Categories
Anxiety Exercise Fatigue Focus Lethargy Productivity Staying Awake Tension Tiredness

Am I Burnt Out?

Sleepwalking into Burnout

Wake up and pay attention…

Lately there have been many changes across the board in my life that have left me feeling a bit flat and demotivated. Tasks that I used to find straight forward now seem to take a huge amount of effort to even get started.

I started think that it was down to the weather or being a bit run down, but this has gone on for weeks. Yes I get things done, but there was no feeling there; in effect I was just going through the motions.

As time went on I felt that things were getting serious and started to investigate whether I was burnt out.

General Malaise

Modern lifestyle and work habits are known stressors that if left unchecked can have a negative impact on our ability to cope with daily challenges. We can feel overwhelmed with the amount of tasks and responsibilities that we have to face.

An issue that during the course of my investigation that repeatedly came up was that stressful situations like these can lead to the feeling that we have no control over what is happening to us. It can seem that no matter how hard we try our efforts don’t seem to make a substantial difference to our perception of how much progress that we are making.

Feeling as if we are not making any real substantial progress can affect our self worth and may trigger feelings of depression, demotivation, low self esteem and a lack of optimism. Not exactly the fuel for contentment and improved self worth!

Tell Tale Signs

It appears that the longer these feelings are not kept in check the worse they become. It is amazing how many of the symptoms are very similar to not getting enough good quality sleep (and I’m sure there’s a link there, but that’s for another time).

Burnout is quite different and in some ways is the opposite end of the spectrum – while a person responds too much when they are stressed, burnout is too little. Burnout can often develop if a person has been under stress for a prolonged period and is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. It is a sense of powerlessness and people may feel there is nothing they can do about their situation or that there is maybe no point. Some people describe burnout as being an upstream depression (some similar symptoms).

source: Stress and Burnout, Stress and Burnout

I found a lot of good information about what burnout is after the fact, but what are the specific symptoms that I should be looking for to see if I indeed was suffering from burnout ? I narrowed it down to the following:

  • Exhaustion – Engaging in pointless and/or non beneficial tasks can make you feel exhausted.
  • Indifference – Not having much feeling or caring about the activities that you undertake ( and this can also include indifference to people related to the activity too).
  • Reduced Productivity – Whether personal or career based, a lack of pride in what you are doing and/or reduced self esteem.

It may also help you to know the risk factors that may lead to burnout so that you can take steps to avoid or reduce your exposure to them.

Individual Risk Factors

  • Having poor self-esteem
  • Maladaptive coping mechanisms
  • Younger adults with an idealistic worldview
  • Unrealistically high expectations
  • Having financial issues

Organisational Risk Factors

  • Heavy workloads
  • Conflicts with coworkers
  • Diminished resources
  • Lack of control or input
  • Effort-reward imbalance
  • Understaffing
  • Rapid institutional changes

source: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

Positive Strategies

A lot of the research papers and websites that I’ve read through suggest that you should “change your response to events/situations, which will make us feel better”, which while working for some, is easier said than done for me (although I have tried in the past , it is an ongoing process).

Seeking counselling is also another approach which can be very beneficial, especially if you suspect that you’ve been suffering from burnout for a while (it helps to talk).

I’ve found what’s been useful for me is to sleep better and exercise. Again, it seems to be the simplest thing to do and I get the rewards a lot quicker. During this period of feeling burnt out, I found that I wasn’t as physically active as I have been, and in particular not exercising as much after work (I prefer to exercise in the morning). It turns out that by doing some sort of physical activity in the evening, you reduce the chances of suffering from burnout!

The key finding of the present study is that among employees with high stress levels, those who engage in more leisure-time physical activity report lower burnout symptoms than their less active counterparts. This finding suggests that physical activity could be more than a simple pastime; it could also have the potential to help people to cope successfully with the stress experienced at work.

Gerber, M., Schilling, R., Colledge, F., Ludyga, S., Pühse, U., & Brand, S. (2020). More Than a Simple Pastime? The Potential of Physical Activity to Moderate the Relationship Between Occupational Stress and Burnout Symptoms. International Journal of Stress Management, 27(1), 53-64.

