Categories
Energy Exercise Focus Productivity Staying Awake

Boost Your Productivity, Focus and Wakefulness

V-CAF watchOS/iOS/macOS

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

We’ve been a little busy over here at V-CAF. Tight deadlines, issues to fix and increasing demands have been taking their toll for the past few weeks!

Anyways, being that we espouse the virtues of working smart without having to resort to caffeine, I thought I’d share some of the techniques and processes that proved to be invaluable .

In a relatively short amount of time, we accomplished a fair amount (if I may say so myself), and I hope that you’ll find what we’ve done inspirational and more importantly, useful to you.

V-CAF Stay Awake, Stay Alert
Use the Apple Watch app with the Mac desktop app to help keep you awake, alert and focused.

Heavy Workloads

Since the new year I’ve had a ton of work that I’ve been committed to. We had decided to make some major changes to our app V-CAF, which included a new version compatible with macOS desktop and laptops.

Unfortunately at the same time we also had personal commitments that couldn’t be ignored, and would take up a great deal of our time.

My head felt like it was going to explode and at the time I had no idea how we could honour all those commitments.

Decline in Standards

A lot of people faced with tight deadlines tend to power through and force themselves to achieve their goals through thick and thin.

I’ve done this in the past, and although I met most of the goals, I knew that it wasn’t my best work, leaving me feeling flat and exhausted.

Working like this once in a while doesn’t do too much harm, but if it starts to become a regular occurrence both the quality of your work and temperament can suffer.

Quality Wins

So, how did we get through our recent busy spell? By using some of the techniques that I’ve written about in the past, and using some new combinations.

  • Planning Work Ahead of Time
    Before diving straight into the tasks, we planned the order and importance of work that needed to be done. This way we had a clear view of what work should be done and a clear indication of what work had been done so that we could visibly track our progress. Tools such as Kanban or Jira are good for tracking your progress. (both are primarily aimed at software development, but can be adapted to any project or task)
  • Breaking Down Tasks Into 20-25 min Blocks
    Instead of trying to complete everything at once, divide and conquer. Each of the major tasks were broken into smaller sub parts, which had the result of helping us to focus on one specific issue at a time. This helped us to work faster and improve quality. The Pomodoro technique worked wonderfully here – The Pomodoro Tracker — A useful tool for time management based on Pomodoro Technique.!
  • Take A Break When Tired
    It can be hard to stop when you are tired, especially when a deadline approaches. Also most people become so focussed on their work that they don’t realise how tired they are, but working whilst tired leads to an increase in the probability that the quality of your work will diminish. V-CAF, an Apple Watch app, informs you when your alertness decreases and is ideal for helping you stay alert and focused.
  • Get Enough Sleep
    This is the master key to all the other techniques. I don’t know about you, but when I have tight deadlines I tend to work longer hours and cut into my down time, which in turn cuts into my sleep time. Again, once in a while is okay, but constantly working like this for a week can really have a detrimental effect on your productivity.
    Prioritise your sleep. Make time for it and get enough good quality sleep. If you are finding it difficult to sleep (due to stress for example), then try exercising at some point during the day for 30 minutes or more. Exercise has been proven to improve the quality of your sleep almost immediately! Just make sure you don’t exercise within two hours before you plan to go to bed.

In Retrospect

These are the main techniques that I used and they worked well. Not listed are the new combinations that we tried and got very positive results from.

As an example, one of our tasks was to create V-CAF Desktop. We had built desktop applications for other platforms, but this was our first for macOS.

To help us achieve this goal we planned the tasks that would get us to our desired result, and stuck to using V-CAF the watchOS app to keep us from working whilst being overtired. In addition we added another task that was dependant on completing the desktop app which involved using V-CAF desktop to complete the video editing and sourcing tasks.

This allowed for us to test the desktop app in the real world whilst completing another of our tasks. A classic “Two birds, one stone” situation, that helped us boost both our productivity and quality.

