Categories
Productivity Sleep

No Time For Sleep!?

You’d Better Get Yourself Some

Boost your sleep, boost your productivity…

There are times in our life when we find that we have too much to do and something has to give. Until a few years ago, that something that gave was my sleep!

Play hard, work hard was my mantra, and I certainly did that! So whenever I had a tight deadline or too much to get done, I would just stay up and work late and then wake up early and continue where I left off.

This worked out great for a short while but came back to bite me in a big way later on. And I’m not unique it this respect. According to a number of studies, an increasing amount of us are getting less sleep now than we did 10 years ago.

Nobody knows why this is the case but we do know that the medium to short term effects on our lives personally, and the cost to society as a whole, are too high a price to pay.

Time To Get Ready, checking a watch during the evening
Photo by @chrisramsay.feedback via Twenty20

Duration and Quality Decrease

Compared to 2010, the odds of short sleep duration were statistically significantly higher in 2018 despite adjusting for demographic characteristics (25% higher) and occupational characteristics (22% higher). In 2018, the highest levels of short sleep duration were found for the following categories of jobs: protective service and military (50%), healthcare support occupations (45%), transport and material moving (41%), and production occupations (41%).

Khubchandani, J., & Price, J. (2020). Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010–2018. /Journal of Community Health,/ /45(2),/ 219-227.

There’s no getting around it, we need enough good quality sleep; but the pressures of life, work and/or studying may all be contributing to us not getting the sleep that we need.

Research has found that there may be a link between stress and a decrease in the amount of hours that we spend sleeping. People suffering from stress often find it difficult to get to sleep, or discover that they often wake up during the night and by the time it gets to the morning, still feel tired.

Then there are those of us who, due to economic reasons, work late or night shifts. This is extremely difficult to do as we have to fighting against our own body clock, which is telling us to go to sleep. Once the night shift is finished, sleeping through the day may help catch up on some of our sleep, but the quality and quantity is often reduced, which often means returning to work not fully rested.

Risking Your Health

Almost a third of working adults in the U.S. get inadequate quantities of sleep. Most likely, those who work long hours, engage in changing shifts, or those in high stress professions that have minimal control over their work and life schedules are at risk of short sleep duration and the subsequent social, physical and mental health consequences of sleep problems.

Khubchandani, J., & Price, J. (2020). Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010–2018. /Journal of Community Health,/ /45(2),/ 219-227.

By not getting enough sleep, you are putting your health and well being at risk. I know it’s difficult, and I used to just push through the tiredness to meet my deadlines, and because I did it often I thought I was doing well. It was only when colleagues pointed out that some of my work wasn’t up to my usual standard that I took a step back to see what was going on.

When you are stressed, tired and under pressure, it is easy to miss the tell tale signs that your body is giving you, trying to warn you that you need to stop and take a break.

Continuing to work when you’re not fully rested makes working more difficult and can be dangerous to you and potentially others. Tiredness often makes things worse as it impairs our ability to think clearly and slows down our cognitive abilities.

It’s logical to assume that if we can’t think as clearly as we can when we are fully awake, then our productivity will also suffer when we are tired. Tiredness also increases the likelihood that we will make more errors at work, which can be costly for our business or employer as well as to you.

The cost to your health cannot be overlooked. Just by not getting more than 7 hours of good quality sleep you are more likely to suffer from the following chronic diseases than those who sleep 7 hours or more (per 24 hour period):

What You Can Do

The simple answer, get more good quality sleep; but I know from personal experience that it’s not so straight forward. Work, study or life pressures make it difficult for us to do what we know is best for us.

So, what to do?

  • Sleep
    • Go to sleep and wake up at regular times
    • Don’t work past 9pm if you can
    • Avoid consuming caffeine past midday (or better yet, give it up)
    • Make your bedroom as dark as possible
    • Don’t read, watch tv or take gadgets to bed
    • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible
    • Make sure you are cool in bed
  • Whilst Awake (during the day, usually)
    • Take regular nap breaks (but no more than 20 mins max)
    • Do more exercise during the day, (use at least two breaks a day for walking outside or stretching – even a 10 minute walk can help improve your sleep at night)
    • Keep yourself mentally active throughout the day (keep your mind busy and stimulated)
    • Eat healthier foods (fruits, vegetables, non processed meats, eggs, butter, etc) rather than processed foods with lots of sugar and salt added to them
    • Know when you are tired (it helps to head to bed when you are actually tired, rather than just because of a schedule. Also knowing when your tired throughout the day can help you time your nap breaks strategically, which in turn helps your focus and productivity – see what we say about this topic in the review)
  • Shift workers
    • Where possible, explain to your employer the benefits of a well rested employee and ask for more considerate shift planning (for example no back to back shift working – one week late shift, the next week early shift)
    • Have regular health checks to make sure that you’re not stressing your body to its limits and risking a chronic illness.

