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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
Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Study Studying Tiredness

Do You Really Know When You Are Tired?

How Tired Are You Really?

You wake up, get ready for the day ahead, make it through the day and then finally back to bed. But how much thought do you give to whether or not you are fully refreshed after sleeping, and how that affects your waking hours?

It’s typical for people to have a coffee or some other stimulant to kick off the day, and then consume more caffeine throughout the day just to feel normal and to help you get through the difficult parts of the day; or to help your focus/alertness when tackling a particularly challenging problem.

Another strategy is just to power on through the tiredness just to get things done, which can be very frustrating and increase the difficulty levels by a factor of 10!

There is a relatively simple alternative to the above described approaches, but unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t even aware that they could benefit from using it. One reason may be that most of us don’t realise how tired we are and how our tiredness is affecting our effectiveness, health and sense of well being.

Check Yourself, checking v-caf on an apple watch
Photo by @criene via Twenty20

Unaware of Poor Sleep

How we spend our time is important. We cannot get a refund on our time and it’s the basis of how our economic system works. We exchange time for currency and exchange currency for things that save us time.

With that in mind it becomes a bit clearer as to why we are spending less time sleeping. Time spent working, or studying to improve our value to potential employers or customers is commonly understood as being time well spent. The increasing hours that we put into earning or potentially increasing our earning power equates to the possibility of less time spent working later. But nothing is without its cost.

The extra time and effort spent at work means less time spent on ourselves to do the things that we want to. Time spent with family, friends or in leisure is sacrificed for the greater good. But, with modern technologies such as the internet, social media and on demand streaming entertainment, it can appear to us that we have access to new leisure and communication avenues that make up for the old analogue ones that we lost.

These new pursuits can soak up our free time like a sponge to water, and before we know it we are going to bed later or not fully relaxed. We then sacrifice our sleep without even realising it and can do this for years.

Lifestyle factors such as excessive electronics use, smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity contribute to low sleep duration.

Ojile, J. (2018). Everyone Sleeps!—(Poorly) or Not Enough: Sleep as a Priority and Vital Sign. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(7), 1635-1639. source: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0890117118790621b

The Sleep Health Foundation lists some of the common reasons why people don’t sleep enough here, but here’s a summary of their main points:

  • Taking sleep for granted
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol and sleeping tablets
  • Shift work
  • Jet lag
  • Eating and drinking late
  • Failing to wind down before bed
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Drug side effects

But these aren’t the only causes, just an example. The most important thing to take away is that most of us take our sleep for granted and don’t realise the effects on our ability to work efficiently and the effects on our health.

Health Implications

Good sleep allows us to recover physical and mental resources for the next day. Good sleep is needed for workers in any occupation…

LEE, S., GONZALEZ, B., & SMALL, B. (2020). My job impacts my sleep: signs and symptoms of insomnia among healthcare workers. Industrial Health,59(2),86-98. source: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/indhealth/59/2/59_2020-0191/_pdf

Although it is known that a good nights sleep improves our performance and feeling of contentment, by not being aware of our poor sleep hygiene habits we expose ourselves to a variety of chronic diseases:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Obesity
  • Depression

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into more detail on each point with regards to sleep and sleep disorders and can be found here CDC – Sleep and Chronic Disease – Sleep and Sleep Disorders.

So what are the tell tale signs that we may not have the best sleep hygiene habits?

  • Still feeling tired and unrested after waking up
  • Unable to fall asleep
  • Disturbed sleep or waking up regularly during the night
  • Stress and frustration during the day
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Inappropriate nodding off

Raising Awareness

The first and most practical thing that you can do is to get enough good quality sleep. Quality is as and may be more important than quantity for reducing the risk of tiredness during the day.

So how do you get good quality sleep? Joseph Ojile, MD, FCCP, DABSM suggests:

  • Keep a consistent bedtime, even on weekends.
  • Remove cell phones (tablets, TVs) in the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine after 4:00PM.
  • Don’t have nicotine or alcohol within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Limit daytime naps to 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Consume only a very light snack before bed.
  • Get early morning sunlight.

