Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Studying Tiredness

Protecting The Quality of Your Work

Protecting Your Quality of Life

Self first, then others

Working or studying for long hours goes hand in hand with working hard and being productive. I’ve worked at many firms that believe this to be true. If the business owners or senior management spend a lot of time at work the chances are that their employees and subordinates will do the same in order to be seen in a favourable light.

Unfortunately for many firms where this is the case, staff turnover is often high and morale isn’t as good as it could be. Eventually even the quality of work begins to suffer and productivity decreases. In an effort to reverse the trend, managers can demand more from their teams who already feel that they are giving all that they can.

Academics and students don’t do much better. As the pressure to compete with other departments and institutions for research bursaries increases, the need to produce favourable results can lead to people working extremely long days, seven days a week which eventually affects the quality of the research and study in a negative way.

Trying to suggest to such people to spend less time working is often met with derision or dismissed as not being realistic. “If I don’t put the hours in how will the work get done”, is a response I used to give back to anyone that dared mention cutting back on the hours spent at work, whilst having to do more tasks.

But what if our assumptions about putting more time in at work are wrong and may in fact be the reason why we have to put more hours in?

Protect Yourself
Photo by @AZ.BLT via Twenty20

Quantity and Effort

Let me start off by saying that I’m not opposed to working long hours per se, but my past experiences of working long hours and the results I achieved led me down the path of investigating if there was a better way of getting things done apart from spending all my waking hours trying to figure out how to finish my task on time.

In many professions long hours are a cultural norm (take junior doctors for example), and anyone challenging the status quo tend to be seen in an unfavourable manner that often can effect their career prospects. Those that complain can be made to seem weak and not up to the task of getting things done, which is all well and good, but can have a chilling effect on anyone who might have a better solution to just throwing more hours at a problem.

Another motivating tactic that is often used to get people to work longer and so increase productivity is to pay more money or overtime. This seems fair as your time and effort is being compensated for, but what about your health and family time? Again, there’s nothing wrong with working long hours but you have to take into account all aspects of your life (unless you live to work).

And full disclosure here, I regularly work long hours, but have found ways to manage that with my family and personal life. Working long hours from time to time I believe is acceptable, but what I don’t like is that it soon starts to be seen as the norm and exploited as such.

Grinding Ourselves Down

Perhaps a better question may be “What is the cost of working fatigued?” According to a fatigue cost estimator from the National Safety Council and Brigham and Women’s Sleep Matters Initiative, health-related cost of lost productivity is $136 billion a year. Further, a reported 70% of Americans regularly experience insufficient sleep. Sleep loss, especially in the presence of underlying sleep disorders, results in reduced workplace productivity and increased absenteeism, health care expenditures, workplace accidents and injuries, and motor vehicle accidents during commutes.

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),

When working long hours becomes the norm, that’s when the negative effects on work start to take hold. Working long hours for short periods of time is okay and is needed from time to time to get things done due to an unforeseen oversight or event.

Prolonged overworking leads to work fatigue and stress which can have negative effects on your health and wellbeing. Work fatigue is negative for both employee and employer or company.

Employees presenting high levels of work fatigue displayed lower job satisfaction, psychological health, physical health, and organisational commitment, coupled with accrued turnover intentions and difficulties to relax after work. Work fatigue is damaging both psychologically and physically, leading to less efficient work recovery, negative work attitudes and health-related difficulties.

Blais, A., Gillet, N., Houle, S., Comeau, C., & Morin, A. (2020). Work Fatigue Profiles: Nature, Implications, and Associations With Psychological Empowerment.Frontiers in Psychology,11,

So how do you know if you are suffering from work fatigue? Here’s a list of signs to lookout for:

  • Constantly yawning
  • Falling asleep when sitting still
  • Feeling tired throughout the day
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired when waking up in the morning
  • Unmotivated to go to work and/or finish tasks
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

Preventative Measures

I mentioned earlier that I also regularly work long hours and have found ways that help me reduce the effects of doing so on my health and personal life.

