Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Studying Tiredness

Protecting The Quality of Your Work

Protecting Your Quality of Life

Self first, then others

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

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

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

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

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

Protect Yourself
Photo by @AZ.BLT via Twenty20

Quantity and Effort

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

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

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

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

Grinding Ourselves Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preventative Measures

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

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

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

Give Purpose or Meaning to What You Do

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

Look After Your Health

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

Review

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

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

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

Afterword

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

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),
Categories
Productivity 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
Alert Caffeine Focus Productivity Staying Awake Study Studying

Coffee vs Tea for Studying

Choose Your Poison

Study This Study About Studying

In the past when studying for exams or to learn a new subject at work, I resorted to coffee and/or caffeine pills to keep me alert.

Some colleagues used to tell me to drink tea as it does less harm to your body than coffee. Others swore that coffee is the best at keeping you alert and getting the job done, and did I know “that green tea contains more caffeine than coffee?”

After looking at the little research that’s out there, I figured out what was best for me and outline how I came to that conclusion in this article.

Coffee or Tea? Which One Is Better?
Photo by Dan Preindl @preindl on Unsplash, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Depending on Coffee or Tea for Alertness

For a lot of people, drinking coffee or tea helps them feel more alert and therefore more productive whilst working. 

Whenever I had a difficult subject to study for, or was feeling tired, I would instinctively go for a cup of coffee, which once drunk, made me feel that I could get the work done. 

For others, like my friend Jason, tea was the way to go. He felt that he didn’t get such a fast caffeine high, and therefore caffeine low as when he drunk coffee, whilst still feeling more alert than he did before he drunk his tea. “Each to their own”, I used to reply.

I now think that Jason might have been onto something. Although tea contains more caffeine than coffee in its dry form, once brewed, coffee has significantly more caffeine than tea (depending on the types of tea and coffee being compared).

Further, according to TeaClass.com:

“The high levels of antioxidants found in tea slow the absorption of caffeine – this results in a gentler increase of the chemical in the system and a longer period of alertness with no crash at the end.”

The Truth About Caffeine

Jason was right and I was wrong. Better switch over to drinking tea to get more productive, right?

Is Drinking Either Coffee or Tea the Solution?

The thing is, is that both coffee and tea contain caffeine; a stimulant that tricks your brain into thinking that it’s not as tired as it really is, and as a result makes you think that you are more alert and productive.

Back to feelings. Many confuse the feeling of alertness that caffeine induces to be a sign of the potential for increased productivity and enhanced mental performance. Unfortunately, just like how caffeine tricks the brain into thinking that it is less tired than it really is, this enhanced productivity is also a delusion.

“While caffeine benefits motor performance and tolerance develops to its tendency to increase anxiety/jitteriness, tolerance to its effects on sleepiness means that frequent consumption fails to enhance mental alertness and mental performance.”

Rogers, Peter, Susan Heatherley, Emma Mullings, and Jessica Smith. “Faster but not smarter: effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on alertness and performance.” Psychopharmacology 226.2 (2013): 229-240.

So, What Works?

Getting more quality sleep works best, hands down. The benefits of regular, good quality sleep are so numerous, I’ll have to write a separate article detailing them.

In the meantime, here are some tips that you can use to help your study/work be more effective:

  • Get into Rhythm 
    Organize your life to match your body’s circadian rhythm. Wake up at around 7am (melatonin stops being released by this time).
    Do your most important work between 10am and 12pm.
    Between 12pm-2pm is usually when we have our midafternoon crash, so avoid difficult work during this time.
    Our body hits peak energy around 6:30pm so if you’re still working start to slowly wind down your efforts.
    Resist the temptation to pull an all-nighter, and try to get to bed around 10pm.
  • Drink Water
    Keeping yourself hydrated will help keep you alert whilst keeping fatigue and tiredness at bay and reducing the risk of headaches and poor concentration.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    When you feel yourself getting fatigued, take a break and get up and move around. 
    The reality is, is that most people don’t realize when they are tired until they are so tired that it can’t be ignored! V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that subtly notifies you to move around and take a natural break when your body says that you are tired.
  • Exercise
    Take the time to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It could be as simple as a 25-30 minute walk each day or walking upstairs instead of taking the elevator. Exercise helps improve your focus and concentration as well as increasing the quality of your sleep. And the effects can be felt immediately. 

Review

If you have to choose between coffee and tea to help keep you awake, then I would suggest tea. However, I think this is a false dichotomy. The third option is to avoid caffeine and make lifestyle changes that in the long term benefit your health as well as your productivity.

Some of these choices include:

  • Get into your body’s circadian rhythm.
  • Drink more water
  • Take Regular Breaks and use a tool such as V-CAF that subtly notifies you to move around and take a natural break.
  • Exercise regularly.

Conclusion

Study and work goals are important parts of our lives, but not the only part.

One of the most fundamental parts of our lives is sleep. By sacrificing our sleep, we are damaging all other parts of our lives.

Knowing that a single night of sleep deprivation can decrease our cognitive performance by 30%, does it really make sense to reduce the amount of time we spend sleeping to get more studying/work done?

Categories
Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Study Studying Tiredness

Beat Tiredness, Study Better

Beat Tiredness, Study Better

Or, how to pass your exams without messing with your health…

Do you have a test coming up soon? Need to learn a new procedure or technique quickly for a deadline? 

If so and you are feeling tired then this article is for you. Having to study or learn something new whilst tired is a sure fire way to kill the enjoyment of what you are learning.

The team and I have come up with some tips to help you deal with the tiredness part and get you ready and primed to study more efficiently and productively.

