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How to focus when tired at work

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Food, exercise, and sleep are often touted as the three pillars of a healthy lifestyle.

While many of us know that a healthy diet and active lifestyle are essential for our energy levels, we often fail to realize the importance of a good night’s sleep. 

Whether you have trouble getting to sleep due to a specific sleep condition, or you feel that you simply don’t have time to get a full eight hours, you’ll probably find that your concentration and productivity levels suffer from a bad sleep pattern.

In this article, we’ll be exploring why sleep is so important for our focus at work, then we’ll offer some suggestions on how you can improve your focus levels when tired, and maybe even get on a new sleep schedule altogether.

How Does Tiredness Affect the Brain?

concept of thinking with human brain. 3d rendering

Feeling tired at work is never a very pleasant feeling. If you’ve ever experienced dragging yourself to the office after getting just a few hours of sleep, you’ll remember how difficult it can be to navigate the day whilst drowsy.

Recent studies have examined the physiological effects of sleep deprivation on the brain and found some pretty astonishing results. In one study, it was found that subjects became more angry and stressed while trying to complete simple tasks. 

Sleep deprivation has also been shown to affect the frontal and parietal lobes, which are critical parts of the brain for decision making, problem solving, and memory. It’s easy to see how these effects could be detrimental to your ability to complete tasks at work.

A lack of sleep can have a huge affect on your ability to focus, too. This probably won’t come as a huge surprise — most of us tend to feel less sharp after a sleepless night. Studies have shown that the sluggish feeling we get from a bad night’s sleep is caused by the slowing down of our neural cells. Information is processed less quickly and reaction times are dulled, which makes it hard to follow ideas through and complete tasks.

Sleep serves many important functions in maintaining long term health too. During sleep the glymphatic system, the method by which toxic substances such as the Alzheimer’s inducing protein amyloid beta is eradicated from the brain, becomes 60% more efficient.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

sleeping cat

In order to keep the brain in top-notch condition, adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. In fact a large scale study in the journal Sleep demonstrated that when your regular duration of sleep is significantly reduced to half the recommended amount the outcome was a cognitive equivalent of aging 8 years

While the amount of sleep we get is undoubtedly important, we also need to make sure we get good quality sleep too. If you’ve ever woken up after a long sleep feeling groggy and tired, poor quality sleep may be your issue.

This may be because you’ve been prevented from spending enough time within one or more of the three phases of sleep essential for satisfactory rest; light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (R.E.M).

Each of these phases has a particular influence over our body and mind and consequently how we might feel during work the following day. 

Light sleep is the name given to the phase of sleep between being fully awake and deep sleep and is involved 

Deep sleep predominantly occurs in the first half of your sleep and is crucial for the body to produce growth hormones to rebuild and repair. 

REM sleep, also known as dream sleep, is important for protein synthesis required for emotion regulation and memory.

 Indicators of good quality sleep are:

  1. You tend to fall asleep in under 30 minutes and thus maximise the length of time you get to switch off. 
  2. You sleep continuously through the night, waking up no more than once, allowing your brain to fully cycle through the sleep phases.
  3. You aren’t woken abruptly and unexpectedly out of deep sleep.

Quick Fixes: Re-focusing at Work After a Bad Night’s Sleep

A cup of cappuccino with beautiful latte art on blue background. Top view, central composition.

If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep and you’ve got a big deadline coming at work, you’re probably looking for a quick fix to your sluggish, sleep deprived mind. Here are tried and tested methods to trick the body into ‘waking up’ so you can get stuff done.

Coffee

Ah, coffee — the energy crutch we all know and love. While caffeine is a superficial solution to a sleepless night, there is a reason why overworked, exhausted professionals reach for the coffee pot every morning without fail.

Caffeine is known for its stimulating properties. With an hour of drinking a cup of coffee, caffeine will be circulating through your bloodstream, causing adrenaline to be released. Adrenaline is the neuro-transmitter that affects energy and alertness. So, if you need a quick energy and alertness boost, a cup of coffee can be a quick fix.

However, it’s important to remember that the effects of caffeine wear off, and when they do, your lack of focus can be worse than before!

If you’re interested, the mean half life of caffeine within our bodies is about 5 hours. Meaning 5 hours after you consumed your morning cup of joe, only half the drug that was originally consumed remains in your system. This is worth being aware of if you are sensitive to caffeine and prone to the jitters as too much coffee could help you lose focus just as much as tiredness.