Conclusion

Increasing your productivity, focus and wakefulness doesn’t rely on any one special secret technique, but the willingness to experiment and find what works for you.

Before you start your next deadline or goal plan which techniques you’ll try.

Finally, post your tips and the techniques in the comments so that we and other readers can try them out too!

Categories
Exercise Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

How to Stay Awake at Night

How to Survive Nightshifts

Making the best out of a difficult situation

A colleague of mine was speaking to me about doing shift work and mentioned how much he hated it.

Luckily for him he only did this once every six weeks and got paid well enough to make it worth his while. I told him to be careful with that and he replied, “I know, working like this can kill you, you know, take you out early (shorten your life)”!

My face must of been a picture, because he then quickly told me about some of the precautions that he has taken to minimise the stress and make the shift work for him.

I’ll share some of his tips for working nights as well as pointing out the effects that sleep deprivation can have on your health.

How to Stay Awake at Night
Photo by Joshua Bartell @jjbart7 on Unsplash, lighted lantern lamp, https://unsplash.com/photos/B5PGhF55FgU

Lifestyle and Work Pressures

Our modern way of living and working encourage us to stay up later or miss out on sleep during the night. Whether it be because we are working, playing, surfing the internet or whatever, we are affecting the quality of our sleep without realising it.

For many there is no choice but to have to work during the night, and some have to work during the day as well. This can lead you to feeling miserable and tortured to the point that you start to loath everything and everyone around you.

Your work begins to suffer and you find that you are trying to work harder to make up for the drop in your productivity levels. Something will have to give, but what will it be, the job or your health, or both?

Long Nights and Your Health

Humans are social by nature and the quality of our social connections can have an effect on our health. Good relations tend to make us feel better and as a result have a positive influence on our health, whereas bad relations have the opposite effect.

Working through the night can negatively impact the quality of our family and social connections which in turn has negative effects on our health.
This may be a contributing factor as to why nightshift work has been linked to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as well as cancer.

A study also found that night workers were less likely to exercise and more likely to increase their body mass index. It is an accepted fact that obesity plays a significant role in the development of various diseases such as:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Colon and breast cancer

Pepłońska, B., Burdelak, W., Krysicka, J., Bukowska, A., Marcinkiewicz, A., Sobala, W., Klimecka-Muszyńska, D., & Rybacki, M. (2014). Night shift work and modifiable lifestyle factors. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 27(5), 693-706.

Another study tested 100 student nurses before and after they worked a three month nightshift period and found that they had:

  • Less energy
  • Poorer concentration
  • Poor sleep
  • A loss of interest in their daily activities
  • Irritability
  • Become more sensitive to criticism
  • A feeling of hopelessness

Healy, P. (1996). Night shift work linked to depression. Nursing Standard, 11(15), 7-7.

When You Have No Choice

Reading the above isn’t pleasant especially if you have to work night shifts, but not all hope is lost and there are things that you can do to minimise the effects of working nights on your health.

  • Nutrition
    When talking with my colleague he mentioned that he payed very close attention to his nutrition and what he ate. No junk food, lots of fruit and veg and hardly any alcohol. He also avoided too much caffeine as it would interfere with his sleep when he finished the shift.
  • Exercise
    By keeping yourself active you help to reduce the risk of being obese which itself can increase the risk of various diseases that were mentioned in the previous section. Exercise is also a very good way to help lift your mood and make yourself feel better. My coworker makes a point of going for a walk in the forest near where he lives and sometimes he runs or cycles. No matter what type of exercise you choose, make sure it’s something that you like doing which will make it easier for you to do on a regular basis.
  • Sleep
    By working nights you are actively fighting against your body’s circadian rhythm which regulates your sleep pattern. Melatonin starts to be released by your body between 9pm and 10pm and stops around 7am. You face an uphill battle when working during these hours just to stay awake.

    To make things easier on yourself make sure that you have between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day, (that includes short naps), and sleep for 2 hours just before the start of your shift.
  • Staying Awake @ Work
    It’s difficult but can be done. Just make sure not to work too many nightshifts in a row for a long period of time if you want to reduce the risks that I’ve outlined above.

