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
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Tiredness

How to Get Going

Or How to Get Things Done

Start now, worry later

Sometimes I find it difficult to start getting things done. It is annoying, because I either know what needs to be done, or what I want to do, but just lack the enthusiasm or motivation to do it.

Then there’s the times when I get things going but seem to run out of steam. It seems to take ever increasing amounts of effort just to carry on. It feels like my batteries are running on low and nothing I tried seemed to make any difference.

Eventually I found a link between my daytime sleepiness and the amount of work that I could get done. Slowly but surely, by addressing the factors that were causing me to be tired I was able to turn things around and reduce the amount of times when I just couldn’t get started.

Lets Get Going
Photo by @betobordoy via Twenty20

The Struggle

If you’re anything like me or experienced finding it difficult to get started then you know how frustrating it can be, whether it’s a task that you don’t look forward to or something that you need to get done, but just don’t know how to start.

The more you ponder on it the harder it becomes to get it done. Your mind can be caught in a loop of thinking about starting, not knowing where to start, then choosing to start and then wondering if you’ve started in the right place or not. Followed by stopping and then starting again, and so it continues.

Do this a couple of times and then just the thought of having to think about starting starts to make you feel drained and unmotivated to continue, which of course is not going to help you finish what you haven’t fully started.

It’s at these moments that I find myself yawning and feeling tired and wanting to go to sleep. But, here’s the thing; are you feeling tired because of trying to start the task or is the task hard to start because you are tired?

The Risk

When looking over my notes from the past when I’ve been at my most productive, a common factor that kept coming up was that I felt energised and it was as if I was fully charged, so much so that I found it difficult to stop and slow down. But whenever I was struggling to work I felt more tired than usual.

Researchers have known for a long time that daytime tiredness reduces your work efficiency and accuracy and may be either an indicator or cause of other health issues.

What is already known about this topic


– Excessive daytime sleepiness is a risk factor for various physical and mental disorders.


– Excessive daytime sleepiness is associated with low productivity, various traffic and industrial accidents caused by impaired attentiveness/judgement, tiredness, and low morale.


– In addiction to having adverse effects on an individual’s health and social life, excessive daytime sleepiness is a critical social and economic problem.

Suzuki, K., Ohida, T., Kaneita, Y., Yokoyama, E., & Uchiyama, M. (2005). Daytime sleepiness, sleep habits and occupational accidents among hospital nurses. /Journal of Advanced Nursing,/ /52(4),/

I decided to note how I felt as well as the quality and quantity of the sleep I was getting during my work stints to see if there was any link between that and how difficult I found it to get my work started and finished.

Over time it became increasingly obvious to me that the periods where my sleep had been disturbed or cut short seemed to match up with the quality of my work and how easy I found it to get things done. In one instance I noted that my motivation was extremely low and coincided with a period where I didn’t get much sleep due to some personal issues.

The lack of good quality sleep can be linked to:

  • Difficulty focussing
  • Reduced motivation
  • Inhibited problem solving skills
  • Confusion
  • Bad memory
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty communicating

And may increase the risk of:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • And obesity

Steps to Take

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll start to realise that there’s a common theme here… insure that you consistently have enough quality and quantity of sleep.

I would be as bold to state that by taking your sleep, diet and exercise seriously you will greatly improve not just your productivity but quality (and in some cases quantity of life).

And when I say seriously I don’t mean stern and hard, I mean that you prioritise those areas in your life, without getting stressed and obsessive about them. Approach everything with balance.

As a result of my study and writing for this blog, here are some of the processes that I’ve found helpful in getting me over the hump of starting to get going.

  • Note the purpose of what you want to achieve
    It greatly helps to know why you are doing something. By explicitly stating what you want to achieve you help give your mind focus to getting those things done.
  • Just Do Something
    Paralysis by analysis was a common theme that was being banded around when I was at university and the best lecturers let us know that we should start the assignments as soon as we received them. Why? Well it turns out that sometimes the best way to tackle something is to just do something and see what happens. Don’t get caught up in your mind getting stuck in a loop about what, then if. The act of doing something opens up your mind to getting on with the work no matter what. Now tie this point to the one above and you’ll be doing something with purpose which in turn will help you to focus on getting things done.
  • Make sure you are well rested
    I’ve mentioned this above and say it again, good quality sleep, not just quantity. Make sure you get enough of both. If you are close to a deadline or it’s difficult to get enough rest, remember the first two points and do something with purpose and take it from there. The best thing to do is to make sure that you get to bed on time to get enough good quality rest.

