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.
Categories
Energy Fatigue Productivity

Does Taking Regular Breaks Really Increase Productivity?

Have a Break

Have some me time…

Over the years I’ve worked for many bosses that had the notion that if you weren’t tapping away on your keyboard or seen to be busy, then you were skiving or stealing company time. From what I remember this forced people to find things to be busy with that didn’t actually add any benefit to the companies, and people just took longer doing their work. Win win for everyone.

Things have got better, but not that much. During challenging economic times people become more aware of job insecurity and don’t want to be seen as the slacker. As a result not only are we working longer hours, but an increasing amount of people will tell on those who don’t appear to be pulling their weight.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some of us work in environments that judge you on your productivity or results rather than how long you were seen to be busy. My own anecdotal experiences from working in places were you are judged by your results based performance seemed to suggest that many people appeared to be content with their work, only putting in the extra time when really needed, and took much more breaks throughout the day, and generally in total spent more time actually working.

And there are a lot more research papers that come to a similar conclusion, in that those that took regular breaks were not only more productive but also more likely to be happier, healthier people.

Work Loads

When stopping to think about an issue or just to stare out the window it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone quip “Idle hands…” or “If you ain’t got enough to do, you can help me with this”, as if a 30 second decrease in visible activity would somehow unbalance the workplace.

And there’s the problem. It is difficult to quantify how productive someone is just by watching what they do. Everybody has different work styles, but a few things are common amongst most. One being that stress reduces peoples’ productivity and the quality of their work.

Another is that if people don’t feel secure in their position, they may resort to busy work that doesn’t really add any benefit to the business, but makes them look as if they are being productive. Some bosses have realised this and give their workers a lot to do so that they don’t have time to think about what they’re doing and so keep busy with boss sanctioned busyness.

Bosses aren’t the only ones to blame either. Some of us employees (myself included), have trouble organising and scheduling their workloads to what they can manage and as a result put themselves under unnecessary pressure, and without realising it, miss opportunities to take breaks throughout the day.

 

A Drag on Productivity

However, in case work demands are too high, employees tend to detach less from their work during off-job time and engage less in physical recovery activities. Health care managers should be aware that allocating too many work demands on their employees may be negative for their recovery and health. This may also have a destructive effect on their work performance and the quality of care.

DE JONGE, J. (2019). What makes a good work break? Off-job and on-job recovery as predictors of employee health. Industrial Health,58(2),142-152.

It’s not surprising that so many people are unknowingly exposing themselves to health risks as work demands increase, making it difficult for people to take a break (and some to actively skip breaks) in order to keep up to speed and not feel like a burden to their colleagues.

As this mode of working is increasingly becoming the norm, people are finding it difficult to switch off and relax after a long day.

One of the recovery problems is highly intuitive for many workers: difficulties to mentally disconnect from work. For instance, you may play with your children on the playground in the afternoon, talk with your partner about plans for the next weekend, or you may try to fall asleep after going to bed – but there is something in your mind that distracts you from these activities or impairs your ability to listen carefully: /thoughts about your work/. This experience of mental connectedness to one’s work through work-related thoughts during recovery periods has been described in the literature on stress and recover as low psychological detachment, work-related rumination, problem-solving pondering, and work reflection.

Wendsche J, de Bloom J, Syrek C, Vahle-Hinz T. Always on, never done? How the mind recovers after a stressful workday? German Journal of Human Resource Management. 2021;35(2):117-151. doi:10.1177/23970022211004598

By being always on for prolonged periods we increase the risk of adversely affecting our health in the short, medium and long term. Stress has been linked to:

  • Fear
  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • An increase in cortisol
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • A decrease in the effectiveness of our immune system
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Clinical depression

And of course, the quality of our work as well as our productivity levels will also decrease. Working longer, appearing to be busy and not detaching from work robs us of our ability to work productively and robs us of our health.

Break Away

The Booster Break program was designed to interrupt prolonged sitting at the workplace. In a group context, interrupting prolonged sitting can be fun and enjoyable. Our previous research on the physical activity Booster Break showed that during a 6-month period, participants lost an average of 14 pounds (8% weight loss) and significantly increased their plasma high-density lipoprotein level from 50 to 57 (≥60 is optimal) . Both of these changes substantially reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality and can counteract the effects of the sedentary nature of work life. The Booster Break experience can be a catalyst for adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Wendell C. Taylor, Kathryn E. King, Ross Shegog, Raheem J. Paxton, Gina L. Evans-Hudnall, David M. Rempel, Vincent Chen, Antronette K. Yancey, Booster Breaks in the workplace: participants’ perspectives on health-promoting work breaks, Health Education Research, Volume 28, Issue 3, June 2013, Pages 414–425, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyt001

Although not the be all of work stress and productivity, taking regular breaks at work can help mitigate a lot of the stressors that we experience through the day and can work as a useful starting point for learning how to detach from work so that we can enjoy our free times better.

Micro Breaks

Whether you realise it or not, we all take micro breaks from time to time throughout the day. Whether it’s checking our smart phones, browsing to a non work related website, or simply just staring out the window, there are times throughout the day where we unconsciously step away from our work tasks and take a few seconds break to recover. This is normal as it would be almost impossible to focus completely on work alone throughout the day. When reading up on this topic for this article I found a term that sums up what a lot of people feel when they look at something other than work whilst at work, ’Screen Guilt’. It’s a good term but a bad thing to feel. Guilt tends to lead people to either over compensate for a perceived wrongdoing or just give up and not bother. Neither are good, so rather than feel guilt, learn to accept that you can only focus on one thing for a limited time, so when you find yourself doing something else without realising, know that you should have taken a break to help yourself recover.

Scheduling

A lot of time is wasted thinking about what you are going to do rather than getting on with it. Not that I’m saying just jump in and do something, but rather plan your day, week, month or year ahead of time and allocate time slots to get the work done. Although it doesn’t work for everyone in every situation, using processes like Kanban, Scrum or the Pomodoro Technique help to keep you on target to get things done without burning yourself out. I set 25-30 minute blocks to get work done. Once a time block is done, I take a 5-10 minute break away from my machine and either go for a walk, make a personal call, or crack jokes with colleagues (if they’re free of course) before getting back to my next block. Everyone is different and it can take a little while to get used to, but once you get used to it, it helps.

End of Play

After work’s done, go for a walk, or have something non work related to do before you head home. By doing this you give yourself a chance to unwind before you see you friends / family / partner. When I wasn’t working from home I’d walk to the train station rather than take a bus, or if I drove in I’d park further away than usual so that I’d have time to let my thoughts go wherever they wanted which helped me leave work at work. When working at home, I have a routine of closing the lid of my laptop (which would send it to sleep), get up from my desk and then either stare out the window or jig about a bit, and on the odd occasion go for a walk.

Review

Does taking regular breaks really increase productivity? I would have to say yes and as a bonus side effect, by taking regular breaks whilst at work you help decrease the risk of suffering from stress and stress related diseases making you feel more relaxed whilst working, which in turn helps with your productivity and self esteem.

“Improved focus at work. Improved relationships with co-workers. Helped me to fit some physical activity into a busy day. Motivated me to start thinking about my health more. I really enjoyed them – gave me a chance to get away from the desk, de-stress, and enjoy my co-workers. We even had a lot of laughs which was good for morale!”

