“How can I stay alert at 3 am?” asks Twilight, an ICU nurse who has been working nights for years. She knows that our internal pacemaker (SupraChiasmatic Nucleus) makes us sleepy at night and alert during the day. How can you go against the might of Mother Nature? Well, it is tough, but you can summon the help of these seven friends.
- Stay Active
- Take a PREM nap
- Massage Your Tender Points
- Look at the Light Often
- Enjoy a Cup of Coffee
- Snack Smartly
- Seek Spiritual Help (My All-time Favorite)
And beware of a formidable foe in alcohol when faced with insufficient sleep and long days. Let us discuss them one by one.
The Alertness starts declining the longer you stay still. One way to prevent this is to “deskercise” every hour. Deskercising will also help you to reduce muscle tension and stress while helping you preserve the flexibility, strength, and muscle tone you already have. The following are some simple deskercising techniques to try:
The Wrist Muscle Stretch
When working at the computer, stop occasionally and deskercize using the wrist muscle stretch. Slowly stretch your wrist muscles by using a full range of motion. Joints that have become sore and stiff because of repetitive motion activity will respond to slow stretches. Do not risk pulling a muscle by attempting the stretch rapidly. Get the full benefit of the stretch by doing it slowly.
The Pectoral Stretch
The following is an easy stretch you can do at your desk. Simply clasp your hands behind you head and slowly move your shoulders and elbows back. Repeat this a few times. It is a great way to stretch your pectoral and chest muscles.
Using your left palm, gently apply force to the right hand, causing the right wrist to stretch toward the underside of the right arm. Hold it there for five seconds and then release and repeat on the left hand. Repeat the exercise five times.
Using the left palm, slowly apply force to bend the right hand backward. Hold it there for five seconds and then release and repeat to the left hand. Repeat the exercise five times.
In a sitting position, with your feet flat on the floor, your knees about ten inches apart and hands at your sides, bend over as far comfortable with your hands reaching toward the floor. Hold the position for five seconds and then slowly pull back into a sitting position while tightening your abdominal muscles. Repeat four times. This exercise stretches your lower back muscles and hamstrings.
Vertical stretches provide an excellent way to reduce tension and activate all of your major muscle groups. With your feet shoulder-width apart, lift yourself upward on your toes and extend your arms over your head. Reach each hand as high as possible for about seven seconds and then relax. Repeat four times.
Get Up and Walk Around
Sitting too long can have several negative effects. It’s important to get up and walk around at least once each hour. A ten-minute walk around the office would be excellent. But, when that’s not possible, shorter walks to the water cooler, filing cabinet, or restroom are better than nothing.
When you are working at desk, get up at least once every twenty minutes and move around.
- Take a PREM (Patel’s Relaxed Eye Muscles) Nap. Studies have shown that a fifteen-minute nap can improve alertness and last for almost three hours. This can be life saving when taken before driving back home after bight shift.
- Massage Your Tender Spots. Gently massaging your calf muscles, your neck, and your temple area can improve alertness by relieving muscle aches, back pain, headaches, burning in the eyes, and other distracting physical symptoms precipitated by sleep deprivation. Untreated, these symptoms can drag your energy level and your alertness down.
- Look at the Bright Light Often. It has a tremendous alerting influence. Use this to your advantage. Sit facing bright light. Put a bright light lamp behind your desktop while working on it.
- Enjoy a Cup of Coffee. Caffeine has alerting property, but it has the duration of action of twenty-four hours, so a cup of coffee consumed at 2 AM is still in your bloodstream at 8 AM when your brain is trying to fall asleep. Because of this reason, caffeine should not be used indiscriminately. It should be used as medicine, at the right dosage, at the right time, and for the right reason.
- Snack Smartly. Eat a Protein Snack Every 2-3 Hour. I will maintain your energy and alertness while eating a large starchy meal will degrade your alertness. Avoid rice, pasta, and dessert.
- Seek Spiritual Support. Spiritual support has helped me the most during my drives to ER at 2 AM. I would ask for divine help. “Give me energy, my Lord, to serve my patients well.”
Do you have a particular trick that works best for you? Which of the above intervention has helped you most?
This blog post is dedicated to my good friend Mahesh Patel MD who has devoted his life to saving premature babies in Bismarck, ND, and millions like him who have spent nights after nights serving others. God Bless You All.
Adopted from the book “Sleep Well, Lead Well” now available on Amazon