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
Productivity Sleep

Is Your Lack of Productivity Due to Disturbed Sleep?

Where’s the Productivity Gone?

The same place you left your sleep…

Are you having difficulty getting motivated to work or finding it hard to complete assignments, but can’t figure out why?

I’ve been struggling with this issue recently and was at a loss to figure out why this was the case and came across a fantastic book by Alan Derikson called Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness.

The book highlights how being overworked became accepted as part of the American way over the last two centuries and the effects this way of thinking has had on society and individuals.

What caught my eye was the role that disturbed sleep had on those steel workers of the early 1900s, and how it led to a lack of productivity, a lower quality of life, a dangerous work environment and death.

Although not on the level of those workers, the book helped me identify what was bringing down my productivity levels and even affecting my mood. The aim of this post is to help you identify if disturbed sleep is having a negative effect on your productivity and what you can do to correct things.

Work and Overworking

Work pressure is bad enough during the good times, but an economic crisis takes it to a whole other level. Worries about keeping your job (if you are employed), or keeping the business running (if you’re an employer) causes a lot of people to work harder and longer to help try secure their positions.

Students don’t get off scott free either. The worry about passing exams or making the grade can be equally stressful, especially when wondering how you are going to find work after completing your formal education.

And let’s not forget those of us unfortunate to have lost our incomes and are struggling to find ways to make ends meet.

Whatever the case may be, you can bet that a good nights sleep will be one of the first things to go. Working harder (by taking a second job, or working longer hours), is the default go to when the financial outlook looks bleak.

 

Sleep Disturbance

Unfortunately, this may not give us the results that we’re hoping for. Taking shift workers as an example, due to their work patterns not being in sync with their body’s circadian rhythm tend to suffer from:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • gastrointestinal disease
  • increased accident risk
  • increased disturbed sleep
  • and increased fatigue

The two last points also have the added risk of increasing depression and reducing work performance.

Irregular work hours seem to exert strong, acute effects on sleep and alertness in relation to night and morning work. The effects seem, however, to linger, and also affect days off. The level of the disturbances is similar to that seen in clinical insomnia, and may be responsible for considerable human and economic costs due to fatigue related accidents and reduced productivity.

Åkerstedt, Torbjörn. “Shift work and disturbed sleep/wakefulness.” /Occupational Medicine/ 53.2 (2003): 89-94.

Sleep Better, Work Better

There is hope, but as usual it means some work on our side. Although difficult, prioritising a good nights rest is important if we want to overcome any of the difficulties that we currently face. There are no if, buts or maybes when it comes to our health and our ability to overcome the stresses of daily life.

  • Make sleep a priority
    We’ve outlined the downsides of not doing so above, so to get good results, do the opposite to what you have been up until now. Discipline yourself to get 7-9 hours of sleep every day. There are no short cuts for this. To help, follow your body’s circadian rhythm and head to bed between 9pm and 10pm. If you are working shift work, make sure that when you get home that you sleep in a darkened room and let your household know that they have to be quiet during your sleeping hours, or buy yourself a good quality pair of ear plugs. Ultimately, if you can avoid night shifts, then do so. If not try to limit the amount of time that you do for.
  • Eat good, nutrient rich foods
    These help repair your body whilst you sleep and can help lift your mood which is essential if you want to be in a positive frame of mind that is beneficial for finding solutions. For example eat a banana to boost your mood when feeling down (or as a regular habit to help beat the blues). Blueberries are good for cognitive function which can help with your problem solving. There’s a lot of information on what healthy foods to eat on the web, so do a search and find what works for you.
  • Meditate (daily)
    It doesn’t have to be long (5 mins is a good place to start from), and can help calm you down when you are feeling a bit anxious. Including meditation in your daily routine can help clear your mind and make room for new ideas to blossom (either during or after your mediation) and can help you with a general sense of well being. As a pointer for how to meditate if you are not sure, find a quiet space sit comfortably on a chair or cushion (or whatever you are comfortable sitting still on for a few minutes), set a timer, close your eyes and breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. It doesn’t matter if you mind wanders, but when it does, bring your attention back to your breathing. Simple, quick and works wonders (just stick at it for a few days and you will start to notice the difference).
  • Exerciser (daily)
    Natures gift to us, just 20 mins continuous walking can make all the difference. If you like doing weightlifting, running, swimming etc, it doesn’t matter as long as you move and get your heart pumping. If you’re not sporty then dancing or singing are also good. The point is to release some of the stress build up that you have which in turn helps you to sleep more deeply which in turn helps you to have more energy to do the things that need to be done.

Review

These are just a few suggestions that I’ve found helped me recently and I feel better for doing them. Although times can be tough, we should always make time for the things that will make a positive difference in our experience of this life that we are living.