Wendell C. Taylor, Kathryn E. King, Ross Shegog, Raheem J. Paxton, Gina L. Evans-Hudnall, David M. Rempel, Vincent Chen, Antronette K. Yancey, Booster Breaks in the workplace: participants’ perspectives on health-promoting work breaks, Health Education Research, Volume 28, Issue 3, June 2013, Pages 414–425, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyt001

Afterword

The paradox of work stress in America is this: What we value most is inherently stressful. If we understand what we value and how it contributes to work stress, we can begin to create strategies and interventions that are culturally sound and effective, and we will be better able to interpret the findings of our scientific literature. Efforts that work against the cultural values will fail to reduce work stress, whereas efforts that work in concert with our cultural values will succeed.

Peterson, M., & Wilson, J. (2004). Work Stress in America. /International Journal of Stress Management,/ /11(2),/ 91-113.
Categories
Addiction Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Headaches Productivity Side Effects Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake

Is Now The Right Time To Give Up Coffee?

Too Costly To Your Health

It’s the price your willing to pay that counts…

We live in a connected world. The saying goes “when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold”, (but actually the original saying was “when France sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold”). Replace “America” (or France) with any leading nation or person in a given field and you have the current situation of the world.

Whether it be semi conductors, lumber or facial mask shortages, we are all learning just how connected we truly are. Which brings us to Brazil and coffee. Brazil represents one third of the world’s coffee production, making the country the undisputed coffee production world leader.

Unfortunately, Brazil in 2021 has had some challenging issues to deal with, each of them having an effect on the production and distribution of coffee. Brazil has been suffering through a drought which has decreased crop production, whilst at the same time due to the pandemic, shipping ports have been congested (especially in the US), causing US coffee stockpiles to shrink to their lowest levels in at least six years!

The implications for coffee drinkers is that the price of their favourite beverage is about to increase significantly, whilst the quality and quantity of their favourite brands decrease. For those struggling to give up caffeine or wanting to break their coffee addiction, the recent and future price increases may just help motivate them to start.

The Price to Pay

Coffee seems to fuel the world. The wonder drink is seen by some as being responsible for a majority of the technological and scientific discoveries of the Western World, but in all truth it’s the caffeine that is in coffee that is responsible.

Caffeine and coffee go hand in hand. Researchers have found that the majority of adults in the USA admit to consuming a caffeinated drink at least daily. And why not? It’s been proven time and again that caffeine improves alertness and performance, and it appears to counter feelings of fatigue and tiredness. And lately there have been an increasing amount of studies that show the numerous health benefits of drinking coffee and caffeine such as helping to increase fat loss and helping to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Also, with the rise in popularity and profitability of coffee shops and franchises, the global coffee shop market is set to be worth $237.6 billion by 2025 (Global Coffee Shops Market to be Worth $237.6 Billion by), coffee’s importance doesn’t look like it is going to diminish any time soon.

So with the recent drought in Brazil and supply chain disruptions, it’s fair to say that the average price of a cup of coffee will be increasing.

Coffee prices increased in March and global coffee consumption is projected to rise this year, according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO).

Americans were reported to be drinking “more coffee than ever,” according to a March 2020 report by the National Coffee Association. The pandemic led to “record coffee consumption at home, with 85 percent of coffee drinkers having at least one cup at home,” according to the NCA’s Spring 2021 National Coffee Data Trends (NCDT) survey.

Soo Kim, Newsweek, source: Prices of Coffee, Wine, Toilet Paper and More Set to Rise in Post COVID-19 Era

Although the rise in price may not deter most people from drinking coffee, now may be as good a time as any to review why we drink coffee (and hence caffeine), and break any dependencies that we may have with the duo.

 

Cost of Benefits

Caffeine exacerbates sleep disorders, according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Some coffee drinkers, however, claim that their sleep is as restful as ever, regardless of their caffeine consumption. And without statistical evidence, who can refute their testimony? While it is obvious that caffeine affects all of us in different ways, it is equally important to note that we often do not know how it affects our system and cannot evaluate its effects on us while we sleep.

Another researcher noted that coffee consumption not only substantially delays the onset of sleep, but also diminishes the quality of sleep. Significantly more body movement was noted in heavy coffee consumers, and the quality of their sleep was substantially diminished.

Kushner, Marina. The Truth About Coffee (p. 69). SCR, Inc.

Whilst there are many of us that like the taste and effect that coffee has on us, there is no getting away from the fact that it’s main ingredient, caffeine, can be an addictive substance. Many coffee consumers are unaware of their addiction and believe that they can go a few days without any, but find that they never get round to their coffee abstinence, or if they do unintentionally find themselves consuming caffeine in another form.

A little while ago I posted a link on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram about two couples that tried to give up coffee for a month who thought that it would be easy, but found that they had underestimated just how addicted to coffee and caffeine they were, (We Quit Caffeine for a Month, Here’s What Happened). They suffered from all the classic withdrawal symptoms that many people experience and gradually started to come to the realisation that they needed their daily fix.

To be fair, they did start to reduce their caffeine consumption leading up to the challenge and even then they found themselves feeling:

  • More tired than usual
  • Irritated
  • suffering from headaches

And in addition to the list above, during the challenge they found themselves:

  • Unable to think straight
  • Craving coffee and caffeine
  • Relapsing back to coffee
  • Being in denial about their caffeine addiction

By the end of the challenge WheezyWaiter, (the owners of the YouTube channel that initiated the challenge), were more than relieved to get back to drinking coffee and found that they had more energy than they did during their abstinence, and didn’t feel that there sleep improved during the challenge compared to how they sleep now.

The researchers studied sleep patterns of medical students and found that many of them claimed that coffee did not disturb their sleep even when objective observations confirmed that it did. The researchers said that this denial reinforces the impression that coffee drinkers simply do not attribute undesirable clinical symptoms to their coffee intake.

This situation illuminates one of the insidious aspects of coffee addiction: we are often unaware of how it affects us.

Kushner, Marina. The Truth About Coffee (p. 69). SCR, Inc.

Unfortunately it seems that WheezyWaiter weren’t aware that caffeine withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks for some people, and that although consuming caffeine relieves those symptoms and make it seem that coffee actually helps them feel better, it can eventually lead to an increase in tolerance to the effects of caffeine, making it more than likely that they will consume more (in fact, they said that at the end of the challenge, they found that their coffee works better now, which may indicate that they had a very high tolerance before starting the challenge, and have effectively reset their tolerance levels lower).

I would suggest that WheezyWaiter should be cautious from this point on with regards to their coffee consumption, because it’s at higher levels of consumption that we start to increase the risk that we expose ourselves to some of the more harmful effects of caffeine.

Although it has many health benefits and has long been used by people for its stimulating effects, it also comes with various health hazards. Caffeine consumption is linked to the risk of developing coronary artery disease, osteoporosis, gastritis, anaemia and still births. Other adverse effects of caffeine include sleep deprivation, increased heart rate and blood pressure, central nervous system disorders, vasodilation, trembling, seizures, urticaria, headaches, increased body temperature and behavioural changes. In people consuming caffeine on regular basis, it has been found that the cessation of caffeine results in many unfavourable changes such as increased occurrence of headaches, increased drowsiness and fatigue as well as lowered alertness. The various ill-effects of excessive caffeine consumption include addiction, hormone-related cancers, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, insomnia, intoxication and nutrient malabsorption. It affects bones by decreasing calcium absorption in the human small intestine. It is also known to affect gastrointestinal, respiratory and reproductive health.