Review

It’s easy to overlook when we are tired and as a result put ourselves at risk from chronic diseases and mental health issues. Our health is primarily our responsibility and as a result, it would be wise for us to prioritise our sleep and exercise before our work (but this is easier said than done).

Which brings me to the issue of knowing when you are tired. We developed V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert(an Apple Watch app) to help you know when your tiredness levels are increasing so that you can take the appropriate actions necessary to either wake yourself up, or to take a break. V-CAF also links to your iPhone and iMac or Apple Laptop so that you can be notified when your alertness levels are dropping.

I hope that the points that have been highlighted in this post will be useful to you in your personal and professional life, if so, please comment below.

Thanks 🙂

Afterword

“Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.”

Tom Roth, source: https://everydaypower.com/sleep-quotes/
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
Anxiety Productivity Tension

5 Hacks That Combat Work Related Stress.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Away from your desk…

Most businesses need to be profitable in order to survive. Whether we are an employee or self employed, the level of our productivity is either directly or indirectly linked to the ability of the business to create profits.

What this translates into in our real world experiences is that our productivity is more than likely being measured and assessed to calculate our effects on the bottom line.

Work performance measuring can lead to an increase in the amount of pressure that we feel which ultimately can have detrimental effects on our performance and therefore reduce our productivity levels.

In these challenging times there’s even more need for the worker to think out of the box and come up with solutions that will help restore their confidence in their ability to meet their work demands without harming their health and wellbeing.

Loss of Productivity

Scores from PSS (Perceived Stress Scale) and the HWQ (Health and Work Questionnaire), appeared to be inversely correlated; higher stress scores were associated significantly with lower productivity scores.
This negative association was… especially strong for work satisfaction.

Bui, T., Zackula, R., Dugan, K., & Ablah, E. (2021). Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study.Kansas Journal of Medicine,14,42-45.

It can seem to come from nowhere. You’ve been focused on your work and getting things done, but for some reason you either seem unable to produce anything or the quality of your work is far less than you expect from yourself. How did that happen?

Work pressure usually doesn’t hit you all at once, but gradually. Work deadlines, heavy workloads and performance targets all take their toll. There’s also your life outside of work, which may also indirectly contribute to your work pressure.

And then there’s the fact that everybody’s response to pressure at work is different. What you may perceive as a challenge may be perceived by a colleague as a major stressor. It’s telling, when even the scientific and legal arenas can’t even agree on what stress is and how to legally define it.

Regardless of the debate on what is or is not stressful, your lack of productivity can itself be a major cause of stress which further compounds the problem.

 

Stress

Although it’s difficult to define a universal definition of what stress is or isn’t, there are signs that you should be aware of that can help you determine whether or not you or someone you know are stressed. By being able to identify these signs, you can help relieve the pressure by taking the necessary steps to correct the situation. We built V-CAF precisely for this reason.

Not all of the signs are in of themselves confirmation of stress, but if your productivity is falling and the symptoms appear regularly, then they may be good indicators that you need to take a step back and contemplate what you observe, and possibly consult your medical advisor.

Some of the physical signs of stress include but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Tension headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Backpain
  • High blood pressure and
  • Sweaty palms

Non physical signs include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Behaving out of character

During difficult social, political and economic times, it can be hard to ask for help, but where possible, speak to your counsellor or medical advisor, (or even someone you can trust). Ignoring the situation doesn’t help and exposure to persistent stressful environments can have both negative shot and long term effects on your health.

Strategies

By acknowledging that you are stressed, you have taken a very big step in the right direction to address the issue. The next step is to speak with your boss/manager and discuss the issues that are causing you stress. This isn’t always possible (especially if your boss isn’t known for being understanding, or if you work for yourself), so the next best thing is to take steps that will help you relieve the pressure you feel at work. (I would also state that if your employer doesn’t display any empathy towards the situation, that it might be a sign to start looking for a new job. You only live once, and being in a miserable work environment not only affects you, but your work colleagues, friends and family, let alone the damage you are doing to your self esteem and health).