Beat tiredness, study better
Photo by Andrew Neil @andrewtneel on Unsplash Green Joe’s Coffee Company, Greensboro, United States, There is no substitute for hard work. ― Thomas A. Edison

Tired of Studying

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to study especially if you have a heavy workload. The tendency for many is to delay until the last possible moment and then do the best we can with the time left.

For some students the pressure of having to pass an exam can contribute to feeling overwhelmed and burnt out before you really get a chance to study in depth.

Then add to the fact that the simple act of studying can make you feel tired no matter what you do, and you can end up feeling down and deflated at best, at worst depressed and stressed.

Working Harder Doesn’t Mean Working Better

Knuckling down and getting on with the work can help but grinding the work out doesn’t guarantee that you will get the most out of your time spent studying.

Tiredness not only affects your mood in negative ways but can also be detrimental to the effectiveness of your study.

Tiredness decreases your ability to:

  • Perform basic mental activities 
  • Focus
  • Be diligent
  • Alertness
  • Memory recall

All of which are essential for successful study.

Tiredness Hacks

Once you know that you have a test start to plan immediately. Start to make changes to your daily routines that take into account your sleep and study schedule.

Incorporate the following tips into your routine:

  • Try getting to sleep by 10pm.
    Your body naturally gets ready to sleep by releasing melatonin between 9pm and 10pm.

  • Wake up around 7am.
    Melatonin stops being released at around 7am, which allows your body to be at peak alertness at 10am.

  • Most people don’t realize that tiredness is likely affecting their brain long before they notice.
    Humans are notorious for being unable to assess their true tiredness levels. 
    Pilcher, J. J., and Huffcutt, A. I. (1996). Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: a meta-analysis. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine, 19(4), 318.

    Using apps like V-CAF alert you to when you are most likely to be tired so that you can take the appropriate actions needed to wake up, be alert and re-focus.
  • Avoid doing your most difficult studying between 12pm and 2pm, which is typically when most people have their mid afternoon crash. 

  • Break your study periods into shorter time spans.
    For example use tools like The Pomodoro Technique or Forest to help focus on the task at hand. The default time span is 20-25 minutes.

  • Use caffeine sparingly.
    The more you consume caffeine the greater your tolerance to its effects, so the more you need to consume. Plus caffeine interferes with your sleep cycle, so beware.

Review

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the role that sleep plays in the effectiveness of your study strategies.

Sleep is a major component of your ability to study effectively, which will enhance whatever other methods you use to do your actual study.

Once again, our sleep strategies:

  • Get to bed by 10pm.
  • Wake up around 7am.
  • Know when you’re tired and adjust accordingly using apps such as V-CAF .
  • Avoid doing difficult work between 12pm and 2pm.
  • Break up your study periods using tools like The Pomodoro Technique or Forest .
  • Use caffeine sparingly.

Conclusion

Tiredness like any obstacle on the road to success, is there to be overcome and make you stronger and smarter.

Regularly use these techniques to help you study and learn better, but also to increase the quality of your life and moods.

Categories
Caffeine Focus Side Effects Staying Awake Study Studying

How Can I Stay Awake Whilst Studying?

I Can’t Stay Awake Whilst Studying

Just do it…

Struggling to stay awake and focused whilst studying? Finding that energy drinks aren’t helping? Do caffeine pills make you irritable?

Like most people I tried remedies in a box or can to help me stay awake when I had an important test to do, but found that I was even more distracted and less motivated to study.

Over the years I’ve found various quick fixes and tricks that have helped me and may help you too.

Trying to stay awake
Photo by Mayastar on Flickr Barfi hangover, My Friend Penny after she has had a Barfi…Side effect

Too Tired To Study

The problem for most of us when studying is that we are more likely to sacrifice sleep, especially as the date for the exam or test gets closer.

The temptation to cram in as much time as possible is very difficult to overcome, and may lead us to seek stimulants to wake us up.

And to compound the problem, our tired mental state may stop us from doing the things that we need to that would help us achieve our study goals.

Tiredness Reduces Your Studying Efficiency

I hate having to study when I’m tired. Everything seems to take that much more effort and the results don’t seem to justify the action.

Sleep deprivation reduces our mental performance. It reduces our attention and memory as well as our decision making.

Being tired also reduces our ability to understand our study material and increases the likelihood of us struggling during the actual test or exam.
Cari Gillen‐O’Neel, Virginia W. Huynh, Andrew J. Fuligni

Plan For Success

Success takes planning. Don’t fail to plan enough quality sleep into your revision cycle. 

It seems obvious because it is. Sleep is the best tool you can use to help you be able to study for an exam.

The following tricks are quick fixes, to get you through those difficult patches, but remember nothing beats sleep when it comes to preparing your mind to study.

  • Drink plenty of water
    Hydrate yourself and feel better. Water helps keep your brain focused and alert.
  • Make sure you’re eating healthy
    Eat natural. Think – whatever crawls, flies or comes out the earth or water. A healthy balance of good fats, carbohydrates and protein. Not processed foods.
  • Use a gadget that alerts you when you’re tired 
    I use V-CAF an Apple Watch app that alerts you when you are most likely too tired to study effectively.
  • Take timeout for deep breathing
    Deep controlled breathing has worked well for me, depending on how tired I am. If anything, it breaks up my study allowing me to have a quick easy break before trying to study more.

Review

The best thing to do when you have to revise is to plan your sleep accordingly.

Sleep used with the following tips will improve your chances of successfully studying for those exams or tests:

  • Drink more water
  • Eat healthily
  • Use tiredness monitors such as V-CAF
  • Use breathing techniques

Get It Done

If you’re reading this and you are currently studying for exams, I wish you the success you deserve.

Use these tips to help you get yourself through those difficult patches and I’m sure you’ll feel better about completing your exams.