Kumar, V., Kaur, J., Panghal, A., Kaur, S., & Handa, V. (2018). Caffeine: a boon or bane. /Nutrition & Food Science,/ /48(1),/ 61-75.

Alternatives

The current and impending rise in price for a cup of coffee and knowing the harmful effects of over consuming caffeine, coupled with supply chain failures, it seems to me that now would be a good time to either cut down on the amount of coffee we consume or give it up all together.

With that in mind here are some things that we can do help ease the pain of giving up coffee (or just reducing the amount we consume).

For tiredness and energy:

  • Get your 7-9 hours of good quality sleep regularly
  • Eat nutrient rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, grass fed meats, whole milk etc
  • Avoid or reduce the amount of processed foods and snacks that you consume throughout the day
  • Take regular exercise (like a 20 minute walk a day, or regular breaks during the day where you move more than you are now).
  • Meditate regularly (and it doesn’t have to be too long, for example sitting in a chair closing your eyes and deep breathing for a couple of minutes can be very beneficial).

For concentration and productivity:

  • All of the above mentioned points
  • Plan your days and weeks in advance. Knowing what you need to do beforehand helps reduce the stress of trying to do things ad hoc
  • Take regular breaks whilst working, studying or concentrating. 25 – 45 minute blocks are usually enough for your brain to stay active and focused on your tasks
  • Limit your coffee intake to only once a day, and use it for your most difficult tasks, no later than 12 in the afternoon, but ideally, go without, or at least work towards going without (take small steps).

Review

I was in denial for a long time about my own coffee addiction, but when I suffered a bad case of the jitters, I had to face up to the fact that I had caffeine addiction problem.

It can be hard to motivate yourself to get through the withdrawal symptoms even if you have a support network in place (watch the WheezyWaiter YouTube video to see what I’m talking about); but I’ve found that just by knowing why you are doing something, you increase the chances of sticking through the hard times and overcoming any adversity.

If you found yourself getting upset about the recent coffee price increases and shortages that will be manifesting themselves shortly (if not already), maybe you should try quitting coffee for a short while.

What have you got to lose?

Afterword

There are many physiological effects of caffeine on respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive and central nervous systems. It has a positive effect in reducing the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and liver injury and, at the same time, in improving mood, psychomotor performance and immune response. On the other hand, the negative effects of caffeine include addiction, cancer, heart diseases, insomnia, gastrointestinal disturbances and intoxication. As caffeine, when taken in a large amount, is harmful… its concentration should not exceed set limits.

Kumar, V., Kaur, J., Panghal, A., Kaur, S., & Handa, V. (2018). Caffeine: a boon or bane. /Nutrition & Food Science,/ /48(1),/ 61-75.
Categories
Fatigue Productivity Sleepiness Tiredness

How to Overcome Daytime Fatigue, A New Twist

V-CAF & Apple Watch

The New Twist on Combating Tiredness…

Working in the tech industry it won’t surprise you to know that I can’t get enough of electronic gadgets. As time has progressed my interest in gadgets has shifted from those that were geared towards fun and games, to those that help me to perform better in some way.

Personally, in recent years nothing has fulfilled the role of being both fun and useful as the Apple Watch. In another article I explained how my children gave me my first Apple Watch and how I became hooked. I found that it expanded what was possible on the iPhone and made it that bit more personal by allowing for technology to become more seamlessly integrated into my everyday tasks.

If I need a timer I just raise my watch and ask for a timer to be set for a specific period. Same with directions, calculations, letting me know if I’m being as active as I said I wanted to be and even reminding me of tasks that I set for myself but hadn’t completed yet. It’s great!

However, there was one area that it didn’t help me directly with and that was to do with how tired I felt at any given moment. Some may say that isn’t such a big deal, but it should be noted that most of us don’t realise when we start to get tired (especially when we are busy), or override the signs that our bodies give us in order to get things done.

But is this really the best way to work, and if not what counter measures can we take to help us overcome tiredness during the day?

Two of My Favourites - The Apple Watch & V-CAF
Photo by @camdutchpro via Twenty20

Lack of Sensitivity

There are some things that when we are repeatedly exposed to them, our tolerance levels increase, so that over time we become less sensitive to them.

A frequent example that I use on this blog is caffeine. The fist few times we consume it, we are very aware of its ability to to make us feel more alert, awake and focused. But when we regularly consume caffeine, it can seem as though we need more of it to get the same sort of results that we once did.

I think the same can be said for tiredness and fatigue, but in reverse. In the past I found myself working very long hours late into the evening, and then starting my day very early. When working in these kind of cycles, it was difficult at first to adjust as I found myself constantly nodding off or feeling really low and tired, but after a while I seemed to find my stride and just work through the tiredness.

Drinking coffee or consuming colas seemed to help, but I found myself craving an ever increasing amount of them just to feel like I could make it through the day. The strange thing was that I didn’t realise how tired I was until I crashed out on the sofa, or in front of the computer (if I was working at home).

Fatigue Effects

“A calm surface – most claim to handle an impossible workload by ’taking one thing at a time’ – hides a rebellious body, sending signals of more or less serious conditions such as heart problems, high blood pressure, migraine and sleeping disturbance. The possibility to work even when ill, either at the workplace or at home, normalises the worn out, tired and sick body, and it makes it ‘healthy (enough)’ and available”.

Widerberg, K. (2006). Embodying Modern Times. /Time & Society,/ /15(1),/ 105-120.

Financial, employment and/or social pressures can cause us to overwork ourselves and blind us to the signs that we need to take a break. In my case I used to say things like “I got caught up in my work and didn’t realise the time” to perhaps justify working longer than I should at great risk to my health.

There was definitely an atmosphere of just muddling through as if throwing more hours and people at the problem would some how magically boost productivity. Nobody wanted to let the team down by complaining about being tired, or stressed or overworked, so it continued.

But the longer we worked, the more problems there were, and hence, the need to work more to fix them. It’s crazy to think that I once worked like that! But unfortunately, the signs of fatigue and stress were there and I ignored them to my detriment.

It’s easier said than done, but look out for the symptoms of fatigue and tiredness. Some of the more common signs are:

  • Sleepiness
  • Reduced energy
  • Difficulty in performing basic tasks
  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Slower than usual reaction times
  • Poor judgement
  • Ineffective memory
  • An increase of errors at work
  • Reduced productivity

Can Wearable Technologies Help?

There is no magic pill to overcoming fatigue whilst working or studying, but there are quite a few things that you can do to help improve and even eliminate the problem. Taken together, they help reduce the risk of you overworking and making yourself feel fatigued and miserable.

If you’re a technology fan like me, many of these tips can actively help you to reduce the risk of fatigue and improve the quality of your life.

  • Get enough good quality sleep
    According to the CDC, adults between the ages of 18-60 years need 7+ hours of sleep per night (CDC – How Much Sleep Do I Need? – Sleep and Sleep Disorders). They also state: “Good sleep quality is also essential. Signs of poor sleep quality include not feeling rested even after getting enough sleep, repeatedly waking up during the night, and experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders (such as snoring or gasping for air). Improving sleep quality may be helped by better sleep habits or being diagnosed and treated for any sleep disorder you may have.”

On the Apple Watch there are native applications such as Sleep, as well as third party apps like Pillow that help track your sleep quantity and quality, with both giving you tips on how to improve your sleep.