So, in no particular order of relevance, here is a list of 5 things that you can do to help relieve stress at work:

  • Prevention
    Understand and know what causes you to be stressed. Write them down, make a list and then list the things that you can do to avoid meeting these situations when you are at work.
    Also have a backup plan for when you do meet them (which will happen once in a while). If you are stuck keep reading on and use some the tactics outline below to help construct your plan.
  • Exercise
    One of the most overlooked stress busting tools available to us all is exercise. A build up of tension usually accompanies stress. By exercising, we help to release tension in our body. And it doesn’t have to be a full body workout either (although those help too). A 10 to 25 minute brisk walk is just enough effort to get your heart pumping harder, and you breathing in deeper to make a difference.
  • Eat well
    Reduce or avoid eating processed foods where possible and eat good whole foods. The general rule of thumb is that if it walks, flies, crawls or grows from the earth, and doesn’t have heaps of processed ingredients added to them, then you’re good to go.
    So why not processed foods? Processed foods contain a lot of refined sugar which spikes your insulin levels causing you to have “sugar highs” and crashes throughout the day, making it more difficult for you to concentrate on your work.
  • Good quality sleep
    Make sure you get enough sleep every night, of the highest quality. How do you do that? Eat well, exercise and go to bed at regular times daily. Also make sure you’re not overly warm and avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid alcohol
    Yep. I mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. Although not harmful in moderation, alcohol interferes with your sleeping pattern and the following hangover does nothing for your concentration and productivity levels. Even a relatively small amount of alcohol consumed the night before can have adverse effects on your productivity the next day.
  • Manage workload
    List and prioritise the work that needs to be completed, for the week, day and in some cases by the hour. Discuss this with work colleagues and your boss so that you can organise your work in such a way as to eliminate any bottlenecks that can lead to frustration.
    Using process like Scrum, Agile and Kanban can help improve both individual and team productivity in a more efficient and stress free manner. I’ve used (and still use) all of them in varying degrees and find that without them work would be very difficult.
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
    The usual mantra of this blog, and for good reason too. Taking a break away from your desk (by going for a walk, or meditation , and taking a nap), can actually increase your focussing and memory powers. Don’t just keep pushing on forward regardless, take the time to be nice to yourself and then come back to your work. I get tunnel vision whilst at work and get very frustrated when working whilst being tired and don’t realise it. Tools such as V-CAF help by notifying you when your alertness levels drop, to take a break.
  • Positive outlook
    Difficult to do in the moment when you are stressed, but keeping a positive frame of mind helps you to overcome the stress that you will inevitably experience. This is why in point one (Prevention) we said that you should write down what to do if you find yourself in a stressful situation. If you have this you can be reminded to be positive because you have the answer and know what to do. Plus being prepared helps you to have a positive outlook as you consciously know that you have a plan.

Review

I can’t count it seems. But I hope that you take heed of my advice and also go and do some more research for yourself and experiment with what works for you.

If you are stressed and feel too overwhelmed to cope, make a point of scheduling an appointment with your doctor or medical advisor immediately, as it may be a sign of something more serious.

Finally I leave you with the list of the main points outlined in this post.

  • Prevention
  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Good quality sleep
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Manage workload
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
  • Positive outlook

Afterword

“ Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. ”

Epictetus, source: Daily Stoic
Categories
Focus Productivity

How Do You Become More Focused And Productive?

Start By Getting Out More

Small steps, one after the other…

Being focused and being productive go hand in hand, so when people’s productivity begins to wane it usually has something to do with losing focus. Unfortunately these days it’s very easy to be distracted as there are a myriad of ways to unintentionally reduce our levels of concentration.

Social media and smart phones are the usual suspects that routinely get blamed for the apparent decrease in attention spans and there is a lot of research that seems to validate this point. But if this is the case then why do people who don’t use smart phones regularly also find it difficult to focus?

On a surface level it makes sense to blame this lack of attention on our digital gadgets, but looking deeper into how to increase one’s concentration skills I found that there’s more to it than just packing away your smart phone.

Get With It And Get Out
Photo by @kristin12 via Twenty20

The Blame Game

Doing a search for “smart phones attention span” brings back a lot of headlines that imply that our smart phone usage is responsible for the decrease in people’s ability to focus as well as they used to.

As a result, parents, teachers and some employers restrict the use of smart phones in an attempt to stop the apparent rise in the loss of focus and concentration skills.

However, anecdotally I’ve found that these measures don’t help but can actually make things worse. Rather than turning focus onto a particular activity, restricting phone usage can make people focus on the fact that they don’t have access to their device and make it harder for them to concentrate.

Then there’s the fact that some smart phone usage can actually help productivity. In my case, I listen to music or binaural beats which help me from time to time to zone out and concentrate on what I’m doing.

