Do you find yourself dozing off at your desk, even after what you thought was a good night’s rest? Then you probably have the same question as so many others: How much do I need to sleep? The answer of how many hours you need is not so straightforward, said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine in the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.Sleep needs are very individualized, he said, but the general recommendation — the “sweet spot” — is to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Recommendations really change as people age, however.”Sleep needs vary over the lifespan,” said Christina Chick, a postdoctoral scholar in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.
CDC’s sleep guideline
Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep a night, but 1 in 3 of them don’t, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Poor sleep has been associated with long-term health consequences, such as higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and dementia. In the short term, even one day of sleep loss can harm your well-being, according to a recent study. People who get poor sleep might also be predisposed to conditions such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder, Dasgupta said.”There are chronic consequences, and there are acute consequences, which is why sleep is more than just saying, ‘The early bird gets the worm,'” he said. “It’s much more than that.”
Sleep for kids and teens
If it feels like babies are sleeping all day, they pretty much are. In the first year of life, babies can sleep 17 to 20 hours a day, Dasgupta said. Infants 4 months to 12 months need their 12 to 16 hours of sleep, including naps, according to Chick. Toddlers, who are between the ages of 1 and 3, should get 11 to 14 hours of sleep, according to Dr. Bhanu Kolla, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic with a special interest in sleep. Children ages 3 to 5 should sleep for 10 to 13 hours, he added, and from ages 6 to 12, they should sleep nine to 12 hours. For kids up to age 5, these sleep recommendations include naps, Chick said. Teenagers should get eight to 10 hours of sleep, Kolla said. This recommendation has sparked a debate in recent years about start times for school.
“As children move toward adolescence, they naturally prefer to go to sleep later and wake up later,” Chick said. “This is why school start times are such an important focus of debate: If you can’t fall asleep until later, but your school start time remains the same, you’re going to get less sleep.” The quantity of sleep is important, but so is the quality of it, Dasgupta added. Getting deeper sleep and hitting the rapid eye movement (REM) stage helps with cognition, memory and productivity throughout the day. REM is the sleep stage where memories are consolidated and stored. It also allows us to dream vividly. People can sometimes get the right quantity of sleep but still feel fatigued, and this might mean they aren’t reaching these sleep stages.
Sleep for college students and adults
The stereotypical image of the college student usually includes messy hair, undereye bags, and a coffee or energy drink in hand. It doesn’t matter if they stay up all night partying or cramming for an exam — both result in sleep deprivation. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s almost like a rite of passage in a college student to pull the perennial all-nighter even though we know that’s not what you’re supposed to do,” Dasgupta said. He and Kolla concur that seven to nine hours of sleep is best for adults, though Kolla added that older adults may be better at coping with some sleep deprivation.
As an exception, young adults may need nine or more hours on a regular basis because their brains are still developing, Chick said, and adults of any age may also need nine or more hours when recovering from an injury, illness or sleep debt. There are also “natural variants,” Kolla said, referring to some people who require more than 10 hours of sleep and others who get less than four and function normally. If you’re wondering whether it matters if you’re an early bird or night owl, Chick said it depends on “whether your lifestyle is compatible” with your preference. “If you are a night owl, but your job requires you to be in the office at 7 am, this misalignment is less than ideal for your physical and mental health,” she wrote in an email. “But it would be equally problematic for a morning person who works the night shift.”
How to improve your sleep
Are you not getting enough sleep? Here are a few ways to solve that:
1. Stick to a bedtime routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. You can even keep a journal to log these sleep times and how often you wake up at night, Dasgupta said, so you can have an idea of what works for you. You should also make sure your room is dark, cool and comfortable when you go to sleep.
2. Turn off the electronic devices. Do this as early as possible before bed, Chick added, as light exposure can affect your body’s sleep-wake cycle. “Particularly if you are aiming to fall asleep earlier, it’s important to expose yourself to bright natural light as early as possible in the day, and to limit exposure to light in the hours before bedtime,” she said. “Electronic devices mimic many of the wavelengths in sunlight that cue your body to stay awake.”
3. Try mindfulness techniques. Breathing exercises, meditation and yoga can also support sleep, Chick added. Her recent study showed that mindfulness training helped children sleep over an hour more per night.
4. Set good food and exercise habits. Finally, eating healthy and keeping a daily fitness regimen can support better sleep at night, Dasgupta said. “Always try to be consistent with exercise during the day,” he said. “Exercise relieves stress, it helps build up your drive to sleep at night, so there’s many good things there.”
Sleep deprivation has been linked to hypertension, obesity and diabetes and has long been suspected of having a connection to dementia. Now, a large new study has more clearly established that association by concluding that people who sleep less than six hours a night in midlife have a greater risk of developing late-onset dementia.
That doesn’t mean middle-aged short sleepers should panic, according to experts. Although the study is an important step forward, much about the connection between sleep and dementia remains unknown, they said. Still, it can’t hurt to work on your sleep habits while research continues, and you’ll find some strategies listed below.
In the study, European researchers followed nearly 8,000 people in Britain for 25 years, starting when subjects were 50. They found that those who consistently got six hours of sleep or less per night in their 50s and 60s were about 30 percent more likely to develop dementia later in life, compared to those who logged seven hours of sleep per night. That was independent of “sociodemographic, behavioural, cardiometabolic, and mental health factors,” the study authors wrote. Findings were published in the journal Nature Communications in late April.