Review

So did I change what I was doing and exercise more? Yes. And was I burnt out? I don’t think so. Although I learnt a lot more about work related stress, I also understood my life related stressors better and made changes accordingly.

For me exercise and sleep helped get me back on track, and although they are basic priorities that everyone should be mindful of (which I usually am), I let them slide and didn’t notice until it started to affect my general attitude towards life, family and work.

Afterword

“Low levels of leisure-time physical activity are associated with more burnout symptoms and more perceived occupational stress. Most importantly, the relationship between physical activity and burnout symptoms is especially strong among participants who perceive high occupational stress.”

Gerber, M., Schilling, R., Colledge, F., Ludyga, S., Pühse, U., & Brand, S. (2020). More Than a Simple Pastime? The Potential of Physical Activity to Moderate the Relationship Between Occupational Stress and Burnout Symptoms. International Journal of Stress Management, 27(1), 53-64.

Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Studying Tiredness

Protecting The Quality of Your Work

Protecting Your Quality of Life

Self first, then others

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

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

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

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

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

Protect Yourself
Photo by @AZ.BLT via Twenty20

Quantity and Effort

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

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

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

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

Grinding Ourselves Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preventative Measures

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

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

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

Give Purpose or Meaning to What You Do

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

Look After Your Health

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

Review

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

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

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

Afterword

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

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

Don’t Forget the Essentials

Back to Basics

Sleep well, Eat well

Feeling tired, lethargic or run down? Unable to concentrate or focus as well as you need to? We all have periods when we feel that we aren’t firing on all cylinders, and for many the easy common sense way to overcome that lag in our energy is to have a coffee or to consume another caffeinated food, drink or pill.

Yep, it appears to work quickly and efficiently in the short term, but what about longer term? There is a lot of conflicting data in the public sphere that on the one hand espouses the benefits of drinking coffee and that caffeine can help combat diseases like dementia:

In conclusion, coffee/caffeine consumption is associated with a decreased risk of T2DM (type 2 diabetes) and possibly also with a decreased dementia risk. At present we cannot be certain that these associations are causal…
It should be acknowledged that caffeine does appear to have several properties that warrant further investigations in this field.

Biessels, G. (2010). Caffeine, Diabetes, Cognition, and Dementia. /Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,/ /20(0),/ 143-150.

Whereas other reports express concern with regards to the increasing amounts of caffeine that are being consumed:

A rowing number of scientific publications, popular media reports, and elected officials openly question the safety of some ED (energy drink) products. Concern largely stem from the seemingly high caffeine content of these beverages, the unknown adverse health consequences of the various herbal additives (either alone or in combination with caffeine), and the prevalence of consumer-reported adverse side effects.

Johnson, L.A., Foster, .D., & McDowell, J.C. (2014). Energy Drinks: Review of Performance Benefits, Health Concerns, and Use by Military Personnel. Military Medicine,179(4)

Whether you drink coffee or consume caffeine or you actively avoid caffeine at all costs, it’s good sometimes to go back to basics and figure out how to deal with tiredness or a perceived lack of ability to concentrate.

The Essentials - Don't Forget Them
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

Tiredness, Lack of Focus

Caffeine is the most consumed stimulant on the planet. As a result, it’s no surprise that many need a coffee within the first twenty minutes of getting out of bed to help give them their first boost to get the day going.

Caffeine confers small but well-established improvements in attention, alertness and physical athletic performance for up to 60 minutes of following a dose of 3 to 6 mg/kg of body mass.
Effects are optimised in individuals who abstain from caffeine 7 days before use.

Johnson, L.A., Foster, .D., & McDowell, J.C. (2014). Energy Drinks: Review of Performance Benefits, Health Concerns, and Use by Military Personnel. Military Medicine,179(4)

It’s no wonder why people consume so much coffee and caffeinated sodas. For most it’s a no brainer, a safe quick win, besides, everyone does it. We usually consume caffeine in small doses so it appears that the dangers are limited.