  • Eat healthy
    Eat less processed foods and refined sugars and eat more whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, grass fed cattle, mono and polyunsaturated fats etc. As processed foods contain a lot of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats (trans fats) avoid as much as you can.

The worst type of dietary fat is the kind known as trans fat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. Trans fats have no known health benefits and that there is no safe level of consumption. Therefore, they have been officially banned in the United States.

The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between – Harvard Health

Improving your diet will help improve your energy levels and help you feel less sleepy as a result.

  • Exercise more

Exercise is a well-acknowledged intervention for sleep improvement and has been endorsed by the American Sleep Disorders Association. A randomised controlled trial conducted on adults with insomnia confirmed that aerobic exercise improved sleep quality, depressive symptoms, and some domains of Quality of Life.

Chang, S., Shih, K., Chi, C., Chang, C., Hwang, K., & Chen, Y. (2016). Association Between Exercise Participation and Quality of Sleep and Life Among University Students in Taiwan. Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health,28(4), 356-367.

You don’t have to exercise for hours on end to get the benefits of exercise in your sleep. A twenty minute daily walk is all that is needed and the effects are immediate.

There are many gadgets that come with a built in step counter, and the Apple Watch comes with the Activity rings that you can set a target for the amount calories burnt during a day. Once set the watch will remind you to keep moving to achieve your goal and congratulate you once you close your rings.

  • Don’t work more than 40 hours a week
    Working long hours tends to cut into your down time which will ultimately affect the quality and quantity of your sleep. Set yourself a reasonable amount of hours of actual work per day and stick to it. It can be hard at first, especially if you are used to working long hours, but eventually you will be able to fit the work you have to do within the time that you have allotted.
  • Take more breaks
    Another easier said than done tip, but thankfully there are tools like Forest and the Pomodoro Technique that you can use to allocate blocks of time to work on tasks, and once a block is complete, take a break. Or you can just set a timer for 20-25 minute blocks and stop when your alarm goes off. Using apps makes it easy to set up and go, and keep things interesting.

However, the best app that I use to remind me to take a break is V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. It’s our app (so I’m biased), but its a fantastic way to optimise your work day. Just start the app on your Apple Watch, choose how you feel at the moment, and the app will then inform you when your alertness levels are dropping. People use it to let them know when they are sleepy, but I use it to let me know when my concentration levels are dropping so that I can take a break (where I either go for a walk outside, or have a 20 minute nap). Either way when I get back to my desk, I feel refreshed and energised .

Review

It’s easy to overwork and wear yourself down. Over time you may find it difficult to realise that you are doing this to yourself, but where you can, try to incorporate these measures into your daily routine so that you reduce the risk of fatigue and it’s many complications.

  • Get enough good quality sleep
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise more
  • Don’t work more than 40 hours a week
  • Take more breaks

Afterword

Don’t worry about breaks every 20 minutes ruining your focus on a task. Contrary to what I might have guessed, taking regular breaks from mental tasks actually improves your creativity and productivity. Skipping breaks, on the other hand, leads to stress and fatigue. Tom Rath

Tom Rath, source: https://www.quotemaster.org/qfac951bc57660c6d638629a1f7e5d343
Categories
Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Tiredness

Time, Technology and Your Tiredness

Know When to Stop

Stay Alert, Stay Focused

To me, one of the weirdest things that we experience is time. Whenever I’m bored or doing something that I don’t want to (like being in a pointless meeting, or stuck in an uninteresting class at school), time seems to move extremely slow, and I’m amazed how five minutes can feel like thirty.

In contrast, when I’m really engaged in what I’m doing time flies. I lose track of time and feel disappointed when it’s time to stop, and again find myself amazed that two hours have past when they only felt like twenty minutes!

I’ve read lots of books and endless online videos about this phenomena, and ultimately they all tend to agree that time is subjective, fair enough. But what about how we are affected by our subjective experiences of time passing?

Something that I’ve noticed in myself, is that the feeling of tiredness is always there, it’s just felt at different stages. When I’m bored I usually feel sleepy and find it difficult to focus on what is being said or the task that needs to be completed. When I’m fully engrossed in a task or presentation, I feel full of energy and feel like I can keep going without stopping, but soon after I finish it feels like everything is moving in slow motion and I suddenly notice how drained I feel.

So what is going on?

Time - Technology - Tiredness
Photo by @criene via Twenty20

No Time

People want to get something out of their time and their lives. It is all about getting a lot done, and to be done with it so that one can move on to something else…
The constant reorganisation of workplaces (now an unquestioned norm of a modern organisation) implies that we are in a state of change all the time. The goal of efficiency means, without exception, an increase of intensity at work. In short, more has to be done in less time.

Widerberg, K. (2006). Embodying Modern Times. Time & Society, 15(1), 105-120.

It is an unfortunate fact of life these days that there is an increasing expectation for us to perform at ever increasing levels of productivity. Very few of us have a standard work or study week. This unpredictability makes it difficult for us to effectively plan the amount of time that we spend working or studying.

Even with having the ability to work from home, we may find that we actually spend more time working than we would have if we were in the office (although, I prefer working from home). Wherever we work or study, many of us can find that we are unable to switch off completely and as a result find it difficult to relax and be fully engaged in our own lives.

Whether our professions allow us to work remotely or not, our work loads are increasing and we can feel that we don’t have enough time to get things done. The pressure to perform can keep us fully engaged whilst working or studying without us realising that we are wearing ourselves down.

The early signs of our increasing tiredness include feeling irritated and finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate whilst at work, and feeling burnt out but unable to get adequate rest when at home.

 

Unable to Stop

“I like the job, it is self-developing and the technical development has its way. Everybody has mobile phones, home computers, and Internet, and that goes for me as well. This increased activity is what we live for, it is our daily bread and it has its costs. When I come home my work day is not over. I do notice that it wears you down, especially when you have not had a holiday for some time”.

Widerberg, K. (2006). Embodying Modern Times. /Time & Society,/ /15(1),/ 105-120.

Our inability to switch off after working or studying is worrying. Without being able to completely switch off we set ourselves at more risk of suffering from various health issues, one of which is inadequate sleep.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for us to notice when we are worn down, a situation which is made increasingly difficult to acknowledge due to the normalisation of overworking.

When it is normal to have too much to do, it is likely that it is also normal to be tired and worn out, and to have bodily symptoms. Aches in the back, neck, head, stomach, and joints, and sleeping problems seem to have become too common to be worth talking about. That is just the way it is, it seems, for all of us.

Widerberg, K. (2006). Embodying Modern Times. Time & Society, 15(1), 105-120.

This is a worrying situation to be in as most of us don’t realise the dangers that we are volunteering ourselves for. Jagdish Khubchandani and James H. Price in their article “Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010 – 2018” highlight that sleep problems aren’t acknowledged as a major health concern and explain the associated mental and physical illnesses that we can expect if this issue isn’t addressed (see below):

  • Loss of productivity
  • Premature mortality
  • Increased risk of type-2 diabetes
  • Strokes
  • Hypertension risks
  • Increased risk of coronary heart disease
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Workplace absenteeism
  • Presenteeism (low work performance)
  • Unstable moods
  • And suicidal ideation

Time and Technology

Knowing that it so easy to lose track of time and have a sense of how tired we actually are is easy, but what can we do about it?