  • Make sleep a priority
  • Eat good, nutrient rich foods
  • Meditate daily
  • Exerciser daily

Conclusion

I’m thankful that we live in the present day.

I feel sad for the workers in the past who sacrificed their health so we don’t have to, but I also appreciate what they did as we benefit from it now.

Even with all the turmoil that is going on around us, at least we have a chance to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others if we decide to act in a positive way.

Categories
Focus Productivity Staying Awake Tiredness

Are You Microsleeping Away Your Productivity?

Are You Microsleeping Away Your Productivity Levels?

Make micropayments back to yourself…

For a long period of my life I felt that I wasn’t performing at my best. Things that should have taken a relatively short amount of time were regularly taking me double the time I’d planned for them.

I started putting more effort into better planning and getting things done, but although at first it seemed to be working, my gains would soon stall and I’d be back to struggling to complete my tasks on time.

The answer finally came to me when I was being told by my boss that I needed to stop nodding off and pull myself together.

I had read about microsleep a few years prior and now realized that it was a big component in my lack of productivity.

Sleepy cat
Photo by Wes Hicks @sickhews on Unsplash

What Is Microsleep?

Microsleep as the name suggests, is a short burst of sleep, usually lasting from between a fraction of a second and 30 seconds.

Just like normal sleep, you will be unaware of what is going on around you, and consciousness can shift in waves between being awake and unawake.

Tell tail signs of microsleep are head nodding, drooping eyelids and slow eyelid-closures.

Microsleep is usually the result of sleep deprivation or participating in monotonous tasks.

The Effects of Microsleep

It is a well-established fact that sleep restriction and deprivation decrease performance. Lack of sleep makes you feel sleepy.

This can cause sudden bursts of sleep, and even if you can manage to stay awake, reduce cognitive performance.

Reduced cognitive performance affects your productivity by:

  • Reducing your ability to pay continuous, sustained attention.
  • Slows down your reaction time and increases the amount of errors you make.
  • Decreases your ability to learn and form memories.
  • And significantly affects your ability to plan and coordinate your actions effectively.

Overcoming Microsleep

Once I realized that this was my problem it made it easier to adjust and take positive steps to correcting behaviors that were making my productivity problem worse.

  • I planned my days and weeks around my sleep and not the other way around. 

    At first this meant not staying late at work, and getting more sleep. As things progressed for the better I changed to going to sleep in tune with my body’s circadian rhythm whenever I could. 

    This allowed for me to stay late at work, but not so late as to make me miss my sleeping schedule. Research showed that it would be best to get to bed between 9pm and 10pm, and wake up around 7am.
  • I limited the amount of time I spent in “hectic, heavy workload” mode. 

    As work or study life is not so straight forward, I made room for heavy workload periods and tried to limit them to 2-3 week sprints. 

    During those sprints I would sleep longer during a Saturday evening – Sunday morning to catch up on sleep that I may have missed and also to recover and prepare for the next week ahead. 

    At the end of the sprint I would catch up on sleep and relaxation for a few days.
  • Whilst working, I monitored myself for signs of tiredness and took short breaks or naps when I could.

    When I first tried this I had to watch my thoughts and see if my mind was wandering. This let me know that I may be about to fall asleep. But sometimes I felt my head nodding, or actually felt like I was asleep!

    A more accurate way to see if I was tired or about to fall asleep was to use a tiredness monitor called V-CAF. It’s an Apple Watch app that vibrates both your iPhone and Apple Watch when you are tired or about to fall asleep.

    The iPhone part of the app sounds an alarm and flashes when you are tired. I use that when I’m working by myself. 

    When I’m in the office I switch the app to discreet mode and put the iPhone in my pocket. Now when I’m alerted both the iPhone and Apple watch vibrate without anyone else needing to know that I’m tired.

    This naturally alerts me to take a break so that I can have a nap or do something to wake myself up, before getting back to work.

Review

I still use this approach and my productivity has never been higher. I’ve been able to hold down my job as well as write for this blog and help develop V-CAF, which only a relatively short time ago seemed impossible.

You are you however, and it is almost a certainty that you will have to pick and choose, and modify these suggestions for your unique circumstance.

This was a fairly long article; so here are the main points in short form:

  • Plan your work around your sleep.
  • When that is not possible, limit the longer hours but shorter sleep to 2-3 weeks and catch up on sleep at the weekend.
  • When you feel yourself getting tired whilst working, stop and take a break to wake yourself up. Better yet use V-CAF to accurately tell you when you are tired.

Conclusion

Making a few simple thought adjustments and lifestyle changes can positively influence the level of your productivity.

It can be difficult to start, but once you do and start seeing the results you’ll thank yourself for doing so.