As a result, now more than ever, it’s easier for us to put in long hours working or studying and still achieve high levels of concentration and productivity, whilst avoiding the tiredness and fatigue that we would experience if we didn’t consume caffeine. Many colleagues that I’ve worked with found it odd that I didn’t drink coffee. One in particular asked how I was able to focus, because without coffee, they found it almost impossible.

Others would comment that the fact that I took regular breaks and sometimes would go for a snooze away from my desk, proved that I needed to drink coffee and that I was punishing myself for no good reason.

 

No Quick Fixes

What I’ve found over the years, whilst both consuming and abstaining from caffeine, is how dependent I and others are on caffeine to help cover our shortcomings in other areas of our lives (sleep being the primary one).

There is no doubt about this fact. For the majority of people that consume caffeine in its many various forms, most don’t realise that they are addicted to it. For example, those people that I mentioned earlier that couldn’t start the day without drinking a coffee, are probably suffering from the withdrawal effects of caffeine, and their early morning fix is alleviating their withdrawal symptoms.

It happened with me a long time ago when I friend said that I should go easy on the coffee and caffeine pills whilst I was studying. I thought I could stop whenever I wanted, but when I tried, I felt terrible. At first I put it down to the fact that I was probably overworked and stressed, and had probably run myself down. It was only when I found myself unconsciously drinking a cola, and feeling much better, (my symptoms eased almost immediately), that I realised that I was hooked.

On withdrawal, 27 subjects reported tiredness and 18 developed headache. Electroencephalograph, skin conductance and blood pressure changes were apparent. Sleep improved on withdrawal but subjects reported feeling less alert and more tired. The higher the usual caffeine intake, the greater the unpleasant feelings on withdrawal and the more marked the reversal of feelings on resumption.

Lader, M., Cardwell, C., Shine, P., & Scott, N. (2016). Caffeine withdrawal symptoms and rate of metabolism: . Journal of Psychopharmacology,10(2),110-118.

A simple indicator to check whether you are addicted to caffeine or not is to go without any caffeine for a month and see if you experience any of the following within the first week of your abstinence:

  • Decreased energy/activeness
  • Decreased alertness/attentivemess
  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Drowsiness/sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Foggy/not clearheaded
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety/nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Decreased contentedness/well-being
  • Nausea/vomiting/upset stomach
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Muscle pain/stiffness
    source: Ozsungur, S., Brenner, D., & El-Sohemy, A. (2009). Fourteen well-described caffeine withdrawal symptoms factor into three clusters. Psychopharmacology,201(4), 541-548.

What’s interesting is that many of the withdrawal symptoms are reasons people have for consuming caffeine. In the report “Fourteen well described caffeine withdrawal symptoms factor into three clusters”, it found that those that regularly consumed larger amounts of caffeine suffered the most from the withdrawal symptoms, and were the quickest to feel back to normal once they resumed consuming caffeine.

Although people are consuming caffeine to help boost their concentration and reduce tiredness, the evidence suggests that addicted caffeine users need increasing amounts of caffeine to reduce the withdrawal symptoms that they’re unaware they are suffering from.

The Essentials

Tiredness, fatigue and the inability to concentrate are your body’s way of warning you that something isn’t right and that you should slow down. First and foremost seek qualified medical advice from your general practitioner or doctor if you’ve been suffering from any of the above, (it may be a sign of a more serious health issue).

Caffeine effectively gets between you and your body’s messaging system to let you know that you need to rest or stop what you are doing. Tiredness can be reduced by getting enough quality sleep. The key here is quality as well as quantity. That means:

  • Get 7 – 9 hours of good quality sleep
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol (if you have caffeine, stop consuming after mid day).
  • Keep away from computers and smart phones before going to bed. Read books instead. Smartphones and computers give off blue light that reduces the level of melatonin that your body produces before you go to bed. If you want to sleep well you need higher levels of melatonin. Apps like f.lux can be installed on your computers and smart phones so as to counter this effect.
  • Reduce or keep the naps that you have throughout the day to no more than 20 minutes. And no napping past 5 pm.
  • Eat whole foods and exercise more. Exercise is a quick win that will improve the quality of your sleep immediately. A 20 minute walk has been proven to be beneficial in increasing your sleep quality.