At first it may seem easier said than done, but by being consistent and working through these steps (and those that you find for yourself, that work for you) you’ll find that you’ll be able to maintain a high level of work whilst at the same time feeling like you have more energy.

Let’s get to it, in no particular order, here are some tips that you may find helpful in reducing the effects of working long hours over a prolonged period of time.

Give Purpose or Meaning to What You Do

  • Where does your current profession fit into the bigger plan for your life? Does it align with your life’s goals?
  • Figure out what are the implications of your current task for you, your team and/or company.
  • Figure out which is more important to you, your life or your work life and reorganise as needed (I’m not suggesting that you walk out of your job because the quality of your life is more important! For example if your home life is more important, then start to organise your work life around your personal life if that is possible. If not, then figure out how to make it so).

Look After Your Health

  • Although your employer (even if you are self employed) may try to make things at work as comfortable as they can for you, don’t neglect your own health.
  • Take regular breaks whilst at work (every 25 – 30 mins) where you get up and walk around.
  • If your job permits, after lunch have a 10 – 20 minute nap to help refocus your mind, relieve any tiredness and give you a quick boost in your energy levels without having to resort to caffeine.
  • Take regular exercise
  • Get outside more (maybe during one of your scheduled breaks throughout the day). Getting daylight to your skin and eyes helps regulate your circadian rhythm which in turn will help improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and smoking before going to bed.
  • Go to bed at regular times and get between 7 – 10 hours of sleep per night (even on weekends and holidays).

Review

There is constant pressure to perform well at work and whilst studying. Some people assume that spending many hours working or studying is time well spent. Unfortunately due to no fault of their own, they are ignorant to the fact that it doesn’t work.

Schools, workplaces and cultural norms reinforce this misguided path as the logical common sense way to achieve great results. It is further reinforced by the “Captains of Industry” who often are cited as having little time for sleep.

Scientific studies are continually updating their findings regarding work fatigue and it currently seems to be clear that working long hours over a long period of time increases the chances of suffering from work fatigue and stress which can negatively affect health and quality of work.

Afterword

Sleep deprivation, in some populations, is still considered a point of pride and a reflection of toughness. However, this argument is based largely in ignorance and companies are beginning a movement to counteract it. Along with recommendations to sleep 7-9 hours at night, daytime naps are being integrated into workplace culture in the world’s largest grossing tech, consulting, media, and retail companies.

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),
Categories
Productivity Side Effects Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Study Studying

Can I Still Be Productive On Only 4 Hours of Sleep?

Get The Sleep You Can

Stay Awake, Stay Alert

Michelangelo, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Edison, Margaret Thatcher and Martha Stewart to name a few, only slept for up to four hours each night. Impressive stuff and it appears to have paid off as we know about their contributions to the advancement of our species.

Edison was particularly critical of sleep and stated publicly that it was a “waste of time”. For better or worse, people have tried to emulate the success of those like Edison and sacrifice their sleep in order to get more done and gain an advantage over the competition.

The need to get ahead can take its toll on individuals and societies which can lead to many unforeseen bad consequences, one of which is being able to clearly think and evaluate situations in a logical manner. Being overworked and stressed seems to be antithetical to being productive and healthy, but there are many examples of people (like those mentioned above), that have overcome these obstacles despite not having the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Is it that some of us are naturally endowed with the ability to have much less sleep than others without compromising their health, or is it that something else is at work here and that having less than six hours of sleep per night can have serious health implications?

Get Some Sleep
Photo by @darby via Twenty20

Productivity vs Sleep

A small group (1 to 3 percent) of the population are among the “sleepless elite “ who are able to get by happily on just a few hours of sleep.

Whether they’re part of this lucky group or have been driven by the pressures of their jobs, we’ve compiled a list of successful executives, political figures, and entertainers who have shunned the 8 hour mantra and managed to rise to the top.