    Ojile, J. (2018). Everyone Sleeps!—(Poorly) or Not Enough: Sleep as a Priority and Vital Sign. /American Journal of Health Promotion,/ /32(7),/ 1635-1639.

Review

Most people don’t know that they are tired and as a result struggle through the day, hoping that it goes quickly enough so that they don’t feel too drained to appreciate their leisure time.

As tends to be the case these days, quick fixes such as consuming stimulants to increase alertness is now normal, whilst going to bed at a regular time, exercising and eating healthy are seen as a chore.

However, through greater awareness of the risks to our health because of bad sleep hygiene, we can improve the likelihood of improving our quality of life.

Afterword

“Of course no general conclusion can be drawn from these limited data; but so far as their indication goes they tend to show that in the evaluation of sleep and its correlation with psycho-physical activities, barometric and environmental conditions, one of the prime considerations is the quality of sleep and not its amount. The amount is doubtless highly important when certain limits are transgressed, but within these limits we believe the central consideration is /quality/ and not /quantity/…”

Rowe, E. (1911). The hygiene of sleep. /Psychological Review,/ /18(6),/ 425-432.
Categories
Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying

Combating Tiredness In A World That Never Sleeps

How do you feel?

Change the way you play the game…

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

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

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

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

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

Work vs Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is It Worth It?

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

National Safety Council

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

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

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

What You Can Do

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

Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety

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

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

Review

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

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

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

Afterword

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

Earl Nightingale, How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds source: Earl Nightingale quote: Do each day all that can be done that day…
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
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Lethargy Side Effects Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

How To Stay Awake, Stay Alert

Overcome Tiredness – Use V-CAF

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

Feeling tired? Finding it difficult to stay alert? Don’t worry you’re in good company, because we all feel like this at some point in the day (at least I do).

Caffeine stopped being as effective in perking me up as my tolerance levels had become very high and I wanted to stop using it due to some of the strange side effects it had on me.

After trying a variety of alternative remedies my colleague and I decided to make an app that would act like caffeine, without the side effects and be virtual.

Our motivation is to help people stay awake and alert when they need to without having to resort to caffeine. In this post we focus on how to use V-CAF Stay Awake, Stay Alert to help you achieve those goals.

Stay Awake Stay Alert
Photo by @LeopoldoMacaya via Twenty20

Tiredness

/ˈtʌɪədnəs/
/noun/
noun: tiredness
1 the state of wishing for sleep or rest; weariness.”tiredness overcame her and she fell into a deep slumber”

Definitions from Oxford Languages

Tiredness affects us all in varying degrees and frequencies, which makes sense since we are all different. But there are times when we don’t want to feel tired and at those times it can , at best be described as a nuisance, at worst a dangerous sign of an underlying health issue.

Eventually we seek ways to get around it, just temporarily, and not enough to affect our health in negative ways. The most common way by far of achieving this goal is by consuming caffeine.

This wonder drug has and is helping to fuel the thoughts and productivity of many around the world and in its most popular form (coffee) as an industry is estimated to be worth more than $100 billion a year.

 

Why Use Caffeine

Caffeine works, so why not use it? In fact many scientific studies highlight the health benefits of caffeine can delay the onset of such devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

But then there are many reports that show prolonged exposure to caffeine can actually induce effects linked to Alzheimer’s. So which is it? The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK with regards to the protective or harmful effects of caffeine state that there is “No definitive answer” Caffeine and dementia | Alzheimer’s Society .

Although I’ve found that caffeine has worked for me in the past, I almost always needed to consume more to get similar levels of awareness or alertness than I did just a short time before.

This lead me to over consume caffeine to the point that my hands started shaking. And if not to that extreme, then to seriously affect the quality of my sleep, leading me to feel more tired as time went on.

Then there’s the withdrawal symptoms which, depending on how long you’ve been consuming caffeine, can range from a slight headache and drowsiness to very unpleasant stomach cramps and migraines.

Techniques That Work

So, what about V-CAF? Can it work just as good as caffeine and how does it work?

There’s only one thing better at keeping you awake rather than caffeine that isn’t illegal and is 100% natural, and that is sleep. Enough good quality sleep. As a result V-CAF doesn’t work against your natural rhythms but with them.