Improving sleep hygiene goes a long way to help correct a lot of the issues, and some of the steps that you can take to help yourself are:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. This helps your body’s circadian rhythm adjust to your sleeping routine.
  • Get between seven to eight hours of good quality sleep. Both quality and quantity are important to help you feel refreshed and rested when you wake up.
  • Exercise regularly. It helps with improving your health and helps improve the quality of your sleep.
  • Get outside more and get plenty of bright daylight.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco as they reduce the quality of your sleep.

The things that you can do to help yourself whilst working/studying are:

  • Take regular breaks whilst working. Use the Pomodoro technique (or any other productivity process) to help set specific blocks of time for you to work. Once the block is complete, take a five to ten minute break, then start again. Working this way helps to keep you focused and reduces the risk of you working whilst tired.
  • Work no more than forty hours a week. Organise your work so that you can have enough rest when you’ve finished working for the day without having to continuously work long hours.
  • Use technology to help you keep alert. Our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, helps you keep track of your tiredness by notifying you when your tiredness increases. Using it whilst working will help to let you know when your body says it needs to take a break, helping you to be more efficient and productive.
  • After finishing work, go for a walk before coming home. It can help to de-stress you and help you relax and switch off from thinking about what you did that day, and how you’re going to deal with tomorrow.

Decide what your priorities are. If your health is important to you then take the necessary measures that you need to, to protect yourself. Same goes for your family and work life. Make a list of what is important to your quality of life and stick to it as best you can.

Review

Ultimately what I’m saying in this post is to make time for yourself. It’s easy for me to tell you not to obsess over work/studying and to take it in your stride, but I know it isn’t easy to do at all.

Whether you find yourself getting bored and that makes you tired, or you overwork and don’t realise how tired you are, be aware of what your body is telling you and step back when you need to.

Afterword

“If someone asks you how to write your name, would you bark out each letter? And if they get angry, would you then return the anger? Wouldn’t you rather gently spell out each letter for them? So then, remember in life that your duties are the sum of individual acts. Pay attention to each of these as you do your duty . . . just methodically complete your task.”

Marcus Aurelius , Meditations, 6.26, source: A Stoic Guide To Workplace Peace Of Mind
Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Irritability Lethargy Productivity Sleep Tension

Wanted: A Fully Rested You!

Work Hard, Rest Harder

Be The Real You..

Lately, I’ve not felt at my best. I’ve had plenty to do, and just got on my grind to get things done, but ultimately it didn’t feel like my best work. It’s my bread and butter stuff, not my groundbreaking exciting work.

In contrast, when I’m in “the zone” work just flows. New ideas seem to come effortlessly, new connections between different ideas are clearer to see, and generally I just feel energised.

The other day, I just decided to stop and think about the differences between the two conditions flow and grind. I looked at old journal entries during both conditions and found that the major issue that stood out between the two, is that in one state I was well rested and the other not so much. I’ll leave you to guess which state corresponded to each experience.

After reacquainting myself with what I already know, which is a good exercise to do by the way, I wanted to write a post that I would come back to, to help me remember that a fully rested me is the best me to produce my best work. It’s obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. I hope that you find this post as useful as I intend it to be for me.

Productivity Sucks

Why are you working so hard? Is it because you are full of energy and ideas and just ready to unleash it, or is it because you have expectations to meet or goals to achieve?

Regardless of your reasons, you can get caught up in what you are doing and unwittingly neglect the rest that you need to continue producing high quality work. Working long hours, not taking enough breaks and cutting into your sleep can become habitual, just because your self talk says things like “I’ll go on a break in a minute” or “I’ll do it this time and catch up on my sleep after I finish what I’m doing”.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with working hard, it can be difficult for some of us to break away from what we are doing because of a compulsion to want to do better, do more, and achieve higher. Worryingly, this approach is increasingly becoming the accepted way to work or study, and the rise of hustle culture is not helping.

The pressure to succeed can be heightened for some people due to the proliferation of images and stories that seem to validate that working harder than your competition will ultimately lead to success, implying that if you’re not successful, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough.

It is not uncommon for people to feel guilty for taking a break whilst at work, even though they are entitled to it, or for working long hours so as to show that they are not just working, but over working because they are overachievers.

A 34-year-old tax attorney was admitted to the medical services with a complaint of chest pain. Four months earlier, he had noted the onset of leg pains, followed a month later by constant substernal and left-sided chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tremor…

It was estimated that for at least three years he had worked 80 to 100 hours per week. He took no vacations and seldom took any weekends or days off…

The patient described himself as someone who had to “rely on hard work rather than brains”…

He feared being in a position where he would be dependent on anyone else and believed that he had to accept all work that was referred to him, or he might never get any more.

Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.

The Frustrating Grind

Continually working long hard hours eventually leads to diminishing returns and can be harmful to your health. I have found that it can be difficult to realise that by spending more time working rather than stopping to take a break and making sure that I get enough rest (sleep and recreation), that it is actually taking me longer to get work done and reducing the quality of the work that I do.

The really annoying thing for me is that it’s usually when I take a step back from what I’m doing that I realise I’m reducing my efficiency by working longer instead of smarter. Sometimes people can tell you that you need to take it easy and slow down, but it’s difficult to acknowledge when your main priority becomes your work.

But, as the saying goes, if you don’t hear you must feel, and your body will give you warning signs that will increase in seriousness if you don’t stop and listen to what your body is telling you. Look out for the following signs of being overworked:

  • Increase in fatigue
  • Depression
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability
  • Loss of libido
  • Inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities (anhedonia)
  • Anxiety
  • Diminished concentration
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Memory impairment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Confusion
  • Crying
  • Excessive smoking
  • General aches and pains
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

source: Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.

A Rested You

If you are feeling overworked and stressed you may first want to seek professional help from your medical practitioner of choice. Don’t hesitate or say that it’s not that serious; delaying seeking professional advice can be costly, and after reading some of the case studies in a study by John M. Rhoads, MD that was published in 1977 (which was the major study I referenced when writing this post), I would strongly advise that you do. There may be other underlying issues that if addressed, at the very least will help in addressing some of your overworking issues.

There are some things that you can do by yourself to address the issue apart from the obvious of not working so long:

  • Set limits to how long you work per day, and don’t work on weekends. It is important that you stick to these rules, no exceptions. But start off small. Eventually work towards a 40 hour week if you work 50, or 50 hours if you work more than 60. Don’t jump all in, remember this is a change that you will keep up for the rest of your working life.
  • Rethink your attitude towards work and the time that you spend there. For example, does your family or social life suffer because you are constantly working? You may need help with this one, so don’t feel afraid to speak to a councillor or someone you can trust about this.
  • Make a point of going on vacation (even if your vacation is to stay local, but do no work or work related activities)!
  • Schedule for recreation time. Find out what you like to do (apart from work – no cheating), and make time to do it. Join a club or do a team sport that takes you away from the working environment, and demands just enough attention so that you have to go regularly to improve and practice at home (for me that is doing a martial art, which helps me to get rid of tension and helps with my breathing, focus and concentration skills in life and work in general).

Review

Resist the urge to work for longer than you need to. Redirect the energy you spend working long hours to organising your work life around actually living.

Stick to your work hours (9-5 Monday to Friday for example) and take regular breaks throughout your working day.

Schedule time for yourself and family/friends so that you avoid becoming one dimensional and have interests outside of work.

But ultimately, reconnect with yourself and be true to you.

Afterword

Many persons are able to work equally long hours without becoming ill. Those who become ill are those who ignore their body’s signals for rest, recuperation, and recreation.
One must keep in mind that people differ individually in their amounts of available energy, recuperative powers, and in enjoyment of work

Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Productivity Staying Awake

Need to Stay Awake?