Listening to binaural beats has been found to have real benefits for increased focus, attention, cognition and memory. You can find binaural beats playlists for productivity on Spotify or YouTube. Binaural beats require headphones because the frequency is created from a difference in inputs between your ears.

Serena Poon, Leveraging Mindful Practices To Maximize Productivity

 

Not Paying Attention

Also note that people that are “glued to their phones” seem to be very focused on whatever they are doing on their devices. It’s common to see people fully engrossed in activities on their devices, to the point that they can forget that other people are around them.

Clearly this doesn’t sit well with the view that people are distracted and have shorter attention spans, if the same said users spend a lot of time using their devices. So is the problem the gadgets and the apps running on them or is it something else?

To improve our focus and productivity we have to then figure out what it means to lose our ability to concentrate. Classic signs include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased fidgeting
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Being unable to complete tasks
  • Carelessness
  • Unable to think clearly

By noticing how addicted someone is to their devices is missing the point of what is causing a loss of focus and therefore productivity. Although excessive interaction with smart phones may be part of the problem, it is not “the root” problem.

Although I haven’t found any research papers that prove this hypothesis directly, there may be a link between the rise of sleep disorders and anxiety with the loss of concentration and the reduction in productivity levels.

In fact, in earlier blog posts we highlight how being tired robs you of achieving your optimal levels and the cost of sleep disorders for an economy.

“ Insomnia may be responsible for over $63 billion in absenteeism and presenteeism, and accidents and errors by people suffering from insomnia may result in an additional $31 billion lost annually. A recent report estimates that undiagnosed sleep apnea in the U.S. costs society $150 billion each year. The RAND Corporation has estimated that collectively, costs attributable to sleep deficiency in the U.S. exceeded $410 billion dollars in 2015, equivalent to 2.28% of gross domestic product.”

Calculating the Cost of Poor Sleep – Methodology, Nation Safety Council

Reversing The Trend

There are a lot of recommendations on what society and legislators should do to combat this problem, but thankfully you don’t have to wait for them to get around to solving this issue.

As a responsible individual you can implement some very straightforward lifestyle changes that eventually will increase your ability to focus and hopefully get you back on track.

  • Work with your circadian rhythm
    Sounds complicated but it’s not. Make sure you get to bed to give yourself enough time to rest and have a deep sleep. In general your body starts to slow down between 9pm and 11pm. Get to bed between those hours and by 2am – 3am your body should be in the quality deep part of sleep (REM or rapid eye movement). From 7am – 8am your body starts to wake up and get ready for the day. By making you bed and wake up times routine, you train your body to get the most out of your nights sleep.
  • Get outside more
    Get as much daylight as is possible throughout the day. This helps your body to realise that you are awake and active (especially if you are moving or exercising) and helps you to sleep better throughout the night, as well as giving your body enough time to generate vitamin D directly from the sun.
  • Avoid stimulants as much as possible
    Make a point of avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol as although they may give you a temporary boost, in the long term they are detrimental to your concentration and productivity levels.

Review

Finally to answer the question of this post, to be more focused and productive, eat well, sleep better and get outside more.

Afterword

“Go outside. Don’t tell anyone and don’t bring your phone. Start walking and keep walking until you no longer know the road like the palm of your hand, because we walk the same roads day in and day out, to the bus and back home and we cease to see. We walk in our sleep and teach our muscles to work without thinking and I dare you to walk where you have not yet walked and I dare you to notice. Don’t try to get anything out of it, because you won’t. Don’t try to make use of it, because you can’t. And that’s the point. Just walk, see, sit down if you like. And be. Just be, whatever you are with whatever you have, and realise that that is enough to be happy.
There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it.”

Charlotte Eriksson, You’re Doing Just Fine .

Categories
Lethargy Productivity Studying Tension

Get Yourself Together

Take a step back and see where you are

One step back…

Unfortunately there are times in our lives when we just feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to sort out what we should be doing. No clear path to the road of order presents itself and we can be left a little befuddled.

At the same time it’s not uncommon to find ourselves being pulled in many different directions, all as important as the other, whether it be study life, work life balance issues or family. It easy in hindsight to realise that you should take a step back and take some time to assess where you are and what you should do, but when you’re deep in the thick of it, nothing looks straightforward.

But we shouldn’t fret as there are things that we can do to help lift the fog and clear the way for us to get back on track, so let’s dive in and figure them out.

Get Yourself Together
Photo by @kristin12 via Twenty20

The Descending Mist

Another assumption within the Effort-Reward Imbalance model points to over-commitment leading to sustained stress reactions…

Over-committed people exaggerate their efforts beyond levels usually considered appropriate, a behaviour also discussed in the personality-centred approaches of burnout.