Instead of trying to fight your body, V-CAF works with your body by monitoring your body’s natural rhythms and notifying you when the probability of your alertness levels dropping have increased.

Knowing this you can then use V-CAF to alert you whilst you are engaged in an activity as a natural break cue. Use this time to take a rest then get back to work. Of late, I’ve started napping after I get a notification from V-CAF. Napping helps clear my mind and I feel a lot more focused and productive
for it.

It’s vital that you get rid of any lingering doubts about whether napping is a good use of your time. Instead, remind yourself that naps can make you more alert, improve your reaction time, help you to become more creative, reduce accidents, and put you into a better mood. In fact, you should start to feel guilty if you are not taking a nap during the day.

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (p. 177). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Just make sure your naps are no longer than 20 minutes to achieve the best results.

If you miss coffee or caffeine then start of by not consuming any after midday. Use V-CAF to notify you when you alertness levels drop and then go for a quick brisk walk outside (which for maximum effect works well after having a nap), and drink plenty of water (on cold days I drink hot water and herbal teas for the warmth).

Summary

V-CAF works by you being actively engaged in using it. That is, when you are notified of the reduction in your alertness levels, do something to help regain your focus.

I outlined taking naps and going for walks, but as I constantly say on this blog, nothing beats a good nights sleep. Make the time and effort to increase the quality of your sleep and keep yourself informed about what’s best for your health.

Afterword

Work less than you think you should. It took me a while to realise there was a point each day when my creativity ran out and I was just producing words – usually lousy ones – for their own sake. And nap: it helps to refresh the brain, at least mine.

Amy Waldman source: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/nap-quotes
Categories
Caffeine Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

Virtual Caffeine For Your Apple Watch

V-CAF The Game Changer

Take a chance, change your life

There are moments in everyone’s life that are so profound that they can change your life for the better (or worse). When looking back at these points in time it may be easier to see that it was rarely just the moment, but the things that lead up to and after the moment that shape how we perceive these life changing events.

Take for example the first time I heard that Apple were going to make a smart watch. I had an iPhone and a MacBook Pro and didn’t see any reason why I should get one. “Just another gadget” I thought.

But then a trip to New York changed my mind about smart watches…

Before We Set Off

As usual work loads were heavy and time was against me. It was also a very hot summer and people’s tempers were short. I planned to stay home this vacation as it was too exhausting to think about and arranging a trip anywhere.

But then I saw a 4K video of a guy walking around Manhattan which got me thinking. It was just the start of summer so I thought that everything must surely be fully booked.

Then at work I was informed that mandatory holidays had to be taken, it’s now or never I thought, and the next thing I knew the family and I were on a plane to New York.

But What’s It For

New York is an impressive city. A bit too big for my liking but it was a nice change compared to where we were coming from. The sights, sounds and people were all amazing.

The trip also overlapped with my birthday, so my children were trying to figure out what to get me. After some discussion they decided to get me an Apple Watch and told me about it to see what my reaction would be.

At first I argued what the point of it would be as I have an iPhone and a watch already. Isn’t it just going to be more of the same but not as good as either, I asked.

Thankfully, my children don’t listen to me and got me my first Apple Watch. At first I didn’t know what to do with it apart from wear it as a watch. I read some reviews and articles about what apps to get and what could be done with it but didn’t see much there that I was interested in. By the second day of wearing the thing, I found myself modifying all sorts of settings that would help with exercise and concentration.

At the end of the first week I was hooked.

Virtual Caffeine

So it’s about three weeks after our trip and I’m exercising more, getting better sleep and organised almost all aspects of my life via my Apple Watch.

I’m sitting at my desk feeling tired and I colleague tells me that my boss needs to see me. When I see the big man, he tells me that I need a coffee and not to fall asleep at my desk.

It’s at this point that Virtual Caffeine or V-CAF is born. I tell another colleague about it and then we decide to build it and see if we can help people like us who may get tired whilst they are busy from time to time, people that need to stay alert and those of us that don’t want to use caffeine to perk us up throughout the day.

Since then I haven’t looked back.

To Sum Up

An unlikely combination of events can indeed change your life for the better, but you have to be open to them. Thankfully I had my children to push me in a direction that I didn’t know would lead me to help people all over the world.