Never Mind Only Another 8 Hours to Go!

Stay Alert, Stay Focussed

Unpleasant doesn’t go far enough to describe the feeling of being so tired that you want to sleep, but at the same time also needing to stay awake! It’s such a horrible experience that sleep deprivation is recognised as a form of inhumane treatment:

“/These methods, sometimes termed “disorientation” or “ sensory deprivation“ techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission’s establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of …wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink./

/147. In its report, the Commission expressed the opinion….(iv) unanimously, that the combined use of the five techniques in the cases before it constituted a practice of inhuman treatment and of torture in breach of Article 3 (art. 3); (v) unanimously, that violations of Article 3 (art. 3) occurred by inhuman, and in two cases degrading, treatment”/

Stress and duress, Sensory deprivation techniques comprised torture , Stress and duress – Wikipedia

In an earlier post I questioned why you would want to do this to yourself. One popular reason is because of work or study commitments and in this post I’ll explain a few tips and techniques to help you get through a “must stay awake” session.

Please keep in mind, these are short term solutions and not meant to be used regularly. Many of the techniques suggested can put undue stress on your body and have long term health implications.

Tired? Never Mind Only Another 8 Hours To Go!
Photo by @Jennyrsmith via Twenty20

Caffeine – The Go To Stimulant of Choice

The most consumed stimulant on plant Earth, caffeine is the clear winner when it comes to consuming something to help us stay awake and alert. Sure there are other stimulants that work, but nothing is as popular and accepted as harmless as caffeine.

Research and personal experiences seem to be in line with this assumption. For example, when I was studying for exams, or had a very tight work schedule, I used caffeine to keep me alert and get me through the tiredness.

In an article for Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, Volume 20 by Andrew P. Smith titled, Caffeine at work, Andrew confirmed that:

“The results from the first study showed that those who consumed higher levels of caffeine reported significantly greater increases in alertness over the working day and a significantly smaller slowing of reaction time. The results from the second study demonstrated significant associations between caffeine consumption and fewer cognitive failures and accidents at work. After controlling for possible confounding factors it was found that higher caffeine consumption was associated with about half the risk of frequent/very frequent cognitive failures and a similar reduction in risk for accidents at work.”
“Overall, the results from the three analyses show that caffeine consumption may have benefits for performance and safety at work”

Smith, A. (2005). Caffeine at work. /Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental,/ /20(6),/ 441-445.

Stimulants

Overextended owner-operators regularly drove up to eighteen hours a day and often were “not out of their clothes for a week at a time.” The Safety Council elaborated on the variety of methods truckers used to stay alert. Beyond the conventional reliance on caffeine in all its forms, commercial haulers turned to seemingly anything smelling or tasting foul enough to jar their exhausted senses

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy (p. 114). University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc..

The problem with stimulants is that there can be a tendency to overly rely on them to get us through the tiredness. This in turn leads to us needing bigger dosages to achieve the same wakeful results, to the point where we need the stimulant to just function normally.

And then there’s the fact that consuming caffeine doesn’t actually make you perform better, but does just enough to get through the difficult patches. Combining regular caffeine consumption with sleep deprivation can lead to some dangerous but not unexpected results.

The consequences of this behaviour were always bad. After several days of short sleep, drivers experienced hallucinations. They manifested plain evidence of shift work sleep disorder, nodding off during conversations or while carrying out routine tasks in terminals. One wasted man had the good fortune to have a helper accompanying him to advise him when he tried to park his rig in the middle of the road. Others had worse luck. Numerous collisions involving sleepy haulers came to light. In one case, the operator ignored a crossing signal and drove into the side of a moving train.

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy (p. 115). University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Alternatives

What are the alternatives given that most of us at some point will have to work, study or look after someone whilst being extremely tired? If it’s just a short term (one to three days) stretch, then consuming no more than 400mg of caffeine within a 24 hour period can help. But if you want to avoid caffeine then the answer given by a Sailor that took part in a study to examine the factors that influence serving sailors may provide us with a good place to start.

“If I don’t have a good rest at night then I’m going to be groggy and angry… I was actually getting more work done after I actually took a nap or slept. I realised I was making a lot of mistakes (when sleep deprived), too. When we switched to that (napping), my mood got better. My work quality got better”.

Schmied, E.A., Harrison, E.M., Dell’Acqua, R.G., Perez, V.G., Glickman, .G., & Hurtado, S.L. (0020). A Qualitative Examination of Factors That Influence Sleep Among Shipboard Sailors. /Military Medicine,/ /AdvanceArticle,/ 1-1.
  • Nap
    Whether you are working late or through the night, or during the day, if you are feeling tired, take a nap. Not only will you feel better but a 20 minute nap can help you be more focussed and productive, boosting the quality of your work.

“Current evidence suggests that taking naps of ~ 20 min decreases the sleep pressure”

Murillo-Rodríguez, E., Yamamoto, T., Monteiro, D., Budde, H., Rocha, N., Cid, L., Teixeira, D., Telles-Correia, D., Veras, A., Machado, S., Imperatori, C., & Torterolo, P. (2020). Assessing the Management of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness by Napping Benefits. /Sleep and Vigilance,/ /4(2),/ 117-123.
  • Get up and Move
    Stretch and go for a walk. By getting your heart pumping and body moving you help yourself become more alert compared to just sitting down. To increase the benefit of both your exercise and napping, go for a quick brisk walk then have a 20 minute nap!

“Sleep leads to the enhancement of memory, and physical exercise also improves memory along with beneficial effects on sleep quality…”
“Our results demonstrate that short-term exercise and a nap improve recognition memory over a nap or exercise alone.”

Mograss, .M., Crosetta, .M., Abi-Jaoude, .J., Frolova, .E., Robertson, E.M., Pepin, .V., & Dang-Vu, T.T. (2020). Exercising before a nap benefits memory better than napping or exercising alone. /SLEEP,/ /43(9),/
  • Tiredness Indicators
    When tired it can be difficult to acknowledge just how tired you are. The stress of work or study related issues mixed with tiredness can be motivation enough to just plough on until you get what you need to do, done. Unfortunately this can lead to the detriment of the quality of the work that you put out, and may be dangerous. By the time you are reaching for caffeine, it’s already way past when you should have stopped and taken a break. Luckily there are tools like our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, that can alert you to when your alertness levels drop so that you can get up and walk before taking a nap. A simple to use Apple Watch app that works with your body to alert you when you’re tired, V-CAF is available on the app store now.

Review

Caffeine works but should not be used to keep you awake for prolonged periods (one to three days at a time only) and you should limit your consumption to between 200mg and 400mg of caffeine per 24 hour period.

When tired, take regular exercise breaks and naps to help relieve the build up of tiredness and to help get a quick boost to your focus and mental abilities.

Track how tired you are and be alerted to take regular breaks rather than just grinding your way through.

But the best tip of all, when you can get as much good quality sleep as possible!

Stay safe ?

Afterword

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago”

Friedrich Nietzsche, source: When We Are Tired, We Are Attacked by Ideas We Conquered Long Ago – Quote Investigator

Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Tiredness

How to Get Going

Or How to Get Things Done

Start now, worry later

Sometimes I find it difficult to start getting things done. It is annoying, because I either know what needs to be done, or what I want to do, but just lack the enthusiasm or motivation to do it.