Review

I’ve found that the difficulty in getting started is usually down to me being tired or run down and not realising it. Overthinking starting is also an issue for me and that alone can drain my motivation.

What has helped me in the past and now is to:

  • Explicitly state what I want to achieve
  • Start anyway, and fix things that need to be fixed once I’ve got something done
  • And to get as much quality rest as I can possibly get

Afterword

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Steve Jobs

Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying Tiredness

How to Optimise Your Breaks

Feel Better, Get Better Results

Work to your strengths…

Lately I’ve been researching techniques that would help boost my productivity levels but found that I was doing most of the things that the experts recommended.

Now I’m not saying that my productivity levels are low or that they are extremely high, but I wanted to see if there were any efficiencies that I was overlooking that would give me an above average boost compared to the cost of implementing the said efficiency.

And it turns out there was and I was using it already whilst doing this research! So as usual, I’ll outline what it is and how I managed to get that extra boost whilst incorporating it in my existing processes.

Optimize Your Breaks
Photo by @daphneemarie via Twenty20

Hit and Miss

Putting a lot more effort into what you are doing, focussing more, working long hours, these are the usual approaches that many take when trying to improve their performance and increase their output.

Caffeine pills, coffee and energy drinks for others are the “common sense” performance enhancers that have ben used for centuries and people swear by them.

Then there are the many productivity methodologies that essentially get you to plan the work that you are going to do and then systematically work through the list.

But with all these approaches after the initial jump in performance things can start to peter out and productivity can be even worse than before.

Diminishing Returns

All of the above mentioned approaches work, but all have the problem of diminishing results after a period of time, some earlier than others. So let’s identify the problems with each approach, which will then point us in the right direction towards a possible solution.

  • More Effort
    Putting in more effort in the short term can work well, like sprinting towards the finish line in the last few meters of a race. The problem with this approach is that its usually unsustainable. Continuously pushing yourself to your limits inevitably leads to you hitting a wall and becoming burnt out.
  • Stimulants
    For a quick no frills boost then caffeine is the legal stimulant champion. But like all drugs, your tolerance levels increase leading you to need higher levels of caffeine just to get to similar results of alertness as you did when you started using caffeine (and for some people I know, just to feel normal, which is due to the withdrawal symptoms, but that’s for another blog post).
  • Productivity Systems
    Work very well, but people tend to get caught up in the process rather than the actual work that needs to be done. But because you can show a list of tasks and objectives that are met for the day/week/month or cycle you can unconsciously delude yourself into thinking that you are very productive when in fact your productivity is actually based on gaming the system.

Optimisation

So now we have identified the problem, what’s the solution? It’s quite simply to take breaks at the right time. And when you take breaks at the right time whilst using the aforementioned approaches, you’ll find that suddenly things are not such a drag anymore.

Here are the same approaches modified with a few examples of using them whilst taking well timed breaks.

  • More Effort
    By taking well timed breaks throughout the day you give yourself a chance to rest and recoup a little before going back at it.
  • Stimulants
    If you find it too difficult to break the caffeine habit or want an alternative, start by not drinking any caffeine after lunch and as you feel tired throughout the day take a few more 10 min breaks. If you can get a quick nap in (no more than 20 mins), and aim to get to bed by 10pm latest (at least until your current workload isn’t so heavy).
  • Productivity Systems
    The Pomodoro technique mandates that a break should be taken every 20 to 25 minutes throughout your planned day. The problem I’ve found is that more often than not, once I start working I get into the flow and then my focus get’s broken. So I find myself ignoring the timer and continuing to work. But with a flexible timing method things get easier.

And here’s the thing, recently whilst doing some research on this very topic, I found that I when I took breaks (with 10 – 20 minute naps, where possible) when I needed them, as compared to not taking breaks or having set times for breaks, I was able to complete my work faster, with less mistakes and not feeling so drained.

Recap

But, there’s one thing I left out. I cheated. Most people don’t realise when they are tired and because of this many of us work until we become over tired, and that’s the time when people reach for a coffee, feeling miserable and fatigued.

But I however had the advantage of knowing about and using our app V-CAF to alert me when my alertness levels started dropping. I have a vested interest to say this, but it’s true, it worked!