Whilst working or studying:

  • Take regular breaks away from your desk
  • Replace coffee breaks with water breaks and/or light exercise or stretching breaks
  • Organise yourself to tackle your more difficult tasks when you are most awake

Review

Caffeine does work in making us feel more energised, alert and productive. However, by masking how tired we really are we may just be kicking the can down the road rather than just addressing the issues that affect our attentiveness and wakefulness.

By avoiding dealing with the underlying issues we may be unnecessarily risking addiction and eventually decreased performance.

To make matters worse, the amount of caffeine we consume in a day may be more than we realise as caffeine is found in an increasing amount of food and beverages.

So, if we feel tired and unable to focus, get more rest, sleep, eat better, exercise more and make all of these points our priority daily habits.

Afterword

During sleep deprivation, moderate doses of caffeine (200 mg) have restored cognitive performance on tasks involving visual vigilance, learning, and memory.
Unfortunately, repeated use of stimulants such as caffeine is often associated with withdrawal effects once the stimulant is no longer active in the system.
Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal commonly include headache, fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, and foggy thinking. Acute caffeine withdrawal also has interfered with cognitive functions such as focused attention and reasoning.

Killgore, W., Kahn-Greene, E., Killgore, D., Kamimori, G., & Balkin, T. (2016). Effects of Acute Caffeine Withdrawal on Short Category Test Performance in Sleep-Deprived Individuals: . Perceptual and Motor Skills,105(3_suppl), 1265-1274.
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
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Energy Headaches Irritability Lethargy Side Effects Tiredness

What Are You Waiting For?

There’s No Time Like the Present

Do something…

Depending on the circumstance, it’s usually good advice to wait and see how things play out before making a decision on whether to act or not. However, when it comes to your health it can be dangerous.

If you are one of the many people that find that you can’t start the day or concentrate without having your daily dose of caffeine, then you may be suffering from a caffeine dependency.

You may have tried to kick the habit but suffered from hangover like symptoms or you may of unconsciously found yourself eating or drinking something with caffeine in it. Unfortunately it can take a lot of willpower to overcome the habit, but with the right approach you can do it.

What Are You Waiting For
Photo by @shells via Twenty20

Procrastination

It’s difficult to give up something that you don’t even realise that you have a dependency on. Friends, family or work colleagues may point out that you seem to drink a lot of coffee or tea but you think nothing of it.

Besides, you could quit at any time you want, and it’s not that difficult you tell yourself. But when you’ve tried to abstain for a day or two, you found that although you were able to complete the challenge, you also didn’t feel so great. Maybe you had a headache or were suffering from flu like symptoms, but you put it down to just being run down or tired.

Because the level of caffeine dependency is specific to each person, many dismiss it as just an internet fad, or urban myth, but there is a growing segment of the population who are not only dependant on caffeine to get through the day, but also suffer from the withdrawal symptoms of giving up caffeine.

This can make people more reluctant to give up their daily dosage and find reasons why they should in fact not quit caffeine. To be fair, as a healthy adult, if you consume less than 400mg per day, you should be okay. The problem then lies with keeping track of how much caffeine you consume across different food stuffs and beverages..

Polyphenol compounds in tea may offer heat health benefits at intakes greater than four cups per day. Coffee is also a source of polyphonous, but is higher in caffeine.
Tea and coffee can make a positive contribution to hydration when caffeine intakes remain below 400mg/day. This equates to eight cups of tea or five cups of instant coffee if no other dietary sources of caffeine are consumed.

Ruxton, C. (2009). Health aspects of caffeine: benefits and risks. /Nursing Standard,/ /24(9),/ 41-48.

Why Quit?