“This is just another example of the importance of appropriate sleep for brain health,” said Michael V. Vitiello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington at Seattle and member of the SleepFoundation.org medical advisory board, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s really important for people to be conscious of making sure that they sleep well. It’s not trivial, and it shouldn’t be the last thing you think about. It shouldn’t be the thing you sacrifice.”
Lack of sleep might increase dementia risk by impairing learning and memory development, said study author Andrew Sommerlad, an old-age psychiatrist at University College London, or it could affect the brain’s ability to clear harmful protein waste products.
Researchers have spent years trying to understand the sleep-dementia connection, a quest that becomes more urgent as the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease balloons. More than 6 million Americans are living with the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and by 2050, that number is expected to reach nearly 13 million. Yet, it’s a difficult area in which to draw conclusions.
Earlier this year, Charles Czeisler, chief of the sleep and circadian disorders division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, co-authored a similar study that found that adults age 65 and older who got five hours or less of sleep per night had double the risk of dementia than those who clocked seven or eight hours per night. Results were published in the journal Aging.
“At this point, it’s too early to say that behavior X leads to Y,” Czeisler said. “But the association certainly reveals the importance of continuing to study the relationship.”
One of the challenges to studying the link between sleep and cognitive decline is that it’s difficult to determine what happens first: Is too little sleep a symptom of the brain changes that often begin decades before cognitive problems appear? Or does it cause those changes? So far, that’s still unclear, said Claire Sexton, director of scientific programs and outreach with the Alzheimer’s Association.
“There’s mounting evidence pointing toward the relationship between sleep and dementia,” she said. “But there are a lot of unanswered questions. There’s no one factor that would guarantee someone will develop dementia, and there’s no one factor that will guarantee someone won’t.”
Vitiello lauded the new study’s lengthy follow-up period and examination of people in their 50s (most similar research focuses on those 65 and older). But he emphasized that the findings estimate increased risk for the entire population, not for any one individual. “These are predictions,” he said. “On average, if you have this kind of disturbed sleep, your odds go up this percentage. It doesn’t mean that just because you’re a 55-year-old sleeping under six hours a night, you’re guaranteed to have an increased Alzheimer’s risk of 30 percent.”
Exactly why someone is a short sleeper — for example, if they have insomnia, hold multiple jobs that require odd hours or naturally need less sleep — likely plays a role in their unique risk, he added. The study didn’t account for those factors.
Study author Séverine Sabia, an epidemiologist at Inserm, the French public-health research center, acknowledged that her team’s findings only indicate an association between short sleep duration and dementia — not causation.
“Dementia is a multifactorial disease, which means that several factors are likely to influence its onset,” she said, including physical inactivity, smoking and social isolation. “Sleep duration is one of them, but even if a person has poor sleep, there are other important prevention measures.”
So, the takeaway for those with subpar snooze times? “No reason to panic,” Sabia said — pointing out that doing so might actually “worsen sleep quality,” but it’s a smart idea to work on getting better, and longer, sleep. Here are some strategies:
Be consistent. It’s best to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day on weekdays and weekends. Most importantly, “maintain your rise time, because that will partially set your going-to-bed time,” Vitiello said. He noted that there’s no need to force yourself into bed early, even if you have a special event the next day: “Biologically, your body is designed to sleep a certain amount, and if you extend your bedtime, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to fill it with sleep.” You’ll likely toss and turn, wide-awake.
Make changes slowly. Like anything else, it can help to ease into healthy new habits. Jumping straight from, say, four hours of sleep a night to seven will be difficult for many people, Czeisler said. He recommends steadily increasing your sleep schedule by 15 or 20 minutes in the night and/or morning.
Develop a pre-sleep routine. Think of this as a ritual that helps you ease out of the day’s havoc and into a calm, sleep-inducing state. “You don’t want to just go directly from the evening news, and being depressed and anxious about it, to the bedroom,” Vitiello said. Different people will migrate toward different transitions — a book-lover might read, for example, though he recommends avoiding dramatic novels that could interfere with the ability to fall asleep. Others might take a warm bath or meditate.
Optimize your bedroom. Vitiello is based in Seattle — a high-latitude city that will soon experience light from around 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. So, if he were light sensitive, he’d install blackout curtains. Setting yourself up for optimal sleep also includes adjusting the room temperature to your liking, perhaps installing a white-noise machine and making your bed extra comfortable.
Cut back on artificial light. There are lots of tools that can help protect against exposure to blue light, which streams out of devices such as smartphones and computers and can disrupt sleep patterns. Various apps help to block blue light, and you can also dim the brightness on your phone.
Be mindful of lifestyle habits. Sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle, Vitiello said, along with following a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and paying attention to alcohol use. Alcohol might help you fall asleep more quickly, he said, but it can lead to a lower quality of snoozing. “I’m not saying you can’t drink a glass of wine before bed as part of your wind-down ritual, but if you feel your sleep is rocky in the second half of the night when you do that, then it’s not a good thing,” he said.