    Using a bright light or sitting in a very bright area will help increase your alertness. Break up tedious tasks with some form of physical activity (like going for a walk or stretching). Also have chat breaks with your coworkers to help stimulate your mind. Tools such as our app V-CAF can help keep you awake by notifying you when you are about to fall asleep and can be used to help remind you to get up and move around.

Remembering the Risks

Many people don’t have a choice and have to work nightshifts. Working like this for the short term minimises the health risks that you are being exposed to.

If possible, like my colleague, try to maximise the periods between working nightshifts (for example, my coworker works the night shift one week in six).

It’s your duty to be informed about the risks that working nightshifts can have on your health, and to take the appropriate actions to help minimise the adverse effects on your health. I’ve outlined some of the information that my colleague gave me and supplemented it with my own research, so please use this post as your starting point for your own research.

Make The Change

Shift work is hard. If you are on a nightshift and reading this article, I don’t want to make you feel bad. The same goes for those that work long hours and don’t get enough sleep.

Just know that it’s good for now, but when you can – make the change. In the meantime look after yourself and stay healthy.

Categories
Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Staying Awake

Is Your Caffeine Dependency Your Key to Success?

Every Cloud Has One…

Silver Linings Everywhere

A lot of people don’t realise that they have a caffeine dependency. Usually they don’t notice how caffeine influences how they feel throughout the day and how it even affects the quality of their sleep.

Realisation, when it comes, can be sudden and brutal! The blow to their self esteem can be massive and make them feel like their world has ended.

And to be blunt, it has, but not in the way that they may think.

Is Your Caffeine Dependency Your Key to Success?
Photo by Kira auf der Heide @kadh on Unsplash, Baja California, Ensenada, Mexico, woman in black and white striped top holding white ceramic mug, Cologne, Germany

Dependency

Addictions don’t happen over night, they grow on you. The substance or behaviour starts off by making you feel good. Gradually you start to crave more and more, eventually leading to bingeing bouts.

These binging bouts help form habits in the addict that eventually lead to addiction. The addict soon finds that it becomes difficult to function normally when they don’t get their fix.

Unfortunately, they find that their fix is not enough to overcome the withdrawal symptoms. Soon their sense of well being is dependent on how long they can survive until their next fix.

Lost Focus

The cruel thing about addictions is that many don’t realise that they even have an addiction, and if it’s pointed out to them they becomes defensive.

In my own case with caffeine, I thought that I was in control and could stop at any time that I wanted. People warned me and I felt that I knew best until my hands started shaking after drinking too much coffee.

For many caffeine addicts it’s all too easy to dismiss the tell tale signs of addiction and withdrawal as just down to not feeling well, or being tired.

As a test to see if you have a caffeine addiction, try giving up caffeine in all forms for three days, starting from now. If you feel you suffer from any of the listed symptoms, you may have a caffeine addiction:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Anxiousness
  • Depression
  • Inability to focus

Using the Darkness

If you feel that you might be addicted to caffeine, it’s not all doom and gloom. The fact that you are aware of it is a good sign. The next step is to figure out what to do about it , if anything.

Having an addiction of any kind may be a sign that things in your life aren’t as you would like them to be. The addiction is your subconscious ’s way of letting you know that you need to pay attention to something that you are neglecting about yourself.

There is no quick fix to an addiction and relapses are common. If you take the time to observe and learn about yourself, not only will you eventually find out what is driving you to the addiction, but you’ll also find a wealth of positive aspects about your own nature that you may have taken for granted.

Also, by continually observing and learning about yourself you’ll be in a better position to figure out the times and scenarios when your cravings are at their highest, and as such take precautions to minimise or avoid them.