Carolyn Cutrone and Max Nisen, 19 Successful People Who Barely Sleep, Business Insider, Sep 18, 2012, source: Successful People Who Barely Sleep

There have been many articles and online video blogs that follow the current trends of the rich and successful. In many of the posts the focus has been on either how naturally talented their subjects are, how hard they work or both.

The implication is that as a ‘normal’ person watching these elites from the outside, you don’t want success as much as they do or you don’t have the talent to make it to their lofty heights. Your lack of success is down to you not putting in enough time and effort to develop yourself to their level, besides what are the chances of you being in that top 1 to 3 percent like the elites.

Many workers and students also feel that they have to put in the extra time and effort in order to stand a chance of being able to compete with their peers and the broader population in general. A popular approach to this kind of pressure is to work longer hours and shorten the amount of time spent in leisure activities and turning off after work; a practice that can negatively affect the quality and quantity of sleep.

We should also consider that work pressure doesn’t affect everyone the same. And that work and study pressures can be temporary. Even so, care must be taken as volunteering ourselves for sleep deprivation (even for short periods) can have a negative effect on our general health and wellbeing.

 

Self Sleep Deprived

Our leisure time might also be having an effect on our sleep. Many of us spend a lot of time in front of various devices’ screens, the light from which can effect our bodies’ production of melatonin. Melatonin is our bodies’ natural way of regulating how tired we feel and helps us to prepare to sleep. Melatonin production is affected by our exposure to light and therefore too much light in the evenings (especially before going to bed) interferes with our sleep and reduces the quality of the sleep that we get.

This can lead us to being sleep deprived which most certainly reduces our productive ability. Not getting enough sleep can have the following effects:

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Inability to focus
  • Reduced motivation
  • Reduced problem solving ability
  • Confussion
  • Irritability
  • Memory lapses
  • Slower reaction times
  • Reduced ability to process information
  • Increase in a lack of judgement

A lack of sleep can also increase the risk of suffering from heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression.

Increased Sleep Increases Productivity

Given what we know about the effects of lack of sleep on our productivity and health, to combat these effects ultimately we have to get more good quality sleep.

However this is more easily said than done. Below are some tips that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you get enough sleep and spend less time at work/studying by doing more of the things that will help you to perform at your best.

  • Get to bed between 9pm and 10pm as this will help facilitate you getting enough good quality sleep as your body naturally starts to produce melatonin which helps you sleep better.
  • Don’t use any light emitting gadgets just before you go to bed. Give yourself a couple of hours to wind down and allow your body to start producing melatonin.
  • Organise your work so that you do your most difficult work around 10am (if you are a morning person), or 3pm – 6:30pm (if you’re an afternoon person).
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol just before going to bed.
  • Take regular breaks rather than one long big break throughout the day. Dividing your task into 25 minute blocks with a five minute break between each block for the day will help keep you focused and help keep fatigue at bay.
  • Include regular exercise in your daily routine (even a 25 minute walk has been proven to positively affect the quality of peoples sleep later in the evening).
  • If you find yourself struggling to stay awake during the day or suffering from brain fog, take a 10-20 minute nap. Studies have found that napping helps with your alertness and focus immediately after.

Review

So, can we be productive with only four hours of sleep? The answer is it depends. Limiting the amount of times that you sleep for under four hours can be helpful if you have a tough work or study load, but it shouldn’t be the norm.

Yes there are some people that can get by with very little sleep, but keep in mind that they are a small percentage of the population. If you can still produce your best quality work with only a few hours sleep regularly, then don’t mess with what works.

Just be mindful that the less hours you get to sleep, the greater the risk to your health.

Afterword

The conclusion from research into polyphasic sleep and short-sleepers is clear. When it comes to sleep, there are no quick fixes. As a result, it is vital that everyone knows how to get a good night’s rest.