Prioritize it. Being aware of the importance of good sleep is often the most crucial factor to improving it — the key is not “being passive,” Vitiello said. And if you find you’re struggling to improve your slumber, or you don’t feel rested during the day? Talk to your doctor or set up an appointment at a sleep center. “Most sleep problems have a solution,” Vitiello said. “Not everything can be cured, but everybody with a problem can be helped.”
Digital fatigue – referring to mental exhaustion from overuse of digital technologies – is by no means a new phenomenon. However, over the past year, it has become an overwhelming contributing factor in poor mental health and wellbeing in employees.
Since the start of the pandemic, screen time has increased dramatically as employees have joined endless Zoom meetings and felt pressure to work harder than ever before while remote. But outside of work, employees are also having to use devices to check the news, connect with loved-ones, and even to relax and unwind.
Another contributing factor in the current environment is the fact that employees are reluctant to take time off, and instead holding onto their leave in the hope of using it once lockdowns are lifted. The irony is that time off is even more crucial during these anxious times
This digital fatigue has coincided with unprecedented challenges from the pandemic, and major political uncertainty and social justice movements across the world. Employees are emotionally drained and at least 55% have reported dreading another day on the job. Businesses cannot afford to ignore this problem.
There is a variety of ways to tackle the issue, some may involve the following:
Enforcing a temporary camera-off policy
The happiness-index of walking meetings
Baked in screen breaks to calendars
The imperative for variety
What kind of impact is winter in lockdown having on digital fatigue?
There is no doubt that lockdown in winter is very different to the lockdown we experienced in summer and is contributing to an increase in digital fatigue.
In the summer months, we were more likely to step away from our screens to enjoy the longer days and brighter weather. However, there was also a big psychological difference in that the pandemic was new, and we were hopeful there would be a rapid return to normal.
In the current lockdown, employees are spending more hours looking at screens due to the dark, cold weather outside. The roll-out of the vaccine programme has given some optimism, but it is arguably resulting in increased screen time as people check for updates.
The problem we have is that companies have been slow to move off a crisis-footing and adjust processes to actually support employees in what has become their new reality.
What can businesses to do to reduce digital fatigue and support employees?
Businesses need to find ways to help employees break the monotony of being in front of a computer all day and there are a number of options they could explore.
One of the biggest factors behind digital fatigue is the amount of time employees are spending on video conferencing calls. We are seeing some companies trying to tackle this by having audio-only meetings on certain days, meaning employees don’t need to be staring at a screen. This tactic can be effective when combined with encouragement to go for a walk or do another activity such as yoga or cooking.
Another contributing factor in the current environment is the fact that employees are reluctant to take time off, and instead holding onto their leave in the hope of using it once lockdowns are lifted. The irony is that time off is even more crucial during these anxious times. Businesses should encourage employees to use holiday, or even think about rolling-out blanket mental health days.
Employees are also suffering from the pressure to appear always-on while working remotely. Leaders should actively encourage flexibility in the hours people work, giving clear permission for employees to take longer lunch breaks or finish early when they need to.
Driving productivity and maintaining wellbeing is not a zero-sum game. By encouraging flexibility, time off and respect of mental health, businesses can energise employees and better equip them to perform in these challenging times.
Do financial traders make better returns in the stock market when they are well rested? You would intuitively assume that a trader’s level of sleep would affect their decision making.
Several studies have certainly shown that sleep affects the ability of people to make decisions in general. Though admittedly based on small samples of participants, these studies show that those who are short on sleep tend to have relatively low attention to detail, poor memory, poor performance and significant mood swings.
But when it comes to whether sleep affects financial decisions, the evidence has been mixed. The only measure of sleepiness that has been used is the annual clock changes for daylight saving that take place in many countries, since they disturb many people’s sleep. A few studies have used this to look at how stock market returns are affected on the Mondays directly after the clocks go back or forward by an hour.
One such study in 2000 concluded that returns were relatively low when traders lacked sleep, and suggested that the lack of sleep might make them more risk-averse because they were anxious and struggling to concentrate. But later studies, such as this one from 2002, suggested that the correlation between sleep and cautious investing might not be as strong empirically as initially thought.
Daylight-saving time changes have the advantage that we all have to adjust them, but they are far from an ideal proxy for sleep since they only occur twice a year, and the impact on people’s sleep is relatively small since the clock only changes by an hour. This might explain why the research evidence has been mixed in this area.
To try and improve our understanding in this area, I undertook a pilot study of a fund manager in England, analysing his investment transactions in the context of sleep data that he recorded in a diary.
I found that his sleep patterns did indeed influence his investment decisions. In line with the theory from the 2000 study, the fund manager made fewer transactions when he was short on sleep.
To see whether there was a wider correlation, I sought to develop a new proxy for sleep. We know that around 80% of people search for information online about their health issues, and there is no reason to believe that investors behave any differently. I also knew that Google data has been used by researchers to measure investor attention to individual stocks.
I therefore created a sleepiness index based on the extent to which people in the US were searching Google for 28 relevant terms including “sleep deprivation”, “sleeping pills” and “jet lag cure”. Some of these terms came from allowing the Google algorithm to offer up potential sleepiness terms based on suggested autocompletes.