Dependency Revisited

In addition to observing yourself and finding out what your caffeine addiction’s triggers are, you can also help your cause by:

  • Getting more sleep
    A good nights sleep is crucial for overcoming a caffeine addiction. Your willpower is stronger and intention is more focused after good quality sleep, which makes it easier to get over your cravings.
  • Exercising more
    When you feel lethargic, get your body moving. The act of walking helps wake you up, which is what many people say they drink coffee and tea for.
  • Using alternatives to caffeine to help keep you awake
    A rising trend is to drink herbal teas and fruit juices as a tasty alternative to drinking caffeine. The idea is to drink the alternatives when you feel the craving for a coffee or tea coming on.
    Our take on the problem is to use V-CAF, our Apple Watch app. It works by letting you know when you are tired so that you can take a break from whatever you are doing and wake yourself up.

What’s Next

Reading this article was the easy part. Now the true test of inner strength begins.

Use the points and tips in this article to help you beat your caffeine addiction, but also use your addiction as a catalyst for change for the better.

Good Luck and Stay Strong

Categories
Staying Awake Tiredness

Staying on Top of Life

Staying on Top of Life

Keep your head up and stand tall

There is so much focus on productivity and organization that often the fundamental issues that impair both can be overlooked. Tiredness is difficult to quantify and varies from person to person and situation.  A myriad of factors can lead even the best intentions to spiral. These factors can include, illness, stress, nutrition, depth of sleep and even dehydration.

Staying On Top Of Life
Photo by Joshua Newton @joshuanewton on Unsplash, Top of The Rock, New York, United States, Bright New York skyline

Invariably, we all have different demands in our lives that we try to prioritize. Living in a social media driven society means we can have unrealistic views of progress and success. One of the keys to success is to have a defined goal with clear objectives that gives scope for practice, experience & mistakes to build into progress. Unfortunately all your efforts can be hampered by not knowing how tired you are. It may sound incredulous but knowing you are tired is not enough. If we take the example of the battery, it should be clear. A device functions at maximum capacity but when the batteries are low, the speed at which the device functions is altered. It may operate slowly or turn on and off before it stops completely.

Two benefits are presented to you by knowing how tired you actually are. Firstly, the observation of your pattern of peak alertness and the duration until you begin to succumb to your circadian rhythm, will show you the hiatus that is your window of productivity. Secondly, by having this information you can organize schedules to maximize this time span. This information has advantages also for those in your group or team, whom you perhaps manage. Better communication strengthens relationships and saves time. The possibilities for increased clarity, focus and energy can lead to heightened experiences of even the perceivably mundane.

You are well aware of some of the most espoused steps necessary to move away from feeling tired all the time. However it is important to realize that a combination of these steps will be the most effective. Hydration is perhaps one of the factors that can fall under the radar as we can often misread thirst as hunger. If you are consuming any beverage that contains caffeine or alcohol, it is important to balance this with water as caffeine and alcohol dehydrate. This is further increased when consuming these drinks on a flight.

Getting six to eight hours sleep per night is a mission but it is a worthy goal to strive for as there is no way to catch up on sleep at the weekend. Our bodies are in a constant state of flux and will not wait to build & repair. Each time you lose sleep, compromises will be made on the mind and body. Instead of getting to eleven at night before you feel you can have some down time. Try to shift whatever you can by increments of half an hour until you have allocated the time you need to relax before bed during the week. There are a myriad of apps to help with schedules and using V-CAF will help you see the best times of the day for you. Of course there is no need to be rigid. This is about finding out what works for you. With consistent effort and patience, you’ll begin to feel less over-whelmed and make the most of your energy & time.

Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Focus Irritability Productivity Side Effects Staying Awake Tiredness

Stay Awake pills, are they worth the risk?

Stay Awake pills, are they worth the risk?

Nothing ventured…

In the past when I had a lot of work to get finished, a tight deadline, or studying for exams I would use caffeine to help me focus and stay awake.

I started to be concerned when I found that I needed more caffeine just to stay awake and focused, until eventually I got the jitters!

After doing some research I decided to stop taking caffeine and in particular caffeine pills.

In this article I’ll be sharing some of the things that I found out about caffeine and why I think taking caffeine pills to stay awake and study or work wasn’t worth the risk.

