Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: Sleep (page 1 of 4)

Circadian rhythms and work rhythms

The New York Times has an interesting piece about efforts to match work schedules to circadian rhythms:

At the Denmark offices of the pharmaceutical company AbbVie, employees design work schedules that take advantage of their biological strengths. A nine-hour training program helps them identify when they are ripe for creative or challenging projects, typically mornings for early risers and afternoons for late risers. Lower-energy periods are meant for more mundane tasks, like handling emails or doing administrative chores. Workers save commuting time by avoiding rush hour traffic, and can better mesh their personal and professional lives — for example, by getting their children from school in the afternoon, then working from home in the evening after the kids are in bed.

Employee satisfaction with work-life balance has risen from 39 percent 10 years ago, when the program launched, to nearly 100 percent today, according to company surveys. Last year the Denmark division of Great Place to Work, a global organization that ranks companies based on employee satisfaction, named AbbVie the top middle-size company in the country. “The flexibility actually empowers people to deliver the best possible results,” said Christina Jeppesen, the company’s general manager.

When I first started reading up on circadian rhythms and focus, it struck me that many of us spend some of our potentially most productive hours stuck in traffic. We hit a wakefulness peak– a period when we have the most energy and are most awake– about one or two hours after we wake up; we also have another, less intense one in the later afternoon.

But for most of us, that period gets spent inching our ways down the highway, not actually doing productive stuff. Far better, I thought, to spend that time at home working, and then come in later, after you’ve done a couple hours’ work.

Within groups, though, it’s worth thinking about how you might factor in chronotypes to match the kinds of work you’re doing:

Stefan Volk, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School, has suggested that businesses can leverage chronotypes to maximize team success. For example, members of a surgery team should have similar chronotypes because they need to be in top form simultaneously. But at a nuclear power plant, workers should have different energy peaks, so that someone is always on the alert.

Somnex show discount; or, I’ve made the big time!

I’m always impressed by podcasters who have sponsors who give the hosts discount codes. I don’t know why I find it impressive, but I do.

Well, the London Somnex sleep show is coming up on September 12-14, and not only am I speaking, I got a discount code!

If you register here, and use the promo code SPK40 at check-out, you’ll get 40% off the regular price.

The show will be at the Old Truman Brewery, which used to be London’s biggest brewery, and is now a cool exhibit and meeting space.

Watch out, Pod Save America! I’m coming for you!

Sleep, brain maintenance, and Alzheimer’s disease

More brains!

In Rest, I talk about how sleep turns out to be a form of what I call “active rest:” rest in which the body is actually doing things behind the scenes. One of the most important things it does is fire up glial cells, which you can think of as a kind of scaffolding and support system for the brain, to clear out the various toxins that build up in the brain during its normal activity. (You can think of these proteins as a kind of waste, just like the rest of the waste your body produces.)

A few years ago, neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard observed this system at work in the brains of mice. Now, writing in Science News, Laura Bell reports on new research on human subjects indicating that “The brain may clean out Alzheimer’s plaques during sleep.” (Also, Bell’s article is a terrific overview of the history of this research, and its major lines of investigation.)

University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Barbara Bendlin has been working on the “Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, a study of more than 1,500 people who were ages 40 to 65 when they signed up” in 2001. So by now the Registry has 17 years of data, gathered from surveys, doctor’s exams, cognitive tests, even cerebral spinal fluid taps. (I love longitudinal studies like these: they reveal things that no other kind of research can.)

What Bedlin is finding is more evidence of a connection between sleep deprivation and the buildup of amyloid-beta protein fragments, which have been theorized to be one mechanism behind Alzheimer’s:

Bendlin and her colleagues identified 98 people from the registry who recorded their sleep quality and had brain scans. Those who slept badly — measured by such things as being tired during the day — tended to have more A-beta plaques visible on brain imaging….

In a different subgroup of 101 people willing to have a spinal tap, poor sleep was associated with biological markers of Alzheimer’s in the spinal fluid…. The markers included some related to A-beta plaques, as well as inflammation and the protein tau, which appears in higher levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

Now, it’s important to note that the casual arrow between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s isn’t yet clear: scientists aren’t yet willing to say with certainty whether bad sleep increases your odds of developing the disease, or whether the mechanisms that are responsible for Alzheimer’s also disrupt your sleep. As Bell puts it, Bell notes that

most studies have a chicken-and-egg problem. Alzheimer’s is known to cause difficulty sleeping. If Alzheimer’s both affects sleep and is affected by it, which comes first?

But even though “the direction and the strength of the cause-and-effect arrow remain unclear,” she continues,

approximately one-third of U.S. adults are considered sleep deprived (getting less than seven hours of sleep a night) and Alzheimer’s is expected to strike almost 14 million U.S. adults by 2050 (5.7 million have the disease today).

Either way, it’s yet another argument for taking sleep seriously, and getting enough of it.