The more that people searched for things to do with sleepiness, the greater the indication of sleep difficulties. Unlike the time changes from daylight saving, my index has the advantage of being based on daily data, and can measure a much wider range of sleepiness. To test its validity, I checked the index against times that we would normally associate with sleepiness, including daylight-saving time changes and also sunrises and sunsets. Sure enough, sleepiness-related Google searches increase at these times.
The index confirmed that stock-market returns are indeed quite low on days that traders are short on sleep. For every 1% daily increase in sleep difficulties across the population, stock-market returns fell by 0.14%. I also found that these patterns reversed on subsequent days, which may mean that traders realise that their initial decisions were poor and take steps to correct them.
What next from a research point of view? Researchers could potentially use the data from sleep apps to get more accurate measures of the relationship between stock market returns and the population’s sleepiness over time. No doubt the better we understand this, the more that traders will be able to use it to their advantage.
My work is another example of how online search data can shed new light on old research subjects. There are surely lots of other ways in which the academic community can use it to understand other factors that influence our decisions.
The World According to Michael Coorlim player.captivate.fm – Today[…] You know when you start feeling sleep deprived, how the world doesn’t feel real anymore? But then we figured out the cost to actually produce th […]N/A
Sleep Hygiene ipccontent.advisorstream.com – Today[…] in order to get more things done or to rely on a cup (or more) of coffee to keep you going when sleep deprived […]0
A year of the pandemic in your words – the examined family courtney.substack.com – March 12[…] I have felt a deep darkness I have only experienced once before in my life, when chronically sleep deprived after my second child was born and wouldn’t sleep through the night for a year and a half […]2
J.K. – Identity Crisis – Track by Track 1883magazine.com – March 12[…] I actually initiated the writing of this song when I was extremely sleep deprived, and I almost forgot (while compiling the track list) that I wrote it […]0
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For many people, working from home, or ‘WFH’, has also come to mean ‘WFB’ – working from bed. Getting dressed and commuting to an office has been replaced by splashing water on your face and cracking open a computer as you settle back under your blanket.
But WFB isn’t just for lack of a proper chair – many simply love the cosiness and ease of the set-up. On Instagram, the #WorkFromBed hashtag pulls up thousands of photos, many of them featuring smiling people snuggled up in their pyjamas with cups of coffee, maybe even breakfast on a tray.
But the reality is that turning your bed into your office can trigger a slew of health problems, both psychological and physical. And even if you don’t notice them now, adverse effects – possibly permanent – could emerge later on in life.
Studying and doing homework from bed is bad, too, and working on a bed while lying on your stomach can be especially bad for your body (Credit: Alamy)
It’s important to acknowledge that working from home is a privilege that isn’t afforded to hundreds of millions of people. Plus, for some remote workers, space for a full workstation just isn’t available, meaning working from bed may be their only choice.
Young people are particularly likely to fall victim to these bad habits, because they may not feel the strain of them right away
But experts say that regardless of whether working from bed is avoidable or not, the ergonomic advice is the same: it’s not good for your body, so it’s very important to vary your posture and support different parts of your body wherever possible.
Your neck, back, hips and more are all strained when you’re on a soft surface that encourages you to slump or sprawl. “None of it is optimal,” says Susan Hallbeck, director of health-care-system engineering at the Mayo Clinic, one of the largest medical research institutions in the US. “You’re really not supported in a way that’s conducive to work.”
Young people, she points out, are particularly likely to fall victim to these bad habits, because they may not feel the strain of them right away. But the pain will flare up down the road. And depending on how bad your habits have been over this last year, the damage may already be done. It depends on the person, but it may be too late to undo the ergonomic problems you’ll face when you get older.
These ailments could include simple headaches, and could also extend to permanent stiffness in your back, arthritis and what’s known as cervical pain – that’s pain in the bones, ligaments and muscles in your neck that allow motion. “Anything is better than continuing the bad habit. Whenever you can stop, stop,” says Hallbeck.
If you must continue working from bed (“there are grades of bad,” says Hallbeck), try recreating the experience of sitting in an upright chair as much as you can, and aim for “neutral posture” – that is, avoid putting strain on any one part of your body.
Roll up a pillow and stick it under your lower back for lumbar support, put pillows under your knees, try to separate the display from your keyboard (if you’re able) and put the display at eye level or higher. Whatever you do, avoid lying on your stomach to type; it really strains your neck and elbows.
When in doubt, get creative, like using an ironing board as a makeshift standing desk. But if you possibly can, it’s worth splashing out on some comfort. “If you’re going to be working from home for a long time” – and most experts predict that we will – “it really does pay to invest in a good workstation, even if it’s a very small workstation,” adds Hallbeck.
Breaking your brain
When you work from bed for a year, it doesn’t just potentially wreck your body. It’s possibly bad for your productivity and sleep habits, too.
“As sleep specialists, we tend to recommend that the bed should be for the three Ss: sleeping, for sex or for when you’re sick. That’s it,” says Rachel Salas, associate professor of neurology and sleep expert at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
“The more you watch TV in bed, play video games in bed and not sleep in bed, your brain starts learning, ‘oh, OK, we can do any one of these activities in bed’. It starts building these associations, which eventually evolve into conditioned behaviours.”