The more I use the app the more I appreciate how my colleague and I felt when we decided to start this blog and build the app, first of all to help us with a need that we had, and then to help other people avoid some of the issues that we’d experienced around caffeine, tiredness and a lack of productivity.

Afterword

“The challenge is to continue the spread of information regarding the wealth of benefits of napping to combat the numerous physical, mental, and financial consequences of fatigue”

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. /SLEEP,/ /42(8),/
Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Are You Getting Enough?

Make Time For A Nap

The original power booster…

Tim was fed up. He’d been working long intense hours to meet his departments’ end of year deadlines. He also had been putting in extra time on his side hustle as a “gig” driver with an online company to help make ends meet.

Nothing seemed clear to him anymore. Whatever he tried to do to earn a little extra cash didn’t seem to be working. It seemed the harder he tried, the less things worked out for him.

“I just can’t think straight!”, said Tim. Each hour of each day for every week since March just seemed to blur into a weird blob of fuzzy consciousness.

Street Sleeper
Photo by @polylm via Twenty20

Deprived

The fast pace of modern life is causing an ever increasing amount of people to not get enough sleep. Pulling all nighters to complete work or study deadlines as well as worries about their financial situation is causing many to feel stressed and fatigued.

As Tim was finding, being stressed and tired makes it more difficult to think clear enough to find solutions that work, which tends to imply that people are actually making things worse for themselves without realising.

The cost of the frantic pace of modern life is less productivity, a reduction in economic activity, and ultimately your health.

The Health Risks

Tim was displaying the classic early symptoms of sleep deprivation. These include:

  • Constant yawning.
  • A likelihood to fall asleep when inactive (for example falling asleep in a meeting or nodding off whilst driving).
  • Feeling fatigued all day.
  • Irritability.
  • And poor concentration.

More advanced sleep deprivation leads to more advanced symptoms :

  • Uncontrolled bursts of sleep.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • An increased possibility of being obese.
  • Tired drivers are 5 times more likely to have a crash.

Getting Enough

Like most people, Tim knew that he needed to get more sleep. But that wasn’t the problem. He needed a plan to be able to get the sleep that was healthy for him whilst being able to work and get things done.

I gave him some of the articles that I’ve written in the past as well as some one to one advice, but the key is to find what works for you and commit yourself to stick to it.

  • Sleep
    Create a sleep timetable for yourself. Make sure that you set realistic goals, for example most people need from between 6 to 10 hours of sleep (depending on age, weight and other factors), so make sure you take all the factors of your life into account. And make sure that you plan and actually go to bed at the same time every day, and wake up at the same time too.
  • Caffeine
    Again, each person is different. I gave up caffeine completely for a few years, but now use it in passing. If you are going to consume caffeine make sure you don’t have any between 4 to 8 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 15 hours, so again experiment and see what works for you.
  • Breaks
    Where possible, take regular breaks, especially if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. During your breaks try to have at least one 10 – 20 min nap to help refocus your mind. Our Apple Watch app V-CAF, is ideal for letting you know when your alertness is decreasing so that you can optimise your work and breaks to when your body really needs them.
  • Exercise
    Establish a regular exercise routine. Exercise is good for relieving stress and helps boost the quality of your sleep in the evening. It doesn’t have to involve joining a gym. A 20 minute brisk walk is good enough to help improve your blood circulation and the benefits to your sleep are immediate.

Recap

I benefited greatly from the above tips that I’ve outlined for you above, which is why whenever I get the chance to share that information (like I did with Tim), I leap at it.

But, it’s up to you to use them as just reading about them won’t change anything.

To recap:

  • Establish a regular sleep routine and stick to it
  • Reduce or cut out caffeine consumption
  • Take regular breaks whilst working
  • Exercise daily (even if it’s a 20 minute walk)

Afterword

“Fatigue will continue to impact productivity and the number of accidents at home and in the workplace. Sleep deprivation may be the next emerging health issue for both individuals and business.”

Maher, H. (2006). Sleep Deprivation: Are You a Victim?.AAOHN journal : Official journal of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses,54(12),548-548.
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.

Categories
Anxiety Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Struggling to Stay Awake During a Long Day?

Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You

If you don’t hear, you will feel

“What!? Another unrealistic deadline? When am I supposed to rest and recover? And what about the quality of the work you’re asking us to produce?” I yelled at my team lead.