Working Through Tiredness
Photo by Carl Raw @carltraw on Unsplash, Southport, United Kingdom, Take a photo of your arcade, play around with the lighting in Lightroom. It’s fun.

Ease of Access

It’s never been easier to get a quick energy boost when you need it. Plenty of snacks contain caffeine and and are within easy reach via vending machines in schools, offices and train stations.

Due to caffeine’s pervasiveness in foods and drinks, many don’t realise how much caffeine they consume in a day.

Caffeine pills promise an instant energy boost packed into an easily consumed pill. A couple of pills will keep you alert and focussed. A single pill can contain as much caffeine as two cups of coffee (200 mg).

Great, so what? The FDA recommends four or five cups of coffee per day for healthy adults (depending on body weight, medications and individual sensitivity), which works out to be approximately 400 mg of caffeine. Consume just one pill and you are already at half your limit for the day.

And those that do use caffeine pills quite frequently consume more than one or two pills, especially if they have a heavy work or study load.

Diminishing Returns

When you’re in it, it’s difficult to realise that your caffeine consumption is raising your tolerance to the stuff.

I started taking more caffeine pills than the recommended dosage and felt more drained and irritable. I remember blaming it on the fact that I had so much to do and not enough time to get it done.

A good friend of mine told me that it might be best if I slowed down, and would drop hints about the effects that caffeine was having on me.

Looking back I can see it clear as day. I was consuming too much caffeine which was making me feel crap.

Classic symptoms of consuming too much caffeine include:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Palpitations
  • Tremors
  • And sleep disturbances

And then there’s the withdrawal symptoms. A lot of people don’t believe that caffeine is addictive whilst being addicted themselves (I was one of those).

When I first tried to stop I felt the same as when I was increasing the amount of caffeine pills I was taking. This was because I was suffering from withdrawal and didn’t realise it!

Those of you that need a coffee or tea fix in the morning might not realise that the reason you have the craving for caffeine is because you are suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Because you weren’t drinking caffeine or popping pills in your sleep, when you wake up your mind needs the caffeine just to make you feel normal.

Here’s a list of common withdrawal symptoms, tell me if any of them sound familiar to your daily experience:

  • Nervous irritability
  • Tremors
  • Palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

The Alternatives

After I had decided to quit caffeine, my instinct was to look for a safe replacement or alternative that would give me the same awake feeling without the nasty side effects.

Through trial and error I found that the best alternative was to change my lifestyle. By making different choices I found myself gradually feeling a lot better than I ever did when using caffeine pills. I still drink and eat caffeine once in a while, but not to stay awake!

So in no particular order, here are some of the lifestyle changes that I’ve made:

  • Avoid Caffeine
    Gradually reduce your dependence on caffeine until you find yourself not craving it anymore (especially when you’re feeling tired or stressed). Be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms, but tough it out and know that in the long term you’ll pull through.
  • Eat Healthily
    Eat more iron and magnesium rich foods as a deficiency in either one can make you feel drained. For iron eat spinach and beans; for magnesium, nuts such as cashews and almonds. Eggs are good for protein and are a good source of B vitamins that help turn your food into energy. Eat fruits that are high in vitamin C, like oranges, strawberries, pineapples and kiwis, as they help body fat to be used as energy.
  • Stay Hydrated
    By drinking enough water every day, you help your brain to function more efficiently. Dehydration makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate, so by being hydrated we increase our brains ability to focus and concentrate as well as reduce drowsiness.
  • Know When You Are Tired
    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 Apple Watch app like V-CAF, 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.

Review

I made the decision a while ago to not use caffeine pills, and caffeine in general to stay awake just so I can get things done.

The risks to my medium to long term health just weren’t worth the risk for me. What about you?

If you decide you need a change, then why not try out some of the tips that we gave above:

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

Last Thoughts

Nobody knows you better than you do. Consuming caffeine has benefits as well as drawbacks. The key seems to be balance.