Not only does working from your bed spell potential ergonomic disaster, but it can rewire your brain to disassociate your bed with sleep (Credit: Alamy)
This is what experts call ‘sleep hygiene’ – essentially, best practice as it relates to being in bed. Putting on your pyjamas at night is good sleep hygiene because it tells your body it’s time to start shutting down. Doomscrolling or sending emails in bed is bad sleep hygiene.
So, when you set up shop in bed with your laptop, phone, Slack and all the glowing screens your job requires every day, your brain and body eventually stop associating bed with rest. That’s a big reason why the pandemic has led to ‘coronasomnia’, says Salas, referring to the global spike in insomnia and sleep disorders that has accompanied Covid-19.
“You’re really training your brain to be alert, and [telling it] this is where your ideas come and this is where it’s full work mode” when you WFB, adds Salas. “When you’re trying to wind down and go to sleep, your brain is like – ‘wait a minute, what are we doing? This is work time’.”
Doing this for a year, or any extended period of time, could lead to insomnia, or to something called circadian rhythm disorder. That’s when our bodies’ natural clocks, that tell us when it’s time to sleep, get thrown out of whack in the long term. Salas says it can also aggravate non-sleep-related issues you may have, like restless leg syndrome, in which case the affected body parts need rest to avoid the symptoms associated with the condition.
The most pernicious issue, however, is that all those potential problems may show up in some WFB workers, but not in others.
“Some people will swear that it’s not an issue for them: they can work in bed, they can sleep in bed,” says Salas. “They can do whatever they want in bed and it doesn’t negatively affect their sleep.”
Genetics, environmental factors, how bad the habits are and how long you do them, your age: all of these play a role in whether working from bed for a year or longer is actually going to be bad for you. “It’s not a dose-response relationship,” says Hallbeck.
And although working from bed may not necessarily be something you can change – or want to change – it’s important to keep in mind that your body and brain may not feel the fallout at the moment. But they could, someday. “They won’t feel it right now,” says Hallbeck, especially of younger workers who WFB. “But as they age, it will pop up.”
It may feel like one more thing to worry about in the Covid-19 era. But if this period has taught us anything, it’s that, as far as health goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. “If you don’t have any of the negative effects, great,”says Salas. “But that might not always be the case.”
[…] ” – Mistake 2: Working from bed Ideally you shouldn’t work in your bedroom (Joe Giddens/PA) If you don’t have the luxury of […] a separate office space at home, you might set up in your bedroom – or even fall into the trap of working from bed […]
[…] ” Mistake 2: Working from bed If you don’t have the luxury of a separate office space at home, you might set up in your bedroom – […] a separate office space at home, you might set up in your bedroom – or even fall into the trap of working from bed […]
[…] still WFH (that’s working from home, just in case you’re not a fan of acronyms!) – or even WFB (working from bed) you’re probably pretty expert by now, right? Can you believe that it’s heading towards a year no […]
[…] But working from bed has its pros, too […] Quigley, accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, has also linked working from bed to lower anxiety […] Snigdha Bansal has documented her experience working from bed for a week […]
[…] Happy New Year! Unable to function normally, I spent nearly two weeks working from bed — thank god for remote work, and thank god for a husband willing to do all of the chores […] Another two weeks of working from bed […]
[…] I read the New York Times article “Working from Bed is Actually Great” in an attempt to reignite my appreciation for the cozy workspace […] Taylor Lorenz, “Working from Bed Is Actually Great,” The New York Times (The New York Times, December 31, 2020), https://www […]
[…] online news publication The Guardian puts it quite simply, “Working in your pajamas is a lot like working from bed (and the two often go together): it seems like such a great idea when you start, but you realis […]
We’ve all sat through weary-eyed, leg-cramping power sessions at our desk, chasing a deadline, or busy dealing with endless tasks, emails, and meetings (now zoom meetings) back to back.
If you are one of the millions moving to working remotely in 2021, you are probably working longer hours, putting in more continual desk time, and without the daily commute, more sedentary than ever.
In a recent report released from the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers discovered that workers are working close to an hour more per day during lockdowns than they were before the pandemic.
So, how do we navigate the new normal and restore our productivity, focus, and well-being?
The secret is to take regular breaks at work.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” ― Anne Lamott
If you listen to the experts, breaks are essentially little “interventions” that help us gracefully and productively manage the daily grind with rationale and perspective intact.
This complete guide covers all the nitty-gritty about taking breaks at work.
You will learn the importance of taking breaks, how to take effective breaks, what to do on your daily breaks to truly relax and boost your productivity, and a step-by-step guide on how to design a system so that you can easily make breaks a regular part of your routine and stick to it.
Sounds good?Let’s dive in.
Yes, it’s tempting to just want to “power through” one more hour of work. You don’t want to take breaks because you think you can get more done. But did you?
One day you started realizing that your neck, wrist, and back are hurting, despite being an otherwise health-conscious, active lifestyle advocate.
Whether you’re an employee or project stakeholder, hours spent sitting at a desk and staring at a screen puts a strain on your productivity and health.
Take a look.
Our Bodies Suffer
There is a lot of pressure to sit in the office – it’s how you get your work done.
Now that you are probably spending more days working at home, where you don’t need to get up and walk around to talk to people. You are not walking to meetings, you don’t even need to commute.