Jenull, B., & Wiedermann, W. (2015). The Different Facets of Work Stress. /Journal of Applied Gerontology,/ /34(7),/ 823-843.

Loosing track of where you are is easy to do. The way that we work and/or study tends to encourage us to have tunnel vision and focus exclusively on what we have to do; and working this way helps to get things done.

However, these days we are increasingly finding ourselves having to multitask or focus on multiple things at once, just to keep up with the ever increasing demands for more productivity, better grades, or moving up the corporate or social ladder.

In addition, it can be very difficult to say no to the increased workloads as we may feel that this would affect our chances of promotion or put us at a disadvantage to our competition.

As the pressure builds we try to put more effort in and double down on a failing strategy unable to clearly see a way out of this mess. All we can do at this point is hope that our efforts are not in vain and that eventually we’ll make it through.

 

No Clear Way Out

However, before we know it, we are swamped with things to do and don’t have enough time or energy to get them done, with no clear way out of the mess we find ourselves in.

It’s at this point when we can find ourselves in a “danger zone” without even realising it; by unintentionally placing excessive pressure and demands on ourselves, we are actually stressing ourselves out and find that even the simplest things can overwhelm us.

And as I stated earlier, because we are so focussed on getting through what needs to be done, we can overlook some of the tell tale signs that tell us we are stressed and therefore miss an opportunity to take the appropriate actions needed to relieve the pressure. Some of these indicators include:

  • Feeling tense
  • Increased anger and/or frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low morale
  • Decrease in productivity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disturbed or impaired sleep
  • Increased consumption of stimulants (caffeine or alcohol for example)
  • Over eating

Clarity

Now that we have made the link between feeling overwhelmed and stress and the negative effects that being stressed can have on your health and quality of life, what can we do to reduce or even better prevent the build up of stress in our lives?

  • Work / Study for reasonable hours
    It’s tempting to put in more hours in “the grind” trying to get things done than is actually possible, so set a target for your productive times during a stint and divide your day into productive things to be done and other tasks that need to be done.
    This leads me onto a side issue that has been in the software development world for years regarding how many hours per day you are actually doing productive work vs. meetings and non productive work. There are those among us (me being one of them) that believe that at best you can’t get more than five hours of truly productive work consistently per day. There are exceptions, but they don’t tend to last so long. In fact there’s a post by Joel Spolsky from 2002 where he mentions:

“What drives me crazy is that ever since my first job I’ve realized that as a developer, I usually average about two or three hours a day of productive coding. When I had a summer internship at Microsoft, a fellow intern told me he was actually only going into work from 12 to 5 every day. Five hours, minus lunch, and his team /loved/ him because he still managed to get a lot more done than average. I’ve found the same thing to be true.”

Joel Spolsky, founder of Trello, and Glitch, CEO of Stack Overflow from 2010-2019, Fire And Motion – Joel on Software

Please note I’m not saying that you should only work 4 or 5 hours a day, but rather that you should work out what works for you and get the majority of what needs to be done in that time. Throwing more hours at a problem usually doesn’t solve it!

  • Keep Family/Friends time or down time sacred
    Don’t sacrifice time for yourself and/or family and friends (or if you feel you have to, keep it at a minimum). To increase the quality (and perhaps quantity) of your life, a balanced work / social life is key. Although family and friends time can have their own stresses, the act of taking time out from an area and spending it in another can be all that is needed to lift our spirits (think, a change is as good as a rest).
  • Manage your workloads
    As with making sure you work within reasonable hours, managing your work takes it one step further. Make it a point to as best as you can organise the work that needs to be done, and where possible try not to overlap two or three demanding tasks with each other. If your work loads are out of your control, let your employer or manager know that it might be better to reorganise your workload so that you can be more productive. If you don’t ask you don’t get, so why not mention it to them (they’re human too).
  • Value yourself and the work/studying that you do
    By taking the time to truly know and appreciate yourself you’ll be less likely to abuse yourself with unreasonable demands and will eventually appreciate that your efforts are valuable. Doing this will eventually increase the quality of your output and productivity because you now work with value and purpose, which in turn will reduce the stress that you feel as you’ll be enjoying what you are doing.

Review

In summary, get yourself together by reducing the amount of stress that you subject yourself to. This starts by changing your attitude towards yourself and the things that you have to do. Taking the time to organise yourself to make this happen is your responsibility and ultimately you get the reward for the effort that you put in.

Just don’t stress about it 😉

Afterword

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

Cooper, C. (2003). Stress prevention in the police. /Occupational Medicine,/ /53(4),/ 244-245.