I had got to my breaking point and lost control for a brief moment. As I gathered myself together I thought of what had lead up to this point. The past month had been like being in bootcamp.

The mountain of work didn’t seem to be reducing, in fact it felt like there was more added every day. The stressful days and nights spent at my desk seemed to blur into one long day.

Now, with this last deadline, it was too much to take, I could go on no more.

Long Day, Head down on a table
Photo by @Igor_Kostyuk via Twenty20

The Long Day

The stress had taken it’s toll. I was finding it difficult to sleep at night and when I did eventually nod off, when I woke, it felt as though I hadn’t slept. This had the effect of making me feel very irritable and lethargic and made it almost impossible to concentrate whilst working.

My fellow team mates would complain about the same thing. Each of us shared with the other members of the group the strategies that they were using, but the common consensus was that coffee or caffeine was the way to go.

To some people’s amusement and surprise I said no to coffee. “Here’s the martyr!” one guy would mock. It irked me, but I carried on and tried to ignore the taunts.

They drank coffee and some took caffeine pills, whilst I drank water and took regular walking breaks (with the odd nap when I could find a quiet place to snooze, like the local library down the road).

 

Struggling to Make it Through the Day

At the start of our work marathon, those that were inclined to drink coffee seemed to be pulling away. They appeared more alert during our daily meetings and ready to do whatever our bosses told them without question.

But things started to change. I noticed that we were having a lot more discussions about why the work that had been done wasn’t good enough. At first I thought I was lucky because it wasn’t my work, but the drop in quality impacted the whole team.

Those that seemed to be doing well at first and were full of enthusiasm for the unrelenting workloads, started to complain and blame others for their work not been up to par.

Had I not had my own bad experiences of caffeine crashes over a period of time I would of put this all down to stress. But I couldn’t help but notice that some of my colleagues were displaying the symptoms of consuming too much caffeine, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • and Depression

Others complained of not being able to sleep (although this may be due to the stress of worrying about making our deadline). Unfortunately for some of them, they found themselves falling asleep at their desks (which management didn’t find very impressive). And as we got closer to the deadline, things became worse.

It was as though a good portion of our team had become possessed, and we couldn’t do anything about it!

Some Useful Options

It wasn’t long before some of our team noticed that I seemed to be unfazed by it all and they began asking questions, indirectly of course. “So why don’t you drink coffee? Is it a religious thing?”, “How do you cope? I couldn’t start the day without coffee!”

I found that I would be answering with the same points over and over again. So I printed them out and put them on my desk. When people asked or brought it up, I would point to it:

  • Avoid Caffeine
    If you find it difficult, start slowly and try reducing the amount you consume. When you feel the withdrawal, although it doesn’t feel like it, know that you are making progress and stick with it. At the end of it all you’ll feel like a completely different person.
  • 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
    Drink lot’s of water. Dehydration makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate. Being hydrated helps reduce drowsiness.
  • Know When You Are Tired And Act Accordingly
    Probably the most important point of all. Most of us don’t realise when we are tired and get frustrated when we can’t do more. Coffee (caffeine) only masks the tiredness. And it does so at the expense of your body’s ability to sleep and recover, eventually leading to you become dependent on caffeine to stay awake and then wondering why you can’t sleep when you go to bed at night; all whilst during the day thinking that something is wrong with you when you feel tired.

This is why I lost it with my team lead. There was no consideration for the long term health of our team. I knew that I was tired and couldn’t allow anyone to risk my health over an arbitrary deadline which could have been handled better with proper planning.

In Summary

Although it was a stressful time, I’m glad that we went through it. It showed me that by being consistent I was able to handle a difficult situation without having to resort to a substance to make me feel that I could make it through.

I even helped some people to at least abstain from caffeine for a while and a few said that they felt better and had better sleep then they’ve had in a long time.

And the ace in the hole was that my team lead now considers how we are coping with our current workloads, and although they are still heavy, we now plan how we can spread the load to get things done.

If you’re thinking about giving up caffeine (or want to reduce the amount you consume) then print out the following points to help remind you of what to do when the withdrawal symptoms kick in:

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired
  • Get better quality sleep

Afterword

Since that period at work, the team has their ups and downs but generally we work better together, or perhaps we have more patience and understanding when dealing with each other.