You are more exposed to the danger of sitting too much.
Researchers have linked sitting for prolonged periods of time to a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems.
Toni Yancey, a professor of health services at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, describes the process: “Sitting shuts down electrical activity in the legs. It makes the body less sensitive to insulin, causes calorie-burning to plummet, and slows the breakdown of dangerous blood fats, lowering ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.”
What’s noteworthy is that:
A recent science advisory from the American Heart Association has shown that going to the gym, running, or your favorite fitness class, doesn’t cancel out the negative impact of time spent being sedentary.
Radical as it might sound, you can’t undo sitting.
While working out and fitness are important if your goal is to maintain or get in the best shape of your life, it cannot reverse the harmful effects of sitting for the rest of the day and moving very little within your office or home.
Despite all the physical damage, what happens to your brain when you don’t take breaks: Your productivity goes downhill…before you notice.
Brain scientists are very aware of the fact that prolonged work is depleting. The “fading” that we experience creates declines in mood and performance.
“We don’t know exactly what in the brain gets depleted, but when you do a cognitively demanding task, it operates as though there’s a ‘mental fuel’ that gets burned up.” – William Helton, PhD, a professor of human factors and applied cognition at George Mason University
Recent studies show that those who give in to some kind of break once an hour perform better than those who just keep at it without a break.
The Power of Taking Breaks
Many people experience “productivity breakthroughs” after going against their instincts to meet a deadline by taking a pause. We emerge refreshed and more resilient after getting up for both brain and movement breaks.
So, how do breaks help us?
Here’s a quick look at the magic taking breaks does to our brain:
Boosted creativity and problem-solving abilities
Better information retention
Prevents decision fatigue
Reevaluate goals and seeing the bigger picture
Better stress management
Besides the juicy benefits that breaks have on our brains, now what if you can double the benefits?
It’s simple – add movement to your breaks.
For those who get the least amount of physical activity, replacing a half hour of sitting time with physical activity was associated with up to a nearly 50% reduction in mortality, according to a new study from the American Cancer Society.
Breaks are a great opportunity to incorporate movement into our workdays to combat the setbacks of a sedentary lifestyle.
Take a look at the most important benefits of movement breaks:
Improve energy levels
Boost mood and relieve stress
Strengthen weakened muscles and bones
Reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
Reduces the risk of injury
Boost memory and focus
It’s pretty clear that taking breaks is a powerful tool that can make us better at what we do, feel physically better, and happier.
High-performing people understand the power of taking breaks and know how to take advantage of effective breaks to become more productive while keeping their health in check.
So, how do you harness the power of taking breaks, so that you come back fully recharged both physically and mentally?
Continue reading to find out the strategy that actually works.
The Secret to Taking Effective Breaks at Work
Although taking breaks at work might seem even harder when we are working from home and being “accessible” every waking minute, understanding how the brain works and taking the initiative to establish boundaries for effective breaks has quickly become the secret weapon to avoid burnout, improved productivity and personal well-being.
“Breaks are crucial,” says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. “If you’re working day after day and not letting up, you will burn out.”
Understanding the Productivity Cycle
Our focus, energy, and motivation moves in “waves”.
According to Pozen’s findings, taking a 15-minute break following a productivity chunk allows our brains to better consolidate and retain information. Pozen’s findings echo the findings of research done by Tony Schwartz, the author of The Power of Full Engagement, showing that humans naturally move from full focus to fatigue every 90 minutes.
How often should I take a break? And for how long?
There are many studies that have looked at optimal break schedules. Here are some of the most popular, science-supported methods which you could integrate into a workday:
Once Every Hour
Taking a 5 to 15 minutes break at the top of every hour like clockwork can get you ahead of the 75-minute fatigue curve. Plus, a top-of-the-hour break is easy to remember and execute.
Every 75 to 90 minutes
Following the brain’s “full-focus-to-fatigue” cycle, you can ride productivity waves all the way to the end before refreshing with a break for 5 to 15 minutes.
One of the most common ways to implement a schedule with breaks. Start with a to-do list and timer. After setting your timer for 25 minutes, focus on one task at a time until the timer buzzes. You will mark what you’ve completed before taking a non-negotiable 5-minute break. Enjoy a 30-minute break for every four pomodoros.
The 52:17 Method
Work in increments of 52 minutes before 17-minute breaks.
As you can see, all of these techniques essentially follow the same pattern of riding productivity peaks, followed by small breaks – typically 5 to 15 minutes.
In doing this, we can build up new productivity cycles every 60 to 90 minutes without succumbing to the fatigue that naturally comes without breaks.
However, how often you should take a break depends on the nature of your work and how your brain functions. Everyone is different. The key is to experiment and find your own rhythm.
Take breaks The Right Way
Research shows that taking the wrong type of breaks could actually increase fatigue and steal your productivity, such as mindless snacking, online shopping, and mindlessly scrolling on social media.
It’s also tempting to do some work during your breaks, such as checking your email or the message from your manager. It’s a no-no.
If these are the only breaks you are taking, keep reading to find out how to take breaks the right way.
To reap the maximum benefits of a break, you need to give your brain a chance to relax and your body a chance to recharge.
