunlight will reset your clock, reduce the amount of melatonin your body is producing during your sleepy slump, and give you a good dose of vitamin D.

Drink something. And not soda or even diet soda. Try to stick to water or tea. Researchers have shown that even mild dehydration can contribute to sleepiness. A stiff drink of water or a soothing cup of tea (with the added benefits of a little caffeine) may be just what you need to perk up.

Take a whiff of a strong, crisp, but pleasing smell. Or, chew some spicy gum. Olfactory stimulation with a strong smell can reset a foggy brain. Smell a lemon. Peel and eat an orange. Keep some peppermint oil in your desk drawer and rub a drop in between your hands. Or chew some strong, minty or cinnamon-y gum. Chewing can perk up your mind.

Meditate at your desk or in the on-call room. Even a few minutes of meditation, including mindful breathing, can improve your concentration and focus, as well as lower your stress levels. Steve Jobs, former chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Inc., was a big proponent of Zen mindfulness meditation. He claimed that just a few minutes were all it took to reduce stress, gain clarity, and enhance creativity. If you’re not sure where to start, a YouTube search of the phrase “meditate at your desk” will pull up plenty of possibilities.

And finally, after reviewing the things you can do to get you through that midday slump, here’s a short list of what not to do:

  • Don’t take on important or creative tasks during the time you know sleepiness will most likely hit you.
  • Don’t sit at your desk all day. Take regular breaks to walk around, stretch, or disengage your mind and your body somehow.
  • Don’t keep drinking coffee to perk yourself up. Chronic reliance on caffeine for an energy boost can eventually backfire.
  • Don’t forget to get enough sleep every night.
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