Everyones centre point is unique to themselves. By taking the time to find out about yourself, you eventually will have the instinct to know what works for you.

Thanks for reading.

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
Parenting Staying Awake Tiredness

Is Your Lifestyle Prepared For New Parenting?

Lifestyle changes for new parents

Baby steps…

Becoming parents for the first time is a blissful and exhilarating experience. Yet no amount of planning can stop the inevitable confusion that comes with your new bundle of joy. The days of choosing names, cots and prams and amassing miniature dungarees are now a memory. 

New parents expecting a baby
Photo by Wes Hicks @sickhews on Unsplash Baby Shoes

The Rest of Your Life

After the visits and flowers & balloons, there is no denying that you are in virgin territory – for want of a better term! This parenting thing has been done forever, so how hard can it be? Well the key word from the prior sentence is ‘forever’. 

I’m Too Tired

As much as you are in love with the new heart beat in your house, there will be moments where you slump on the sofa or almost fall asleep in the shower; and ask yourself – can I do this? Of course you can because you are already doing it!

New Possibilities

Fortunately we have a wealth of information that was not so readily available to our parents.  Grip water really isn’t the answer to everything before a child can speak to say ‘No thank you’. Instead you will find yourself on Mumsnet to see what others have to say and within hours you will have a number of tabs open that discuss clenched fists and sneezing.  

With the rapid developments & weekly milestones of your little one, life at home can seem anything but normal but this isthe new new. To adapt to the myriad of changes; physically, emotionally and mentally, make time for naps when your baby asleep.

This is not a competition of any kind and besides there are no finish lines for parents. Each step towards balance does not have to tip into chaos with acceptance that life with a new baby can be organized but doesn’t have to be controlled. Extending this view to you & your partner will take the pressure of expectation off both of you. The baby isn’t the only newbie and besides no two parenting experiences will ever be the alike. 

Help

There is a pick ‘n’ mix of information and no doubt an app for most concerns but you need to be wide awake to find them. Aside from grabbing quick naps, V-CAF is a nifty app to keep track of your most productive time of the day and give you alerts when you genuinely need to take a guilt-free break. 

In the long-term taking care of yourself is the best way to beginning the intriguing journey of being Mum & Dad.

Categories
Insomnia Staying Awake Tiredness

Insomnia – How Do I Get To Sleep?

Insomnia and Staying Awake

I want to sleep…

Like tiredness, insomnia is on the rise. An increasing number of people are getting less than six hours of sleep per night.

In America, approximately 30% of adults suffer from symptoms related to insomnia and roughly 10% of adults have insomnia that causes them distress during the day.

Whether you are suffering from short term or chronic insomnia, there are some common things that you can do to improve your quality and quantity of sleep.

Insomnia - Why can't I sleep
Photo by Ben Blennerhassett @benblenner on Unsplash

Do I Have Insomnia

Part of taking the appropriate action to combat insomnia is to be able to identify if you suffer from it.

Some of the symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep
  • Waking up frequently when you do get to sleep
  • It is rare that you get deep quality sleep and wake up still feeling tired
  • Waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep

Degrading Quality of Life

Although people suffering from insomnia can function as “normal” throughout the day even though they feel tired, they may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Reduced energy
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Some people, whilst trying to stay awake resort to consuming caffeine to stay alert and awake, not realizing that it may be compounding their lack of being able to sleep.

Small Steps

Just as there is rarely any-one cause of insomnia, there is no one cure-all to fix it. However, using a more holistic approach can yield great benefits for the sufferer.

These tips are just some of the strategies that you can use to help you overcome insomnia:

  • Avoid stimulants.
    Caffeine’s key effect is to keep us awake. Depending on our weight, age, gender and fitness it can stay in our bodies from between 3 to 8 hours. Avoid caffeine as much as possible.
  • Set a daily sleep routine. 
    Go to bed and wake up at the same times daily to train yourself that these are times for sleeping.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day.
    Easier said than done when you haven’t had a good nights sleep, especially if you are trying to avoid caffeine. V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that alerts you subtly when you are most likely to fall asleep, helping you avoid needing to drink caffeine.
  • Exercise
    Regular exercise will help you to have deeper sleep. Just don’t exercise close to the times that you set for going to bed (don’t exercise less than four hours before you go to bed).