“If caffeine is actually good for my health, why should I give it up?” It is true that caffeine is beneficial to health but at specific dosages. Throughout a typical day it is very easy to lose track of how much of anything you consume.

Although I’m not a medical researcher or practitioner, many of the research papers and documents that I’ve read tend to not take into account people’s actual daily lives, and work within a specified recommended daily amount, as opposed to studying what people actually consume within a day. This is very difficult to do and it is reasonable that within controlled tests that they stay within the upper and lower bounds of what is deemed to be safe.

Unfortunately for us, unless we measure and keep track of everything that we consume daily, we can unknowingly easily consume far above the recommend daily limits and place ourselves in harms way.

Our body’s will tend to let us know that something isn’t right, but unless we are sensitive and aware of what those signs are we can miss them entirely. For example, if you are regular caffeine consumer and suffer from any of the following, you may be consuming more than the daily recommend amount of caffeine in your diet:

  • Anxiousness
  • Poor sleep
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hearburn

Numerous studies have shown that caffeine-dependent people sooner or later step away from their habit. According to one study, the most prevalent out of twenty reasons to quit reported by former coffee drinkers was to seek escape from the distressing disturbances of the central nervous system. Nearly four out of ten caffeine addicts quit for this reason alone. Central nervous system disorders have been proven, time and time again, to be caused by the caffeine in beverages, food products, and tablets. More and more former caffeine addicts are citing improved health as their reason to quit.

Kushner, Marina. The Truth About Caffeine (p. 152). SCR Books.

What You Can Do

If you have come to the conclusion that you want to give up caffeine, then this is a good place to start. Having purpose backing your decision will help you through the difficult stages of quitting caffeine as you have reasoned with yourself that this is the correct course of action to take. Write it down and have it within easy reach before you start.

Prepare yourself beforehand for the withdrawal symptoms by knowing what to expect. Everyone is different but there are some common symptoms to look out for.

  • Headaches
    This is the main reason why many caffeine dependency related advisors suggest that you start your detox on a weekend (usually, starting Friday). Caffeine withdrawal headaches are easily solved, by consuming caffeine, but that defeats the purpose of this exercise. I found that sleeping more and drinking lots of water helped. Experiment to find out what works for you.
  • Tiredness
    Again, another reason for starting to quit at the weekend is that you can feel extremely tired. This is due to the clearing up of your adenosine receptors as your caffeine levels start to reduce. Caffeine inhibits the receptors from identifying how tired you are, so by reducing your caffeine levels your body knows how tired you really are.
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Nausea

Once you start your caffeine detox I would suggest that you get comfy, drink alternative caffeine free beverages and eat caffeine free food that you like.

As the days go on the withdrawal symptoms get better and at some point you’ll start to feel more awake and full of energy. But, as everyone is different, these stages occur at different times depending on your age, size and gender.

The key thing is to persevere. If you find yourself flagging, refer back to the reasons why you are quitting that you wrote down before starting and know that in a relatively short amount of time you’ll be through the tough times.

Review

When it comes to giving up caffeine, we all are different. Some prefer to gradually ease themselves into it, other jump in cold turkey.

Whichever way you decide to start quitting, the most important thing is that you have resolved to start.

Good luck

Afterword

“Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave.”

Ernest Hemingway, source: Quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine…”
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 Energy Exercise Productivity Tension Tiredness

Stretch And Reach For The Stars

Stretch Yourself

And reap the benefits

Have you noticed that when you wake up you stretch and yawn? Studies have found that it is more common to stretch and yawn than it is to yawn and stretch.

No one really knows why this is but many hypotheses relate the phenomena to our bodies trying to prepare themselves for activity and possibly to increase the alertness of our brains.

If there is any truth to the above assumption, would it then be possible to benefit from a good stretch throughout the day to help boost our alertness and productivity?

Stretch And Reach For The Sky
Photo by @johnlmc via Twenty20

Unnoticed Tension

Working towards a big goal, deadline or completing a difficult task can unintentionally increase the tension within our bodies. The difficulty that I have is that I get lost in my work or study and just power through regardless, which in the end leaves me feeling exhausted.

