After-Lunch Drowsies

January 7, 2020

Maintaining your energy can help side-step mid-day fatigue.

Anybody working 8-plus hours at a stretch is going to have their shift span a potential mealtime. For most of us diurnal types, that means lunch. This is usually a welcomed break from one’s labors, after which it’s time to get back in gear for the second half of the daily grind.

During my internship, it was barely a speed-bump. I was in a county hospital where the first-years had no subordinates. Needed blood drawn, an IV line started, or a requisition for imaging submitted? You did it yourself. So, after lunch, you had little choice but to hit the ground running.

Things changed in radiology residency (which began after the intern year, lest any readers not have experienced this way of doing things). There were lunchtime conferences, and if you hadn’t had time to feed yourself in the cafeteria you were supposed to bring your grub to the classroom so you could attend.

It was an interesting, if unintended, bit of education for us budding radiologists. The classroom was usually good and dark, much like the reading rooms we would go on to inhabit for our subsequent careers. Enter such a situation with a freshly-filled stomach, and staying awake becomes a challenge.

In my first couple of after-training jobs, it didn’t matter so much. Neither employer had its act sufficiently together to keep close tabs on my productivity, let alone provide any sort of incentive for me to keep it up. So I’d return to work armed with a medium-sized coffee and probably take the next 30-60 minutes to gradually get myself back up to speed.

Then, I entered my days as an “eat what you kill” teleradiologist. I’ve mentioned before in this column that, properly motivated, we can be our own harshest taskmasters. The notion of missing out on a few RVUs because I’d eaten my way into somnolence was unacceptable. Thus began my quest to diminish, if not eliminate, my after-lunch drowsies.

I probably tried skipping lunch (or whatever you want to call the mid-shift feed, when I was working overnights) at some point, to sidestep the issue entirely. Some folks, myself included, feel just fine eating a single meal at the end of each day. But, I can’t imagine that lends itself to being as mentally-sharp at work-hour No. 8 as during No. 3. Plus, there’s a decent amount of evidence out there that the healthier way to live is having more frequent, smaller episodes of nourishment during the day.

What I ultimately found to be a happy medium was a small bite - protein-rich and as low-carb as possible. I used to like protein bars, but in the fullness of time they start to feel very artificial, almost as if you look at the ingredients you might just find “plastic” among them. Nowadays, my routine is something like a can of sardines augmented by a stalk of celery. I admit, it’s a lot easier when you work from home-even if the smell of fish might have been objectionable to other humans, my cats don’t seem to mind.

Since a break from work, even without some food-induced drowsiness, can be hard to come back from, I have a “dessert” of coffee. I find it kicks in just around the time I might otherwise have started yearning for a little siesta. For best results, I find some energetic-sounding music to stream into the earphones of my dictation-headset. (That might or might not include a few selections from Hans Zimmer’s work for the “Batman” movies.)