If you don’t have a smart watch, I would highly recommend that you get one. And if you have an Apple Watch get V-CAF. It may help you just as much as it’s helped others and me.

Afterword

“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swivelled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.”

Bryce Courtenay

Categories
Energy Productivity Sleep Sleepiness

Feeling Sleepy?

Pay Down Your Sleep Debt

It pays better terms of interest…

Over the last few weeks I’d been feeling rather sleepy and put it down to the weather and it being the towards the end of the year. Work wasn’t particularly busy and hadn’t been out on the town for a while.

I then tried experimenting with my daily processes such as my nap lengths, when and what I ate and my exercise routines but I didn’t notice any change in my general feeling of being tired and sleepy.

Reluctantly, I thought I’d better make an appointment to see the doctor to see if there was anything interfering with my health, but before I did, luckily I stumbled upon a solution that worked, and was so simple I felt like “Duh! Why didn’t you try that sooner!”

Sleepy
Photo by @splack112 via Twenty20

Sleep Debt

I’m not the only one guilty of this. During busy and/or stressful times something has to give, and one of the easier things to lose track of is the amount and quality of your sleep.

As usual before this recent down time I was extremely busy in my personal and professional life, and going all in to sort things out and get things done.

Even though I stuck to my pattern of working until my alertness levels dropped and took short nap breaks, I missed the most obvious thing, that the quality and quantity of my sleep was slipping.

What Gives

Although I thought that I was on top of things, all my energy and focus was being spent on things outside of my being, at the expense of my health.

With hindsight it’s easy to look back and say what you should’ve done, but in the moment you can miss that the actions you take at that moment can directly affect your future, either positively or negatively.

Within a few days of finishing that last round of busyness I found myself feeling restless and needing something to do. This was the point where I should have kicked back and got my sleep back in check.

Instead I decided to catch up on things that I felt I missed out on and the not so fun things that had been neglected. As a result I found myself not only not catching up on my sleep, but also cutting into it as well!

My sleep debt was at all time highs! How could I tell? Simply by noticing how tired I was.

Sleep Strategies

As soon as I realised that I’d overlooked the obvious I got to work on finding ways to solve this problem.

I didn’t want this to be too complicated and take lots of effort, so I decided to keep things as simple as possible.

Funnily enough this was so simple and enjoyable I’ve made it part of my “debriefing” process after a hard stint.

  • Going to Bed When I’m tired
    Elsewhere in the blog I’ve stressed the point about going to bed at a regular time so that your body naturally starts to prepare for sleep without any conscious effort on your part. Apps like Pillow and Apple’s Sleep remind you to get to bed at a particular time. But sometimes I ain’t tired at a specific time so it becomes a bit of a chore.
    By going to bed when I’m really tired, I let my body and not the clock dictate when I should go to bed.
  • Waking Up After a Full Nights Sleep
    I like most have a morning routine that doesn’t allow for this one so much, but I’ve found that if I go to bed when I’m tired I naturally get roughly 7-8 hours sleep. So if I’m feeling tired between 10pm – 11pm I would wake up naturally between 6am and 8am.
    This has helped me get back into the flow quicker and I’ve felt that I’ve fell back into my usual sleep routine and feel much more alert faster than I’ve done in the past.
  • Cut Back on Napping
    Napping has been my latest productivity hack, so I was a bit reluctant to give it up in any way. But by reducing my napping to 10 minutes and only having a maximum of two a day whilst I was in recharging mode, helped me to feel naturally more tired earlier in the evening, which helped me to spend more time asleep and paying down my sleep debt.

Just remember that I did this during my down time from being busy. It’s a lot harder to do when you’re busy, so to get the best results plan accordingly.

Recap

So there you have it. Simple and effective and actually quite enjoyable once you get into the flow.

Since trying out this protocol my mood has picked up and I feel human again 😉

The only hard thing about this is to use it during the relatively calmer periods of your life after you’ve had a very hectic prolonged schedule.

  • Go to bed when tired (our app V-CAF can help with that, it notifies you when you are tired and losing focus)
  • Waking Up After a Full Nights Sleep
  • Cut Back on Napping

Afterword

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

Irish Proverb
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying Tiredness

How to Optimise Your Breaks

Feel Better, Get Better Results

Work to your strengths…

Lately I’ve been researching techniques that would help boost my productivity levels but found that I was doing most of the things that the experts recommended.