The best practice is to incorporate activities into your breaks that bring you joy and positive vibes.
For example, a short breathing exercise during your break can help lower blood pressure and relieve stress.
9 break ideas that boost your health and productivity
Simple stretches and mobilization exercises to relax and keep your body functioning, ease stiffness from sitting too long, and prevent injuries.
(Home) office-friendly exercises to wake your sleeping muscles up, boost your energy level, and help you gain focus. Studies have shown that a moderate level of cardio activity can boost creativity and productivity for up to two hours.
A short walk outside. Despite the physical benefits, being physically detached from work, and getting some fresh air in your lungs improves your mood and lowers stress.Breathing/meditative exercise helps your body relax and is one of the most powerful ways to relax your brain and regulating your stress response.
Nap. If you are working from home, or work at a progressive company that affords you the luxury of taking a nap in the office. Take advantage of that. In several studies, a nap of as short as 10 minutes can improve your cognitive function and decrease sleepiness and fatigue. Having that afternoon slump? Nap it off. Be aware that naps that exceed 20 minutes might leave you feeling groggy and disoriented. It is best to limit your naps to 10 to 20 minutes.
Talk to someone. Chat with a colleague or a friend (who is also on a break), grab a coffee down the street, take your dog on a walk, call your mom, or play with your kids if you are a parent working from home.
Laugh. Yes, go ahead and watch some funny videos of cats. According to a recent study, laugh breaks can improve your performance.
While it can be fun to work some creative activities into breaks, the goal remains the same if you want to maximize cognitive and physical boosts:
1. Take your mind off work to give your brain a chance to truly relax;
2. Get up from your chair and move around to combat the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
The step-by-step guide to make breaks a regular part of your workday
If you’ve read this far, you probably have a pretty good idea of why you need to take breaks, what to do on your breaks and have a strong intention to do so.
Now you’re thinking, “but how do I implement it to my workday and make it a habit?”
It is surprisingly hard for most people to make the change to integrate breaks into the day, even when it’s something that they intend to achieve.
The problem is that most people fail to follow the instructions that they give themselves.
Let’s be honest, it’s way easier to sit on your chair and mindlessly scroll through your phone, OR, you could be so deep in your work that you don’t have extra mental energy to come up with stuff to do or even think about taking a break.
This is when you need a system to, sort of, automate that part of your day. It’s like having your coach showing up at your door every day at the same time to keep you accountable.
So, how do you design a system that helps you achieve this goal?
The perfect behavior-modification technique for this case is what psychologists call implementation intentions. It is a self-regulatory strategy that has been found to be particularly effective when it comes to situations where there may be immediate costs but significant long-term benefits, such as taking breaks at work.
An implementation intention supports our goal intention by setting out in advance when/where and how I will achieve this goal.
Here’s how :
Step 1: Specify your goal. For example, “I will take a break every hour at work”.
Step 2: Schedule them in your calendar (the When). Alternatively, if you prefer to work in “sprints”, set a timer on your phone or computer. You can set a timer for 30-minutes, go with the 52:17 method, or whichever time is optimal for you.
Step 3: Plan out your break activities ahead to avoid needing to “decide” what to do when it’s break time, such as “Go for a 5-minute walk at 3 pm” (the How)
Step 4: Follow the cues you have outlined in your plan
As a result, your goal will be performed automatically and efficiently, without conscious effort.
What we love the most about this technique is that it frees our cognitive resources for other brain-heavy tasks like study & work, since we don’t need to think about when to take a break and what to do for that break. It’s already planned!
Once you take the first step of planning it out, the automated system that you designed helps to remove the hesitation and deliberation when you want to take a break. It’s like putting your breaks on auto-pilot.
And…if you don’t want to go through the hassle of manually scheduling breaks into your workday, or waste your mental energy on coming up with what to do for your breaks, there are tools that are designed to make your life easier.
“Are there any tools that can help me take breaks?”
We are glad that you asked. Yes, there are.
At StretchMinder, we are obsessed with great tools that make life easier. After all, that’s what we believe what technology should be – making people’s lives easier.
Here are 7 hand-picked tools that help you take breaks:
StretchMinder – A unique blend of break reminder and 7-minute workout. From putting your breaks on auto-pilot with pre-scheduled breaks to providing guided activity routines including Movement, Breathing & Walking exercises, the app takes care of it all with just a few clicks. It is perfect for those who want the easiest way to build a habit of taking breaks and moving more throughout the day.
Focus To-Do– A app that brings Pomodoro Technique and To-Do List into one place, you can capture and organize tasks into your to-do lists, start focus timer and focus on work & study, set reminders for important tasks and errands, check the time spent at work.
Focus Booster – A simple and lightweight timer that automatically records each session. The app features a Pomodoro timer, a mini timer, customizable session lengths, report exports, and manual time entry.
Flow Time – A Chrome Extension to boost your productivity. It works as a Pomodoro-like timer & website blocker that boosts your productivity by making your mind go into the state of flow faster.
Google – If you want to keep things simple, just type “set a timer for X minutes” into Google and set your timer.
Your calendar – Schedule your break slots and set reminders on your calendar to repeat every day.
Your phone – Set a timer with the native timer tool and repeat every day diligently.