 

Get Moving

One of the benefits of working from home is that your commute is essentially eliminated. This leaves the time that you would normally spend travelling in a car, bus or train, free to use as you please. 

Giving a portion of the morning across to exercise has been proven to brighten up your day and improve your productivity. So instead of heading straight to your desk, try to squeeze in some quick exercise before you sit down and try to focus on your work. Studies have shown that gentle exercise like yoga can have a huge benefit on your ability to focus. Alternatively, some cardio exercise can have a huge impact on the symptoms of fatigue, including those sluggish brain cells.

 

Stay Hydrated

The body uses water in almost all of the functions associated with major systems and so being dehydrated can make your lack of focus even worse. If you’re working from home make sure and take a few trips to the kitchen to top up a glass of water and keep it with you at your desk for sipping all day long.

 

Schedule Breaks in Your Day

Instead of staring mindlessly at the screen, get up and take a proper break away from your desk. Scheduling frequent short breaks can help your brain to reboot and re-energize for the next session of work. This is because working non-stop work wears down the brain cells even more. 

Plus, a quick break can improve your motivation levels and even result in a new, fresh idea or angle on how to approach your tasks.

Getting to the Root of the Problem: What Conditions Can Cause Sleeplessness or Poor Quality Sleep?

technology, internet, communication and people concept - young man in glasses with laptop computer and smartphone in bed at home bedroom at night

While the above quick fixes can help you get through a day at the office after a bad night’s sleep, it’s important that you address the root of the problem to ensure that you are always at the top of your game, both at work and at home. 

If you experience trouble sleeping, you may have a sleep condition. Here is some information on some of the most common sleep conditions that affect your sleep patterns, and what you can do to manage them.

Insomnia is by far the most common sleep disorder. Symptoms include waking up too early, having an under refreshing sleep, or having trouble falling asleep. It can be caused by stress, certain medical conditions, an inactive lifestyle, or emotional disorders.

Insomnia is initially treated with a series of lifestyle changes, including:

  1.     Avoiding caffeine before bed.
  2.     Avoiding heavy exercise before bed.
  3.    Avoiding spending time in bed when you aren’t trying to sleep. This can include time spent watching TV or scrolling through your phone.

 

Your doctor may also decide to prescribe insomnia medication if your condition is serious, such as eszopiclone or zolpidem.

There are plenty of at-home remedies to chronic sleeplessness that many people swear by.

  •     Essential Oils: Essential oils have been used to induce sleep for years. Either rub a few drops on your chest, wrist, or neck, pour a few drops in an air diffuser, or place a few drops on your pillow. Many oils have soothing effects and can clear the airways, helping you to enter a deep sleep more quickly.
  •     Melatonin Supplements: Melatonin is the hormone that the body produces to help use fall asleep. Some people find that taking melatonin supplements can trick the body into falling asleep, thus helping with insomnia.
  •     Avoiding Screens: These days, most of us head to bed with our phone in hand, ready to scroll through the internet or social media till we drift off to sleep. However, the blue light that emits from our phones can trick the body into thinking it’s not actually nighttime, thus prohibiting the hormones that induce sleep. Many medical professionals recommend cutting off screen time at least an hour before bed.
  •     Lukewarm Shower: Many people find a lukewarm shower about an hour before bed can help them to drift off. This is because a warm shower heats up the body and aids the thermoregulation process, releasing melatonin, and making you feel sleepy.
  •     Avoid Heavy Meals Before Bed: If you are having trouble getting to sleep, you may find that avoiding heavy meals helps you to drift off. When you try to fall asleep with a full stomach, you may experience reflux, which will make it hard to fall asleep. Plus, lying down directly after a big meal will compromise and interfere with the digestion process.
 

Other sleep conditions include:

  •     Sleep apnea: This occurs when you experience an abnormal breathing pattern while sleeping.
  •     Restless leg syndrome: This occurs when you experience a strange urge to move the legs as you try to fall asleep.
  •     Narcolepsy: This condition causes severe fatigue during the day and can result in suddenly falling asleep throughout the day.
 

If you think you may have one of these conditions, you should speak to your doctor about getting tested and getting the appropriate treatment plan that will help you to get on a healthy sleeping pattern.

Final Thoughts

Stopping the feeling of being tired at work can be achieved in the short term by some remedial quick fixes but ultimately it will be a change in sleeping habits that will allow you to maintain focus at work.

Having a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Not only will you feel more focused and alert the next day, you’ll also find that your memory and intelligence improves. 

We hope these tips have helped you to understand what you need to do to improve your sleep so that you can always make the most of your working day.

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