During these difficult times, I think it would be best if we each showed more patience and understanding towards other people.

A kind word or even a smile goes a long way these days.

Categories
Alert Energy Fatigue Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Tension

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness

Stay Present

Stay Relevant…

A constant annoyance of mine has been the amount of times I get distracted whilst working. It’s not that I can’t focus, but never ending interruptions via messaging, emails or people just talking to me when I’m deeply engrossed in something makes it feel like I’m not making any progress.

Currently I’m working on a project with a lot of people from across the world. Coordination between everyone has to be very tight otherwise we can loose sight of our main goal and risk failing. Me being me, I allowed myself to become sidetracked and as a result missed an important milestone.

My initial response was to blame everyone that distracted me from my project objectives, but a little while later by chance I found an article on mindfulness which helped me change my perspective.

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness
Photo by Ray Kay,, Ray Kay, @by.raykay

Unintentional Overloading

Whilst reflecting on the situation, I noticed the small things that I had been doing that led me to being distracted. Eager to get ahead and finish as quickly as I could, I hastily jumped straight into the work without first planning a proper strategy to getting the things that needed to be done, done.

This led me to start to ask others about what they thought was needed for getting things done. Whilst it’s good to talk and share ideas, it also tends to lead to a constant “back and forth” style of working, that does work, but not for every single task.

Soon I found myself with a lot of extra tasks added to my workload, some of which had very little to do with achieving our team’s goals.

Not Being Here

The extra tasks started to look like a mountain of pain and I started to focus on what I didn’t want to do rather than what was needed to be done.

Although I was engaging in meetings, email conversations and phone calls, I wasn’t really there. The nagging mountain of pain was always just at the back of my mind, calling out to me, and subtly draining my energy away from the present.

I became more restless and stressed and found it difficult to focus. The deadline was looming and I felt like I had no way of escaping. Then the desperation set in. I started working long hours to try to salvage something but found myself having to explain my actions to everyone around. They sensed that something was wrong, and I knew it too.

It seemed the harder I tried to get things done, nothing was actually done! I was stressed and it was making the situation worse.

Paying Attention

Moments like these can be draining and rob you of your self confidence, but thankfully there are measures that we can take to turn things around and regain control of first ourselves, and then the situation.

One such tool is mindfulness. I think of it as a collection of techniques and ideas that have been proven to help lessen stress and build mental resilience, especially when you’re under pressure.

Mindfulness is the act of being present in the here and now, without the need to judge or label what you are experiencing, but rather being aware of what is going on, around you and inside of yourself.

Luckily for me I had been exposed to some mindfulness techniques via one of my martial arts masters and in this case I started to put it to work as soon as I realised that I was spiralling out of control.

I stopped what I was doing and found a quiet place where I could be alone. I then sat on a chair, set a 10 minute alarm on my watch, and made myself as comfortable as possible, before closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath.

When breathing in I would “breath deep” in the sense that I would push out my belly as I inhaled until I couldn’t any more, and then exhale whilst pulling my belly in to gently push all the air out from my lungs.

Whilst doing this my mind would wonder, and when I caught myself I would bring my attention back to my breathing, without getting angry or judging it in anyway.

Because I was already in crisis mode I was reluctant to take any breaks and tried to carry on. But on one such occasion I was feeling tired and used our app, V-CAF to alert me as I grew even more tired. When the alarm rang, it reminded me to step away and take a break. Bingo, the perfect time to have a quick breathing meditation session!

For the rest of the project I made a point of using V-CAF to notify me to take breaks, which I would use as my meditation breaks. I reaped the benefits of this one change and achieved the rest of my milestones with room to spare.

The Take Aways

The simple act of bringing your attention to your breathing is the perfect exercise for training your mind on being present and aware.

Doing this and other exercises like it will help to build your focus and willpower and make you more aware of what is going on with your body and mind.

Being aware of this helps build your general awareness and therefore make you more alert to your moods and environment.

Being Mindful

It is easy to be overwhelmed by your workloads or stressful situations, but by taking a deep breath and stepping back, you can gain a clearer picture of what is really happening whilst keeping your head.

Deep breathing and other mindfulness techniques can be used to help you regain control of what may seem to be an out of control situation.

Try the breathing meditation the next time you get into a difficult situation and don’t forget to let us know how you got on by leaving a comment below.

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.