Then there’s the times when I get things going but seem to run out of steam. It seems to take ever increasing amounts of effort just to carry on. It feels like my batteries are running on low and nothing I tried seemed to make any difference.

Eventually I found a link between my daytime sleepiness and the amount of work that I could get done. Slowly but surely, by addressing the factors that were causing me to be tired I was able to turn things around and reduce the amount of times when I just couldn’t get started.

Lets Get Going
Photo by @betobordoy via Twenty20

The Struggle

If you’re anything like me or experienced finding it difficult to get started then you know how frustrating it can be, whether it’s a task that you don’t look forward to or something that you need to get done, but just don’t know how to start.

The more you ponder on it the harder it becomes to get it done. Your mind can be caught in a loop of thinking about starting, not knowing where to start, then choosing to start and then wondering if you’ve started in the right place or not. Followed by stopping and then starting again, and so it continues.

Do this a couple of times and then just the thought of having to think about starting starts to make you feel drained and unmotivated to continue, which of course is not going to help you finish what you haven’t fully started.

It’s at these moments that I find myself yawning and feeling tired and wanting to go to sleep. But, here’s the thing; are you feeling tired because of trying to start the task or is the task hard to start because you are tired?

The Risk

When looking over my notes from the past when I’ve been at my most productive, a common factor that kept coming up was that I felt energised and it was as if I was fully charged, so much so that I found it difficult to stop and slow down. But whenever I was struggling to work I felt more tired than usual.

Researchers have known for a long time that daytime tiredness reduces your work efficiency and accuracy and may be either an indicator or cause of other health issues.

What is already known about this topic


– Excessive daytime sleepiness is a risk factor for various physical and mental disorders.


– Excessive daytime sleepiness is associated with low productivity, various traffic and industrial accidents caused by impaired attentiveness/judgement, tiredness, and low morale.


– In addiction to having adverse effects on an individual’s health and social life, excessive daytime sleepiness is a critical social and economic problem.

Suzuki, K., Ohida, T., Kaneita, Y., Yokoyama, E., & Uchiyama, M. (2005). Daytime sleepiness, sleep habits and occupational accidents among hospital nurses. /Journal of Advanced Nursing,/ /52(4),/

I decided to note how I felt as well as the quality and quantity of the sleep I was getting during my work stints to see if there was any link between that and how difficult I found it to get my work started and finished.

Over time it became increasingly obvious to me that the periods where my sleep had been disturbed or cut short seemed to match up with the quality of my work and how easy I found it to get things done. In one instance I noted that my motivation was extremely low and coincided with a period where I didn’t get much sleep due to some personal issues.

The lack of good quality sleep can be linked to:

  • Difficulty focussing
  • Reduced motivation
  • Inhibited problem solving skills
  • Confusion
  • Bad memory
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty communicating

And may increase the risk of:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • And obesity

Steps to Take

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll start to realise that there’s a common theme here… insure that you consistently have enough quality and quantity of sleep.

I would be as bold to state that by taking your sleep, diet and exercise seriously you will greatly improve not just your productivity but quality (and in some cases quantity of life).

And when I say seriously I don’t mean stern and hard, I mean that you prioritise those areas in your life, without getting stressed and obsessive about them. Approach everything with balance.

As a result of my study and writing for this blog, here are some of the processes that I’ve found helpful in getting me over the hump of starting to get going.

  • Note the purpose of what you want to achieve
    It greatly helps to know why you are doing something. By explicitly stating what you want to achieve you help give your mind focus to getting those things done.
  • Just Do Something
    Paralysis by analysis was a common theme that was being banded around when I was at university and the best lecturers let us know that we should start the assignments as soon as we received them. Why? Well it turns out that sometimes the best way to tackle something is to just do something and see what happens. Don’t get caught up in your mind getting stuck in a loop about what, then if. The act of doing something opens up your mind to getting on with the work no matter what. Now tie this point to the one above and you’ll be doing something with purpose which in turn will help you to focus on getting things done.
  • Make sure you are well rested
    I’ve mentioned this above and say it again, good quality sleep, not just quantity. Make sure you get enough of both. If you are close to a deadline or it’s difficult to get enough rest, remember the first two points and do something with purpose and take it from there. The best thing to do is to make sure that you get to bed on time to get enough good quality rest.

Review

I’ve found that the difficulty in getting started is usually down to me being tired or run down and not realising it. Overthinking starting is also an issue for me and that alone can drain my motivation.

What has helped me in the past and now is to:

  • Explicitly state what I want to achieve
  • Start anyway, and fix things that need to be fixed once I’ve got something done
  • And to get as much quality rest as I can possibly get

Afterword

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Steve Jobs

Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Staying Awake

A New Paradigm For Staying Productive

V-CAF The New Productivity Hack

Stay Productive

It would be an understatement to say that in the past I found it challenging to stay consistently productive and hitting all my objectives. Not that I’ve magically got to this fantastical place and that now I’m some sort of productivity god that can’t be stopped.

No, presently where I find myself is a considerably better place than I was but there is always room for improvement. It was a long hard slog to get here and it can sometimes feel daunting thinking about just how much more I need to do to be at my optimal, let alone knowing if it is even possible to get to such a place.

Which brings us nicely to the theme of this post, productivity and what I’ve used to help improve my productivity. Along the way there’s been a lot of trial and error, but the good thing is that by experimenting and having deep thoughts about how I could improve it, led to the creation of our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert.

Stay Productive
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

Full Steam Ahead

For most of my life it feels like I’ve been chasing deadlines or targets. In school it was to get good grades, in work it was to progress my career or earn more cash. I rarely took the time to think about why I’d chosen this approach, I just got on with it.

And I wasn’t the only one. Most people around me in the different environments that I’ve found myself in also had a similar approach. Whenever I felt in a reflective mood, usually after just making a deadline, I would speak with colleagues who all had their own way of dealing with productivity issues, which funnily enough were just variations on a few common themes.

Make lists, prioritise tasks, drink coffee, give yourself enough time, are some of the usual suspects that keep coming up. And although they all work to a degree, to me, none of them dealt with the actual underlying issue and all wouldn’t work as well as expected at a certain point.

Hitting the Wall

Prioritising tasks help and this is something that I just do. I’d organise my work in order of importance and away I’d go. I definitely recommend organising your tasks, but not to spend too much time doing it. And then there’s the fact that even though I’ve organised my work, there’s always (without fail), something else that comes up that forces me to have to reorganise and spend more time not actually doing the work, but doing the work around the work.

Drinking coffee has and still does work, but not in a sustainable way. When I was feeling tired and demotivated to get things done, then having a coffee would help perk me up. Things would get done, but only for a short period of time before I needed another shot of caffeine to get me through to the next dip. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a coffee once in a while, but to use it as a crutch to increase productivity just doesn’t work. The most obvious reason is that the more coffee (or caffeine) that you drink the more your body increases it’s tolerance to the drug leading you to need more of it to get the same productivity results.

Then there’s the addiction aspect. Many people feel that they can give up caffeine at the drop of a hat and don’t believe that they are addicted. I was one of those people until I actually tried to go without it for a while. That was quite an experience, I can tell you. Trying to give up caffeine can effect your productivity too as the withdrawal effects can make you feel terrible but you’d put it down to tiredness or not feeling well. Either way, I didn’t want my productivity to be dependent on the amount of a substance that I’d consume.