Categories
Caffeine Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

Virtual Caffeine For Your Apple Watch

V-CAF The Game Changer

Take a chance, change your life

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

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

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

Before We Set Off

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

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

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

But What’s It For

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

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

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

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

At the end of the first week I was hooked.

Virtual Caffeine

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

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

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

Since then I haven’t looked back.

To Sum Up

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

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

Afterword

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

Bryce Courtenay

Categories
Energy Productivity Sleep Sleepiness

Feeling Sleepy?

Pay Down Your Sleep Debt

It pays better terms of interest…

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

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

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

Sleepy
Photo by @splack112 via Twenty20

Sleep Debt

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

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

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

What Gives

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

Recap

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

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

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

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

Afterword

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

Irish Proverb
Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake

Power Napper?

Fast Recharge

Super Booster

You may have noticed that we are living in an age of abundance. Never before has it been so easy for people to pass information between each other at such great distances and across multiple timezones.

Depending on where you live there is an abundance of choices on the types of food, clothing and entertainment that you can consume. Even the choices that we can make regarding what we do to make a living have increased (although this too is also changing, but that’s another topic).

But this abundance comes at the cost of something that we humans have been taking for granted since the industrial revolution. Something that is so fundamental to our health and wellbeing that not getting enough of it can be disastrous to ourselves and those around us.

Power Napper
Photo by @readart via Twenty20

Devalued

Sleeps importance has been downplayed for a while now. Popular culture praises those that are willing to sacrifice their sleep in order to make it to the top.

Do a search in your favourite search engine to find “famous people who claim that they only sleep for four hours or less” to find endless results of people that “…all have one thing in common. They sleep less and are all successful in life.”, (an actual quote from one of the results I got back)!

The countless lists of CEOs of the biggest corporations that appear to devalue sleep is also reflected in books and articles detailing how they got to the top with little to no sleep.

Even CEOs of companies that apparently allow for their staff to be able to take a nap at work, don’t do that themselves.

 

Looking the Part

Not surprisingly those that do take a nap at work or nod off whilst working are seen as being lazy or not up to the task. Add to the fact that no one wants to be seen as the slacker, so will happily point to those that appear to be slacking off so as to look more favourable to the boss.

This attitude to tiredness is dangerous and especially so for those that operate heavy machinery or drive for long hours. In an attempt to make deadlines or quotas, people are putting their life and the lives of others at risk.

If you’re feeling tired at work or whilst studying and someone notices, you may have been offered a coffee or told to have a coffee break. Coffee, or caffeine may make you feel more alert in the short term, but you body is actually telling you that you need to stop.

Many of us feel tired in the afternoon, and that’s not just because we’ve had a big lunch. Our circadian cycle typically alerts us that we are starting to slow down and so sleepiness increases. But instead of listening to the warning we reach for a coffee or caffeinated beverages (or caffeine pills, chocolate), to perk ourselves up.

Reclaiming Ourselves

But there is an alternative; having a 10 to 20 minute nap. Instead of taking a coffee break, if possible, find somewhere quiet and take a nap. In the past I’ve used libraries, quiet coffee shops, or during the summer, a green space in a park, to take a nap.

Many researchers are now finding the benefits of a 10 to 20 minute nap may help boost productivity and possibly increase companies revenues.

“During an average work afternoon, a disproportion of the circadian alerting signal to the rising homeostatic sleep pressure occurs, resulting in increased sleepiness and reduced alertness. These factors, along with other impacted cognitive and emotional performance metrics, result in decreased productivity. There is a wealth of evidence that brief daytime naps of 10-20 minutes decrease subjective sleepiness, increase objective alertness, and improve cognitive performance. Daytime napping facilitates creative problem solving and logical reasoning, boosts the capacity for future learning, and consolidates memories. These benefits are not restricted to those experiencing sleep deprivation. Even in well-rested individuals, napping can enhance alertness, performance, and productivity for several hours. Daytime naps also allow for the regulation of emotions, relieve stress, and strengthen immune system function, reducing levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine and normalising levels of interleukin-6 an immune-regulating molecule. Taken together, allowing time to nap during the workday and reap the collective benefits will result in greater productivity and quality output rather than simply pushing through the fatigue, producing sub-standard work.”

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

Review

I know it’s difficult to take a nap during the day whilst at work or studying, but there are ways around it. Like me, you can find places outside of work to take a nap. If not, then unfortunately it will have to be your car, or book a meeting room for 15 mins and put your head down on the desk.

