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Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying

Combating Tiredness In A World That Never Sleeps

Evidence also suggest that the more one works, the less time the person sleeps, even on days off.

How do you feel?

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Tiredness whilst working affects us all at some point, and it affects some more than others. When talking with colleagues the quick solution tends to be to consume more caffeine.

Although this works in the immediate short term, over longer periods the efficacy of caffeine to keep us feeling awake starts to reduce, and so typically we consume more.

When it comes to sleep hygiene (especially at the work or study place), there seems to be a high level of ignorance as to the long and short term effects of tiredness on our health and productivity.

In recent years there has been a push by corporations to help employees and students deal with the increasing demands of work loads and performance targets, but not much on actioning strategies that address sleep related issues.

So what can you do as an individual to address these issues?

Work vs Sleep

Increased work and study loads, as well as an increase in online activity (games, social media, news sites and special interest sites, to name a few), as well as pressure to spend time with family and/or friends have made it difficult to maintain healthy sleep practices over a long period of time.

Whether studying or working, the default strategy for most is to increase the amount of time they spend working. At first glance it seems intuitive and seems to be corroborated in studies such as “Just do it! Study time increases mathematical achievement scores for grade 4-10 students in a large longitudinal cross-country study”:

These results support the idea that students, in particular low-performing students, can boost their academic abilities to upper levels when increasing their study time.

Spitzer, M. (2021). Just do it! Study time increases mathematical achievement scores for grade 4-10 students in a large longitudinal cross-country study.European Journal of Psychology of Education,OnlineFirst,1-15.

However, as we shall see later, quantity doesn’t always out do quality, and a little deeper reading into the above study alludes to the fact that “seeking out the right answer is the first step to get it right”. But most take it on the surface level and equate time spent doing something as equal to time spent doing the right thing.

Unfortunately if spending more time to solve a problem is the only tool that we have to solve our work and study load problems, we soon find that we never have enough time to get things done, whilst at the same time increasing the stress levels we expose ourselves to.

The need for 24-hour a day operations in developed countries has increased the likelihood that workers will experience fatigue, sleepiness, and decreased performance sills as part of their daily lives. Evidence also suggest that the more one works, the less time the person sleeps, even on days off.

Pilcher, J., & Morris, D. (2020). Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety.Frontiers in Psychology,11,

 

Is It Worth It?

Fatigue affects our basic cognitive functions which decreases our job and safety performance. In the long-term, fatigue has both health and economic consequences.

National Safety Council

Working more when we are tired will usually not get us the results that we want and can increase the risk of us suffering from any of the following:

  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Irritability
  • Reduced immune defence reaction

Further research suggests that our cognitive abilities decline when working whilst we are tired, making it harder to complete simple tasks and to focus. We become slower, make more errors and the quality of our work reduces, which implies that we’ll have to spend more time to correct the mistakes that we made when were tired (or in other words, spend more time working).

What You Can Do

Knowing this, the best thing that you can do is take action. One of the first things to do is to learn what you can and then implement what you know. The article and research paper that helped me to write this article is excellent and has a wealth of information for individuals as well as companies and can be found here:

Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety

And here are few more tips to help get you started:

  • Sleep
    Make your sleep your priority. Don’t sacrifice your sleep for productivity gains or family/social reasons (where you can). Quantity and quality are equally important so try to get between 7-9 hours of quality sleep (by avoiding alcohol, and not consuming caffeine past midday). Exercising (even a 20 minute walk counts), also helps improve the quality of your sleep. Also, go to bed and wake up at the same times regularly, so that your circadian rhythm can adjust accordingly, which also helps improve the quality of your sleep.
  • Working hours
    Generally speaking working more than 50 hours a week, or 10 hours a day can be very taxing and tiring, so where possible adjust your work schedule to reduce the amount of tiredness that you experience. Avoid early starts and late finishes as you’ll be working against your body’s natural waking and sleeping cycle, which in turn increases the likelihood that you’ll exhaust yourself. Shift workers should try not to work too many late shifts in a row and should speak to their employers about arranging their work schedules so that they have enough time to recover after completing a series of night shifts, early morning shifts, rotating shifts or irregular shifts.
  • Rest Breaks
    Take regular work breaks and try to formalise them where you can. Breaks are excellent because they give you a chance to step away and where possible take a nap, which reduces the chances of you micro sleeping on the job. Scheduling in just a 10 minute break every 50 minutes can make a world of difference. In Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety, June J. Pilcher and Drew M. Morris highlight that wearables, (smart electronic devices such as a smart watch or fitness tracker), may play an important role in health promotion programs, whereby teams can be set up to help monitor and encourage participants to move more whilst at work. Apps such as V-CAF (an Apple Watch app) take this step further by notifying users when their alertness levels are dropping, thereby informing them of the need to take a break automatically.
  • Long commutes
    Workers that have a long commute to work also increase the likelihood of tiredness and fatigue as the time spent traveling is time that they don’t spend resting, but at the same time adds to the length of their already long day. Where possible, cut your commute times down by arranging to work from home or changing location. If you travel by public transport, when you can take a quick snooze. It’s far from ideal but it’s better than nothing.
  • Stressful and/or monotonous jobs
    Physically and mentally demanding jobs are the most difficult to fix. Unless you can find alternative employment, there isn’t much room for you to change things. This is where all of the above stated points come into their own as you will have to incorporate them all into your daily routines to help mitigate the risks to your health. If you are an employee, you can talk to your employer or HR department to see what steps they can take to help you whilst you’re at work. If you’re self employed, then you’ll have to organise your work process around what’s best for your health, which can be quite challenging, but well worth the effort. Use the suggestions above (and throughout this blog) to help you.

Review

In a world where it appears as though there is never ending increasing competition with decreasing alternative opportunities, it is easy to fall into the cycle of working for longer hours per day, whilst cutting the amount of time you get to recover and sleep.

Although not perfect, by trying some of the above strategies and finding out more about how a lack of sleep can effect the quality of your health, study, work and family life, you can take some positive action to help yourself cope better.

  • Sleep – more quality and quantity
  • Working hours – no more than 50 hours a week, 10 hours a day, and not starting too early, or working too late
  • Rest breaks – take at least a 10 minute break for every 50 minutes at work. If possible have a nap
  • Long commutes – avoid them where possible
  • Demanding jobs – restructure your work process where possible

Afterword

“Do each day all that can be done that day. You don’t need to overwork or to rush blindly into your work trying to do the greatest possible number of things in the shortest possible time. Don’t try to do tomorrow’s or next week’s work today. It’s not the number of things you do, but the quality, the efficiency of each separate action that count. To achieve this “habit of success,” you need only to focus on the most important tasks and succeed in each small task of each day.”

Earl Nightingale, How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds source: Earl Nightingale quote: Do each day all that can be done that day…
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