Changing Perspectives

So, what to do? What actually works? I tried numerous workflows and found that the Pomodoro Technique worked well when using Kanban (lean process management) and helped with giving me clear timeframes and slots to complete work. Giving myself more time to get things done and prioritising work did help, but something else was missing.

Then, during a break, I was walking in a park and enjoying the green when I realised that I was looking outside of myself for a solution to an internal problem. Earlier that day my boss had spoken about me looking tired and falling asleep at my desk. The problem was that I was working long hours and cutting into my down time before going to sleep and then waking up early to try and get as many hours as possible to throw at the problem.

What I needed was to step back and get more rest in order to get things done properly. As soon as I got back to my desk I started looking for information on sleep, productivity and daytime tiredness. It became something of an obsession for me as I started finding that when I started implementing the information that things got better. Productivity picked up and I felt much less stressed and more content with my work.

I began getting better quality sleep, exercising more, eating better and taking more breaks whilst at work. Whilst monitoring my mood and the amount of work that got done I started to realise that this was the missing component that was needed to sustainably maintain my level of productivity.

But being the stubborn kind of guy that I am, I found myself sometimes working through my breaks and not stepping away. When I did this, my stress levels went up and my productivity went down! Speaking with a colleague about this we came up with the idea to make an app that unlike any work flow process, actually worked with your body to help optimise work slots around your alertness levels.

That led us to create V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, an Apple Watch app, which is now available on iOS and macOS, that notifies you when your alertness levels are decreasing so that you can stop and revitalise yourself before your decreasing alertness affects your work. Over the last few years I’ve been using it daily and it feels like it was the last secret missing key for me to unlock my productivity potential.

Review

If you’re feeling that your productivity levels aren’t what they should be or feeling tired and lethargic, take the time to change your sleeping, eating and exercising habits.

I know that it can seem difficult, but anything of value has a difficulty factor attached to it. It’s easy to look for a quick fix to a solution but by actually paying the price of going through and overcoming a difficulty you will be paid back no end.

Afterword

“The associated annual economic costs due to lost productivity for the entire work population at the participating companies were estimated to be $54 million (~$1967/employee). Our findings highlight the potential for the improved detection and treatment of sleep disturbances to significantly improve workplace safety and productivity and reduce the associated economic costs.

Mark R. Rosekind, PhD, Kevin B. Gregory, BS, Melissa M. Mallis, PhD, Summer L. Brandt, MA, Brian Seal, PhD, and Debra Lerner, PhD, The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs, 2010; p.97

Categories
Energy Fatigue Productivity Staying Awake

Let’s Break Up Your Day And Be More Productive

Do Your Day Your Way

I have to admit that I find it difficult to
stop what I’m doing when I become extremely focussed on something.

On a few occasions this has worked out well for me as it made it easier to get things done. I feel ultra productive and at the top of my game.

But too often after stints like that my energy levels crashed to depths that had me feeling like I needed a week of sleep just to get back to normal!

As I became older my patience for this boom – bust cycle was at its lowest and I made it my mission to figure out what I could do to reduce the likelihood of repeating this draining chain of events.

Lets Go
Photo by @sennnnnya via Twenty20

The Lead Up

The typical scenario goes like this. I take a long time to get into the work that I’m doing. I keep on going knowing that at some point I’ll figure out what I’m doing and get most of the task completed. I get to the previously mentioned point and work like crazy. Finally I finish the work but at the end I feel exhausted and glad that it’s over. Then I get the new stuff that needs to be done and the process repeats.

Although it’s great to get the work done, the process can seem overly stressful at first, until you get into the flow and then work seems effortless. The problem is the after the work is done part.

What’s the point of doing all that work just to feel too tired to appreciate the time and effort put in? If you know that you have this work pattern it can be very discouraging to start because of how much effort it takes to get to the flow part.

Boom Then Bust

In the past I’ve found that just by doing something does help to start the process but the effort of starting can prolong the time it takes to get to the really productive part of the work cycle.

Then once in the productive phase, because I want to get things done, I found it difficult to stop because I didn’t want to risk loosing the moment that I worked so hard to start. This is good for my productivity targets but bad for my energy and sense of well being.

The fact that it took me so long just to get started, as well as the fact that at the end of my work stint I felt so tired was proof that something needed to change as the way that I was working was not sustainable.

During my research I found that I was displaying classic fatigue symptoms that if left uncorrected would become worse and eventually could get to the point where I would not be able to function “normally”.

Some of the signs of fatigue are:

  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Slower response times
  • Productivity declines
  • Lethargy

Hacks

Thankfully once I identified that maybe I was fatigued, it was a not so simple matter of trying out things that could correct it without having to take prescription drugs or visit a doctor.

By the way, if you feel that you may be suffering from fatigue and you’ve exhibited the symptoms for a while, make an appointment to see your medical advisor or doctor just to make sure that you are not suffering from anything that could seriously affect your health and well being.

So with that said, here are three possible causes of my boom-bust work style and how I addressed them.

  • Sleep Deprivation
    Was I getting enough sleep? I decided to use a sleep tracker on my Apple Watch to see the quality and length of my sleep. Apparently we humans need between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep a day. During my tracking period I was getting between 5.5 and 7 hours a day. So it was fairly clear to me that I would have to increase the times that I’m actually sleeping and not lying in bed trying to get to sleep.
    A fix for that problem was to increase the amount of exercise I did, changing my routine from every other day to everyday. This worked fantastically and had the beneficial side effects of making me get more healthy and boosting the quality of my sleep.
  • Work Patterns
    Setting up a daily routine helps with structuring my day and getting my mind ready to focus on what it needs to. I realised a while back that I’m more of a morning person when it came to certain tasks, so it made more sense to me to structure my work around that. Further I found that working to my circadian rhythm helped with my focus and productivity. As an example of my typical day, I structure my more intense, hard thinking type work to be worked on during the mornings and my more routine work after lunch. If I start working at 09:00 then I make a point of finishing for the day no later than 18:00. I stick to this schedule Monday through Friday and I believe that it has made things so much better. When I’ve worked longer days or stray from the schedule, I notice the difference immediately.
  • Time on Tasks
    This was my major issue and correcting this noticeably increased my productivity whilst at the same time helping to correct my boom-bust work cycle.
    Our brains like any muscle or body part for that matter, when used to excess becomes tired and non responsive. Any physically or mentally demanding tasks will take its toll on us. Because we sometimes overlook the amount of time that we spend working on a task (which is what I do all the time), it is very easy to burn ourselves out without noticing.
    To correct this we must insure that we take regular breaks throughout the working day. When and how you structure this is deponent upon your own work circumstances, but luckily for me my workplace is fairly relaxed when it comes to taking breaks (as long as there isn’t an impending deadline, but that’s for another post). Up until recently I was just using the Pomodoro technique of working for 20 -25 minute blocks, taking a ten minute break, then back to another block. This worked well but didn’t account for the times when my alertness levels weren’t so great. Now days I rely heavily on our Apple Watch app,V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, to notify me when my alertness levels drop so that I can take a natural break at the times when I need it most.

Review

Ultimately for me to change my work cycle of boom then bust it meant that I had to change my attitude to taking breaks whilst working and making sure that I did the things that promoted habits that would encourage me to get enough sleep whilst helping me to focus better throughout the day.

So as the picture in this article suggests, take some time out and go for a walk instead of sitting at your desk all day trying to get everything done at once.

Afterword

“No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life, more than anything else, quality should be more important than quantity.”

Alex Honnold