What I didn’t realise is that one of the reasons why I get so tired is due to the build up of tension. Unfortunately it’s very easy to miss, especially if you get tunnel vision and only see the making of your deadline to the exclusion of everything else.

As the tension builds, you can become more tired, which can cause you to snack or drink caffeine in a subconscious attempt to raise your energy levels, but ultimately they both just delay the onset of tiredness at the expense of feeling more drained later, which leads to more snacking (you get the picture).

Increased Tiredness

“The sugar snack condition was associated with significantly higher tension after one hour, and a pattern of initially increased energy and reduced tiredness, followed one hour later by increased tiredness and reduced energy. The results partially support a general conceptual hypothesis that sugar snacking is often motivated by a low-awareness attempt to raise energy. Additionally, the results clarify an apparent conflict between neurochemical research, which indicates that sugar ingestion increases the tendency to sleep, and popular nutrition theory, which indicates that it increases tension.”

Thayer, R. (1987). Energy, Tiredness, and Tension Effects of a Sugar Snack Versus Moderate Exercise. /Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,/ /52(1),/ 119-125.

I knew about the sugar crash thing but didn’t make the link between sugar causing tension which would most likely increase my tiredness and then without thinking make it more likely that I would eat or drink a sugary snack to help fight the tiredness.

It also explains why caffeine drinks and chocolate are so full of sugar. I used to think that sweet foods and drinks increased my energy levels but at the expense of increasing my calorie intake, with the inevitable crash once the initial sugar high wore off.

But just like caffeine, the effects are temporary and actually can help to make you dependent upon them just to make it through the day! Unlike caffeine though, the build up of tension within your body is very subtle and difficult to detect, which it is why it so difficult for us to make the link between sugar, tension and tiredness.

Stretching

“Powerful stretching movements have major, widespread physiological consequences, including increases in the pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to the muscles and other body parts, and increase in the flexibility of the muscles and joints”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

The authors of Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans suggest that stretching usually happens just after waking up to help prepare our bodies for action and to increase our brains alertness. But I’ve found that when I’m working intensely and lose myself, there are points when I naturally yawn and stretch, as if my body is trying to boost my energy levels.

Sometimes I acted on these natural reminders to take a break and go outside for a walk, but if I was especially tired, then that walk would end up at a vending machine looking for something sweet to eat or drink to pick myself up.

The problem for most people in a similar situation is that they don’t realise that their alertness levels are dropping until it’s too late and they find themselves snacking on something sweet and caffeinated. The solution to this is to know when your energy and alertness is decreasing before it gets to the snacking stage. This is where V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alertcan help. Our Apple Watch app monitors your body’s rhythm and notifies you when alertness levels start to decrease.

Once I get a notification, I leave my work in it’s best possible state, have a stretch and go for a walk outside or get a cup of water to drink which helps to raise my alertness levels so that when I get back to work I can continue at a more energised level.

In fact in “Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans” the research paper found a surprising benefit to walking instead of consuming a sugary snack.

“The results from the 10-min rapid walk are perhaps the most striking of the whole experiment. This relatively small amount of moderate exercise was associated with significantly increased energy and decreased tension for as long as 2 hours after the activity. The sugar snack, on the other hand, first was associated with tense-energy and then tense-tiredness for a majority of the participants. And although the energy and tiredness effects were weak in this condition, the increased tension effects associated with the sugar snack were unmistakable.”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

Summary

Stretching and yawning is your body’s natural attempt to raise our energy and alertness. We instinctively know this but over the years have been conditioned to to work against ourselves by using sugar and/or caffeine to give us a quick, immediate boost.

The problem with this approach is that these fixes are short term and have the potential to help us become dependent on them just to make it through the day.

Use your body’s natural indicators and work with your body by going for a walk, stretching and drinking water to help naturally and effectively raise your body’s energy and alertness levels.

Afterword

“Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.”

Jeremy Bentham
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