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (p. 96). Pan Macmillan.
Categories
Fatigue Productivity Sleep

Need to get into Sync?

Tune Your Circadian Rhythm

Feel better, be better…

It’s good to be in sync. Things seem to flow effortlessly, work ain’t such a drag and life is good. Being out of sync though, is not great. Doing the most basic of tasks take a lot of effort, work is unbearable, and life feels like you’re going nowhere.

A big challenge for the developed world is balancing our family, work and societal needs with our own needs and well being. Many of the comforts and conveniences that we take for granted depend on someone having to sacrifice their well being so as to maintain what we’ve become used to.

Likewise many of us sacrifice our well being and health by unconsciously doing things in ways that can knock us out of sync with our body’s rhythms which in the long term can be very detrimental to us.

A central component of our well being is for our circadian rhythm to be in sync with our environment. Being out of sync has serious implications for health, well being and productivity as well as be costly for society in general.

Briefly put, our circadian rhythm regulates our responses to a solar day and regulates when we wake up and when we feel tired enough to sleep. It does a lot more and we’ll go into detail later. What’s important to know right now is that our circadian rhythm has taken time to evolve in our species so that we can better regulate our lives according to the amount (or lack thereof) of daylight. It has done a fantastic job up until the industrial age when artificial light sources have extended our waking hours.

In now days with computers, smartphones and gadgets that all emit light we may have accidentally broken our circadian rhythm and be out of sync with ourselves and environment.

Getting In Sync
Photo by @Astu via Twenty20

The Drift

Before the invention of the electronic light bulb most people followed regular waking and sleep cycles that were seldom disrupted. The majority of the world lived an agrarian lifestyle and as such their daily routines were closely aligned to the rising and setting of the sun.

As the industrial age took hold a large amount of the working populations in Europe and America migrated from the farmlands to the industrialised cities hoping to improve their and their families’ prospects. In return workers and their families had to conform to new working practices which were increasingly at odds with the old agricultural regime.

Work hours didn’t necessarily correspond to the old sunrise to sunset model and people found themselves working longer hours and working night shifts. This situation worsened with the invention of the electric light bulb. Due to production demands and the eager adoption of electronic lighting, people were now able to work longer hours and shift work became widespread.

Workers soon began to feel pressured to work longer hours and do more shifts as the competition was stiff and people wanted to succeed. There was a perception that feeling tired wasn’t manly and that you were somehow lazy and not ambitious enough to make it big.

Thomas Edison created much of this bright new world. With regard to the changing relations of work to sleep, the inventor of practical incandescent lighting was not only the father of the night shift. He also took a prominent part in criticizing and even ridiculing sleep as an inefficient and immoral indulgence.

Edison was perhaps the most famous and widely admired American of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a hybrid celebrity renowned for his imaginative genius and his entrepreneurial acumen.

A tireless self promoter whose greatest invention was himself, Edison spent considerable amounts of his own and his staff’s energy in publicising the idea that success depended in no small part on staying awake to stay ahed of the technological and economic competition.

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy (pp. 4-5). University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

Out of Line

It wasn’t long before the effects of overworking and under sleeping started to take their toll on the working population. Although workers and their advocates were successful in getting legislation passed to limit the number of hours they worked, it wasn’t an easy battle. For the rest of the twentieth century there would be various efforts taken across the world to address the issue of working long hours and its effects on society.

Unfortunately, just as workers have started to win some hard fought concessions with regards to the amount of time that they spend working, we are unconsciously volunteering ourselves to potentially dangerous outcomes due to the amount of night time light pollution we expose ourselves to.

Flat screen tvs, smartphones, electronic tablets, computers and bright lighting are all having similar effects on our circadian rhythm as working night shifts or long hours due to the amount of light that we expose ourselves to. This is important as our circadian rhythm uses light to determine the appropriate responses to take for any given time of day.