If you want to boost your productivity then an afternoon nap is well worth it! Napping:

  • Decreases subjective sleepiness
  • Increases objective alertness
  • Improves cognitive performance
  • Facilitates creative problem solving and logical reasoning
  • Boosts the capacity for future learning
  • And enhances productivity for several hours

Afterword

Life is not all about productivity and study. You have to look after your health. Napping is valuable and a great protector of your health:

  • Daytime naps allow for the regulation of emotions
  • Relieve stress
  • Strengthens immune system functioning
  • Reduces levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine
  • And normalises levels of interleukin-6 an immune-regulating molecule
Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Lethargy Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

So Tired You Can’t Stay Awake?

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

The V-CAF app Can Help…

A lot of people that I speak to complain about not having enough time to get things done. Work or study loads are excessive, home life is hectic and there is always something more to do.

“There just isn’t enough hours in a day to get everything done” is a common phrase around these parts. So what do we do? We lengthen the day by cramming more stuff into whatever time is left usually by staying up later and waking up earlier.

Sure in the short term it appears to work, but for many people this has become the norm, and there seems to be more people complaining about feeling tired and lethargic during the day.

Out Of It
Photo by @WR36 via Twenty20

Drowsiness

You don’t do it on purpose, but it sneaks up on you. Being so focussed on the overwhelming amount of tasks that you have to take care of, you get to work on completing what you can to the best of your ability.

More and more time is spent on doing “what needs to be done”, but you start to skip breaks. Perhaps you start eating at your desk or start increasing the amount of coffee and caffeinated sodas that you drink.

Longer hours become the norm. You have less time to switch off after finishing for the day and find it difficult to get to sleep, and when you wake up the next morning, you feel that you could sleep for another couple of hours easily.

Your days become a blur. You are becoming increasingly mentally and / or physically tired. It’s harder to think straight and your work tasks seems to be impossible to do.

 

The True Cost

Unwittingly you have been steadily increasing your sleep debt. It is difficult to notice and as a result very easy to make yourself very tired. Just loosing a couple of hours a sleep per night can have detrimental effects on your brain’s ability to accurately complete tasks and keep focussed.

The cost to your health isn’t good either. Building up a sleep deficiency over time can lead to:

  • An increase in obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • And negative affects on the quality of your life and relationships

And our collective tiredness costs the economy too.

“ Insomnia may be responsible for over $63 billion in absenteeism and presenteeism, and accidents and errors by people suffering from insomnia may result in an additional $31 billion lost annually. A recent report estimates that undiagnosed sleep apnea in the U.S. costs society $150 billion each year. The RAND Corporation has estimated that collectively, costs attributable to sleep deficiency in the U.S. exceeded $410 billion dollars in 2015, equivalent to 2.28% of gross domestic product.”

Calculating the Cost of Poor Sleep – Methodology, Nation Safety Council

Reducing the Debt

Fortunately, the fixes are relatively simple to implement, but they will take discipline to keep up so that you reap the full benefits of being alert and not feeling drowsy during the day.

  • Reduce or Avoid Caffeine
    Caffeine is a stimulant. If used correctly, it can help boost your alertness. But the problem is that it is addictive and people tend to drink too much caffeine. Too much caffeine inhibits your brain’s capability to know when you are tired, and as a result lead to a decrease in the quality of sleep that you get, which in the medium to long term will make you feel worse.
  • Get Enough Sleep and Take Naps
    Everyone is different so it’s difficult to stay exactly how much sleep you need. As a result, most health experts say between 7 to 9 hours sleep is what is needed for the typical adult.
    If possible, take a nap during the day (10-20 mins). Usually after lunch good. Taking a nap has been proven to be beneficial in helping people to concentrate.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    Schedule in breaks to give yourself time rest. The problem is that we can be so focussed on our work that we forget. Speaking for myself, I tend to get tunnel vision whilst working to the exclusion of everything else and as a result miss my breaks. But, since we created V-CAF, which I use daily, my Apple Watch and iPhone notify me as my alertness levels drop, which i then use as a signal to get up and away from my desk for a few minutes.
  • Daily Physical Activity
    A little exercise goes a long way. Just a 15 minute walk during the day helps to improve sleep quality when it’s time for bed. If possible, include exercise in your daily routine. But be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime.

Key Points

Drowsiness affects us all from time to time, but there are things that we can do to reduce it and keep it at a minimum. Try incorporating these tips into your daily routine to help you feel more alert.

  • Reduce or Avoid Caffeine
  • Get Enough Sleep and Take Naps
  • Take Regular Breaks
  • Daily Physical Activity

Afterword

Right now, we are all living through stressful times. Please take the time to look after yourself and try not to worry about what is going on out there in the world.