Review

First changing your mindset and then changing your lifestyle can help you overcome insomnia in many cases.

Use the tips in this article together with any advice from your medical advisor to help structure a plan that will help you succeed.

Once again:

  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine.
  • Set a daily sleeping routine.
  • Don’t nod off during the day; use a tool like V-CAF 
  • Do regular exercise

Conclusion

Hopefully you have a better understanding of how you can start to deal with insomnia.

Stay strong and stay focused.

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.

Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Exercise Side Effects Staying Awake Tiredness

How to Stay Awake Without Caffeine

Five Tips to Staying Awake Without Caffeine

Five steps to greatness…

Need to stay awake but don’t want to use caffeine? 

In this post I’ll share 5 tips with you that will beat that tiredness slump.

Where's my coffee?
Photo by Dominik QN @dominik_qn on Unsplash

Caffeine and Staying Awake

It is tempting to just use caffeine and be done with it. It works. It keeps us awake and makes us feel more alert and focused. Plus it’s easy and widely available and everybody uses it.

Which is true up to a certain point. Caffeine doesn’t technically boost our energy and make us feel more awake. It masks our tiredness from us, giving us a temporary boost, which makes us feel less tired.

For short term fixes it’s not too bad, but it is easy to become over dependent on the effects that caffeine has on our nervous system to get us through those tired patches.

Side Effects

Drinking five or more cups of coffee daily can create a caffeine dependency. This doesn’t include sodas and foods that contain caffeine. Most people are unaware of how much caffeine they consume every day, and with caffeine finding its way into more foods, beverages, supplements and medicines, the dangers of accidental overdose are increasing.

Compounding this issue is the fact that the more caffeine you are exposed to, the greater your tolerance of it’s effects, which then leads to more caffeine having to be consumed to get the same or similar effects.

Increased caffeine consumption can cause the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate

How to Stay Awake

This list of five techniques will help you stay awake for the short term. For more long-term tips read my article on staying awake.

  1. Do something fun.
    Boredom or uninteresting tasks bring on the yawns and make you feel more tired than you need to be. Take a break, watch something funny or play a game. This will stimulate you and help reduce the feeling of tiredness.
  2. Get out in the sun or work in a bright environment. 
    Being in dark environments not only makes you feel more tired, but can make you feel depressed. If you find yourself in this situation, going out in the sun or having bright lights on inside will help reduce the production of melatonin, and keep you awake a bit longer. 
  3. Take regular breaks. 
    People are usually pretty bad at working out how tired they are. Long work stretches without breaks decrease performance as you become more tired. Using a tiredness monitor such as V-CAF will help notify you when you are tired so that you can take a natural break without your productivity decreasing.
  4. Plan your most difficult tasks to start around 10am. 
    Assuming that you get to bed by 10pm and wake up at 7am, your peak concentration time will be around 10am. This due to your body’s melatonin production naturally reducing.
  5. Eat and drink well. 
    Fueling your body with non processed whole foods and drinking lots of water will enable you to concentrate better due to your blood sugar levels being kept even without high and low spikes throughout the day.

Review

Some long-term caffeine users find it difficult to believe that anyone can make it through the day without caffeine.

I think the real reason is that when faced with the choice between withdrawal or quick fix, the fix wins.

Anyways, here are my short-term tips to staying awake without caffeine:

  • Do something fun
  • Go outdoors into the sun or be somewhere bright.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Eat and drink well.

Last Point

I left out one more tip, but I think it’s central to all the others. 

Be motivated. Without motivation it becomes difficult to succeed using any of the tips that I presented above.

If you really want to stay awake without caffeine, be motivated in the steps you choose to make that your reality.