Using light as a cue our circadian rhythm helps regulate our tiredness and quality of sleep. In a well aligned day:

  • 07:00 – Our bodies stop producing melatonin and this helps us to wake up
  • 10:00 – By this time our body has fully woken up and we are at our most alert time of the day (approximately).
  • 12:00 – 14:00 We experience our mid afternoon crash
  • 18:30 We experience our peak energy for the day
  • 21:00 – 22:00 our body starts producing melatonin
  • 02:00 Our deepest part of the sleep cycle

Exposing ourselves to the light emitted by our electronic devices is detrimental to our sleep and circadian rhythm as light can affect our body’s ability to accurately respond to what time of day it is. The result is poor sleep and daytime fatigue. If you’ve ever woken up and felt like you didn’t get enough sleep, the chances are that your circadian rhythm is out of sync.

Pervasiveness and intensity of nighttime light exposure is unprecedented in our history.
When exposure to light is mistimed or nearly constant, biological and behavioural rhythms can become desynchronised, leading to negative consequences for health. The relationship among mood disorders , light, and circadian rhythms have long been recognised.
Many mood disorders are either characterised by sleep and circadian rhythm disruption or precipitated by an irregular light-dark cycle.

Walker, W., Walton, J., DeVries, A., & Nelson, R. (2020). Circadian rhythm disruption and mental health. Translational Psychiatry, 10(1),

Studies have highlighted that when our sleep cycle is out of sync with our circadian rhythm, the risk of suffering from any of the following conditions is increased greatly:

  • Lower glucose metabolism
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Impaired attention
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Difficulty learning and thinking

Getting In Sync

Thankfully there are a few things that you can do to help yourself get back on track, which require a little bit of effort and can be quite enjoyable once you embrace them.

Sleep Routine

  • Get to bed between 9pm and 10pm as this will help facilitate you getting enough good quality sleep as your body naturally starts to produce melatonin which helps you sleep better.
  • As your body stops producing melatonin around 7am, set this as your regular wake up time (even on weekends).
  • Don’t get overly warm or cold when you go to bed.
  • Don’t use any light emitting gadgets just before you go to bed. Give yourself a couple of hours to wind down and allow your body to start producing melatonin.

Daytime Routine

  • Organise your work so that you do your most difficult work around 10am (if you are a morning person), or 3pm – 6:30pm (if you’re an afternoon person).
  • If you are going to consume caffeine don’t do it past midday. If you suffer from a mid afternoon crash then have your last caffeine intake between 12pm and 2pm.
  • Take regular breaks rather than one long big break throughout the day. Dividing your task into 25 minute blocks with a five minute break between each block for the day will help keep you focused and help keep fatigue at bay.
  • Include regular exercise in your daily routine (even a 25 minute walk has been proven to positively affect the quality of peoples sleep later in the evening).
  • If you find yourself struggling to stay awake during the day or suffering from brain fog, take a 10-20 minute nap. Studies have found that napping helps with your alertness and focus immediately after.

Review

Keeping your circadian rhythm in sync is just as important to your health as regular exercise. Going to bed at regular times and not using light emitting devices close to the time that you go to bed will help keep you in sync.

You also get the benefit of an increase in your ability to focus and a feeling of increased energy just by simply following the steps outlined in this post.

Afterword

Rather than celebrate the night, sleep and dreaming are now treated as annoying interruptions to our all-important lives. Living in a world that hasn’t had a good night’s rest for years has finally taken its toll. The vast majority of school children and students now arrive for their classes severely sleep deprived, adult sleep debt is at a record high, the demand for sleeping pills is rising year on year, and millions of people go about their daily business in a zombie-like state that is ruining their relationships, health and productivity. Perhaps more than at any other point in history, there is now an urgent need to change our attitudes towards the night. I believe that this will require nothing short of a revolution.

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (pp. 296-297). Pan Macmillan.