Focus on the things that you can control. Getting enough quality sleep alone helps to reduce bad moods and can make you feel better. Exercise can also help lift your mood and is good for your heart.

Control these things and you’ll be in a much better position to take on whatever the world throws your way.

Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Focus Insomnia Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

When Caffeine Just Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

When Too Much Becomes Too Little

It’s time to change…

During one of our insanely busy work cycles, Darren looked limp and worn down. In our daily meetings he just stared into the distance, occasionally checking his watch.

As time went on I noticed more often than not that some management types would pull him to one side and have what looked to be an intense discussion about something that they felt the need to point out to him.

Then one day Darren came over to me and asked if we could have a quick chat over a coffee. We found a quiet corner, him with a mug of joe in his hand and me with water in mine, and Darren came out bluntly and asked “How do I do it?”

When Coffee Doesnt Do It
Photo by @potochnyi via Twenty20

The Promise

Confused I responded and said something like “Do what?”. The reply I got back shocked me. “You always seem to be with it. It’s rare that I see you getting angry or upset.”.

Now I got where this was going. In the past I’d been fairly stressed out and not working at my best. I looked sleepy and some would come by my desk and tell me to wake up!

Under pressure to perform, I started drinking diet sodas with caffeine to help keep me awake. But before long, I found myself needing more sodas to just feel normal and staying alert became harder.

 

Getting Let Down

It wasn’t long before my increased caffeine consumption started to affect my sleep. Most evenings between 6 and 7 I would go from feeling lethargic to suddenly being hyper alert.

At the time I put it down to finding work boring and that because the evening wasn’t all about work my mood picked up. But as it became normal for me to be wide awake at 3am laying in bed, I knew that something was wrong.

Also, when it was time to wake up I felt like I hadn’t slept. This feeling would continue until about 10ish after I had my first diet soda of the day. But after lunch until I got back home was a struggle.

It became so bad that my manager asked if I had a sleep condition and told me to fix up as other workers were noticing that I would nod off in front of my screen.

As Darren listened to what I was saying he nodded, laughed and said that he remembered those days and in fact a manager had told him to talk to me to find out what I did to turns things around.

What Darren and I appeared to be suffering from was a bad mix of unhealthy sleep practices and a raised tolerance to caffeine. Because caffeine blocks our brain’s adenosine receptors, our body found it difficult to work out if we were tired.

Adenosine is a chemical released by our body throughout the day. As the amount of adenosine builds our tiredness increases which let’s us know that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

Caffeine blocks our brain from being able to correctly measure how tired we are and so tricks us into thinking that we are more awake than we really are. To make matters worse, caffeine can stay in our system from between 7 – 15 hours depending on our weight and age.

Because I was drinking so much caffeinated sodas throughout the day I was actively blocking my body from being able to regulate itself which in turn led to me being too awake by bedtime, but tired throughout the day.

A Better Way

I told Darren that I tried a few different approaches, but the best results came from getting more quality sleep and reducing, then removing caffeine from my diet.

  • Avoiding Caffeine
    I stopped drinking caffeine straight away, but it may be best to take it slowly and gradually reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume. This boils down to how bad your withdrawal symptoms are and what is going on in your life at the time.
  • Eating Healthily
    Eat more iron. magnesium, and protein rich foods like beans, nuts, spinach and eggs as a deficiency in any of these can make you feel drained.
  • Staying Hydrated
    Dehydration makes it difficult for you to focus and concentrate, so by being hydrated you can increase your brain’s ability to focus and concentrate whilst reducing drowsiness.
  • Knowing How Tired You Are
    A lot of people are so busy or focused on what they are doing that they don’t realise how tired they are until they make mistakes or are feeling frustrated. By being mindful of how you feel you can train yourself to recognise the tell tale signs of fatigue. Using an app like V-CAF, an Apple Watch app, you can be notified when you are tired so that you can stop and take a natural break before continuing with whatever activity you were engaged in.

Alertness Tips

Darren thanked me for my openness and went on to try some of my tips as well as what he thought would work for him.

And that’s the beauty of being human, we are all similar but unique enough to make it interesting. Darren started to change things around based on his needs and experiences.

My tips are what worked for me, but perhaps you can use them as a base to start from if you ever feel that caffeine isn’t working for you anymore.

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired

Afterword

Don’t suffer in silence, if you’re in a difficult place, reach out and ask for help. There’s no shame involved. Everybody has times when things aren’t as good as they can be.

Whether we like it or not, we are part of a community, it’s just the way it is. Help your community and they will help you.