Now I’m not saying that my productivity levels are low or that they are extremely high, but I wanted to see if there were any efficiencies that I was overlooking that would give me an above average boost compared to the cost of implementing the said efficiency.

And it turns out there was and I was using it already whilst doing this research! So as usual, I’ll outline what it is and how I managed to get that extra boost whilst incorporating it in my existing processes.

Optimize Your Breaks
Photo by @daphneemarie via Twenty20

Hit and Miss

Putting a lot more effort into what you are doing, focussing more, working long hours, these are the usual approaches that many take when trying to improve their performance and increase their output.

Caffeine pills, coffee and energy drinks for others are the “common sense” performance enhancers that have ben used for centuries and people swear by them.

Then there are the many productivity methodologies that essentially get you to plan the work that you are going to do and then systematically work through the list.

But with all these approaches after the initial jump in performance things can start to peter out and productivity can be even worse than before.

Diminishing Returns

All of the above mentioned approaches work, but all have the problem of diminishing results after a period of time, some earlier than others. So let’s identify the problems with each approach, which will then point us in the right direction towards a possible solution.

  • More Effort
    Putting in more effort in the short term can work well, like sprinting towards the finish line in the last few meters of a race. The problem with this approach is that its usually unsustainable. Continuously pushing yourself to your limits inevitably leads to you hitting a wall and becoming burnt out.
  • Stimulants
    For a quick no frills boost then caffeine is the legal stimulant champion. But like all drugs, your tolerance levels increase leading you to need higher levels of caffeine just to get to similar results of alertness as you did when you started using caffeine (and for some people I know, just to feel normal, which is due to the withdrawal symptoms, but that’s for another blog post).
  • Productivity Systems
    Work very well, but people tend to get caught up in the process rather than the actual work that needs to be done. But because you can show a list of tasks and objectives that are met for the day/week/month or cycle you can unconsciously delude yourself into thinking that you are very productive when in fact your productivity is actually based on gaming the system.

Optimisation

So now we have identified the problem, what’s the solution? It’s quite simply to take breaks at the right time. And when you take breaks at the right time whilst using the aforementioned approaches, you’ll find that suddenly things are not such a drag anymore.

Here are the same approaches modified with a few examples of using them whilst taking well timed breaks.

  • More Effort
    By taking well timed breaks throughout the day you give yourself a chance to rest and recoup a little before going back at it.
  • Stimulants
    If you find it too difficult to break the caffeine habit or want an alternative, start by not drinking any caffeine after lunch and as you feel tired throughout the day take a few more 10 min breaks. If you can get a quick nap in (no more than 20 mins), and aim to get to bed by 10pm latest (at least until your current workload isn’t so heavy).
  • Productivity Systems
    The Pomodoro technique mandates that a break should be taken every 20 to 25 minutes throughout your planned day. The problem I’ve found is that more often than not, once I start working I get into the flow and then my focus get’s broken. So I find myself ignoring the timer and continuing to work. But with a flexible timing method things get easier.

And here’s the thing, recently whilst doing some research on this very topic, I found that I when I took breaks (with 10 – 20 minute naps, where possible) when I needed them, as compared to not taking breaks or having set times for breaks, I was able to complete my work faster, with less mistakes and not feeling so drained.

Recap

But, there’s one thing I left out. I cheated. Most people don’t realise when they are tired and because of this many of us work until we become over tired, and that’s the time when people reach for a coffee, feeling miserable and fatigued.

But I however had the advantage of knowing about and using our app V-CAF to alert me when my alertness levels started dropping. I have a vested interest to say this, but it’s true, it worked!

The more I use the app the more I appreciate how my colleague and I felt when we decided to start this blog and build the app, first of all to help us with a need that we had, and then to help other people avoid some of the issues that we’d experienced around caffeine, tiredness and a lack of productivity.

Afterword

“The challenge is to continue the spread of information regarding the wealth of benefits of napping to combat the numerous physical, mental, and financial consequences of fatigue”

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