Americans aren’t sleeping well. Roughly 80% of U.S. adults say they struggle to fall asleep at least one night a week, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey. And research has found that sleep problems are also on the rise among adolescents.
While the causes of America’s sleep woes are up for debate, there’s little disagreement about America’s favorite remedy: Melatonin, by far the country’s most-used sleep aid.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that plants and animals, including humans, produce naturally. The melatonin sold in over-the-counter pills is synthetic, but chemically it’s the same as the stuff the human body makes. It can, if used properly, help certain problem sleepers get to bed at night. Melatonin hormone secreted by pineal gland (red) at night, regulates body’s daily biological rhythm depending on luminosity as light regulates its secretion via a path involving the suprachiasmatic nucleus (green), the paraventricular nucleus (yellow) and the preganglionic sympathetic neurons. BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty
Research has also shown it can help combat inflammation, promote weight loss, and maybe even help children with neurodevelopmental disorders. That’s a lot to claim, though there are some studies to back up the various benefits. One 2011 review found evidence that, in children with autism, melatonin supplementation led to improved sleep and better daytime behavior. A small 2017 study from Poland found that obese adults who took a daily 10 mg melatonin supplement for 30 days while eating a reduced-calorie diet lost almost twice as much weight as a placebo group. The underlying cause might be connected to the fact that blood measures of oxidative damage and inflammation were much lower in the people who took melatonin.
“Some of the emerging science is showing that in people with higher levels of inflammation—which could be because they’re obese, or because they’re in the [intensive care unit] for a transplant—melatonin in the range of 6 mg to 10 mg may decrease markers of inflammation,” says Helen Burgess, a professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Sleep and Circadian Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan. If someone is healthy, it’s not clear that high-dose melatonin has a similar anti-inflammation effect, she adds. But it’s possible.
Burgess is one of the country’s foremost melatonin researchers. She says that the traditional view of melatonin is that it plays a role in regulating the body’s internal day-night clocks, which is why it can help people sleep. “But there’s a theory that melatonin’s original purpose was as an antioxidant, which is what it does in plants,” she says. This alternative theory holds that it was only later in human evolution that melatonin took on a secondary role as a biological clock-setter.
Inflammation, like poor sleep, is implicated in the development or progression of an array of diseases, from heart disease and diabetes to depression and dementia. If melatonin could safely promote both better sleep and lower rates of inflammation, it could be a potent preventative for a lot of those ills. And melatonin appears to be safe—though there isn’t much research on the long-term effects of taking it in heavy doses.
What is a safe melatonin dose?
According to Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, “melatonin is very safe if taken in normal doses,” which is anything between 0.5 mg and 5 mg.
A 0.5 mg dose may be all that’s needed for sleep-cycle regulation, and should be taken three to five hours before bed, he says. For people who want to take melatonin just before bed, a 5 mg dose is appropriate. “Some people report headaches or stomach problems at higher doses, but those side-effects are uncommon,” he says.
Still, there are other concerns. “Melatonin has an incredible safety record, no doubt about it,” says Dr. Mark Moyad, the Jenkins/Pomkempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan. “But it’s a hormone, and you don’t want to mess around with hormones until you know what they’re doing.”
People with existing medical problems should discuss melatonin with their doctor before using it. While some research has found that melatonin may help treat hyperglycemia in people with diabetes, for example, other studies have shown that, in diabetes patients who carry certain genetic traits, melatonin may interfere with glucose regulation. It’s these sorts of contradictory findings that give experts pause when it comes to issuing melatonin a full-throated endorsement.
“My advice is always to treat supplements like drugs, meaning don’t take a pill unless you need a pill,” Moyad says. He urges restraint with melatonin not because there’s evidence it’s dangerous, but because of the lack of evidence showing it’s safe in high doses over long periods. Especially for parents who are giving melatonin to healthy children, Moyad says caution is warranted. Melatonin appears to be safe, and it could provide a range of health benefits. But there are a lot of unknowns.
Do you wake up to the sound of birdsong or an electronic ringtone? Perhaps you use a dawn simulator or an app that won’t stop beeping until you have walked at least 100 paces. It is increasingly unlikely that you groggily grope for the stop button on a traditional alarm clock. According to John Lewis, alarm clock sales are down 16% on 2017. Instead, many people are relying on phone alarms or dawn simulators, which claim to more gently rouse you from slumber. Now the clocks have gone back and the days are shortening, it may seem harder than ever to get out of bed. So, what is the best way to wake up……….
ACID REFLUX is an epidemic affecting as many as 40 percent of Americans. In addition to heartburn and indigestion, reflux symptoms may include postnasal drip, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, chronic throat clearing, coughing and asthma. Taken together, sales of prescribed and over-the-counter anti-reflux medications exceed $13 billion per year.The number of people with acid reflux has grown significantly in recent decades. Reflux can lead to esophageal cancer, which has increased by about 500 percent since the 1970s……..
If you want to become elite at what you do, you need to consistently get better. High performance is all about putting in more and “reps.” Doing the same workout every day won’t make you stronger or faster. Just showing up to work every day and doing your job won’t make you better at your job. It’s been shown that most doctors become worse at their job over their career. They are at their height when they come out of medical school and slowly get worse over time…….