Why college students need to get regular sleep

The Penn campus at night

I was one of those college students who treated sleep with a kind of casual contempt. The combination of being an adolescent, being free from the strictures of family life and able to set my own schedule, and drinking in the casual contempt that many students (especially engineering students, which I was as a freshman) have for sleep, meant that I had terrible sleep habits.

So I could have used this New York Times piece on the importance of sleep for good performance in college:

Whatever you may think can get in the way of a successful college experience, chances are you won’t think of one of the most important factors: how long and how well you sleep. And not just on weekends, but every day, Monday through Sunday.

Studies have shown that sleep quantity and sleep quality equal or outrank such popular campus concerns as alcohol and drug use in predicting student grades and a student’s chances of graduating….

College students who fail to adopt more wholesome sleep habits are more likely to find themselves unable to handle their chosen course load and less likely to reach their academic potential, according to a national study of more than 55,000 college students.

Turns out, senior executives sleep more than their minions

We all know that executives and leaders don’t sleep much. They burn the midnight oil, get up early, and by the time we mere mortals are staggering to the coffee pot are far ahead of us. Right? Continue reading

Naps are good, according to science

Sleep researcher Nicole Lovato writes about the benefits of afternoon naps (something I’m a big believer in):

It’s common, occurs whether you’ve eaten lunch or not, and is caused by a natural dip in alertness from about 1 to 3pm. So, if you find yourself fighting off sleep in the middle of the day and you’re somewhere where you can have a nap, then do it.

Taking the time for a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness almost immediately and improve alertness for several hours after waking. And there are many other benefits too.

Making to-do lists before bed can help you fall asleep (and solve problems)

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest reports on a new study that finds that making lists before bed can “help you fall asleep more quickly.”

Before they tried to sleep, half of the participants spent five minutes “writing about everything you have to remember to do tomorrow and over the next few days”. The others spent the same time writing about any activities they’d completed that day and over the previous few days.

The key finding is that the participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep more quickly. They took about 15 minutes to fall asleep, on average, compared with 25 minutes for those in the “jobs already done” condition. Moreover, among those in the to-do list group, the more thorough and specific their list, the more quickly they fell asleep, which would seem to support a kind of off-loading explanation. Another interpretation is that busier people, who had more to write about, tended to fall asleep more quickly. But this is undermined by the fact that among the jobs-done group, those who wrote in more detail tended to take longer to fall asleep.

I write in REST about the creative benefits of stopping work in mid-sentence. It makes it easier to resume work the next day, and it gives your creative subconscious a chance to work on problems while your conscious self does other things. (John Cleese talks about discovering this when he was first writing comedy; Linus Pauling developed a whole method for solving problems around intentionally thinking about problems before bed.)

And when I’m deep in writing, I will spend a couple minutes before bed making a list of the things to write about the next morning. I’ve never tried to figure out if there’s a correlation between list-making and how well I sleep, but when I’m writing I rarely have trouble falling asleep. So maybe that’s an unintended benefit.

Anyway, while this is an early study, it suggests yet another reason to make brief lists before bed: not only will to help you solve problems faster (and even make progress while you sleep), it’ll help you sleep better.
Continue reading

Learning to nap

Writer, cyclist and “occasional triathlete” AC Shilton talks about a month-long experiment learning how to nap:

I keep farmer’s hours, getting up at 5:30 to squeeze in a workout and feed my horse. While I love having a few ping-free hours before the content mill that is journalism churns to life, 0-dark-30 wakeup times result in drowsy afternoons. Around 2 p.m., after my sandwich has been devoured, I often find myself glassy-eyed and refreshing Twitter ad nauseam. Worse, by the end of the workday, I tend to be overtaken by sloth and skip out on the gym or cut my interval session short….

A nap seemed like it might be the solution to my post-lunch lethargy and workout wussiness. And since I work from home, there was nothing stopping me. I waste a good 30 minutes a day (probably more if we’re being honest) rabbit hole-ing through the Internet, so why not repurpose those squandered minutes into a few gasps of actual rest?

The article is especially good if you’re on of those people who is convinced that they can’t nap, or that you don’t have time for it.

Excerpt from naps chapter of REST

Michael Hyatt (his Leader Box featured REST as one of its two titles this month) has launched a new magazine, and features an excerpt from REST in the first issue.

The excerpt opens with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, which my wife and I made during a trip to London in 2015. I’d heard that the War Rooms were cool, but as I recall we went there more or less on a whim (or at least it wasn’t a super-high priority); but it turned out to be a pretty revelatory visit.

The exhibits describe the ups and downs of his political career; his indefatigable energy defending Britain and the empire; his eloquence and skill as a writer; his daily life during the war; and his mix of political opportunism, realpolitik, and idealism. But one aspect of his working life gets only a brief mention, at the end of the tour: his habit of taking daily naps.

Churchill himself regarded his midday naps as essential for maintaining his mental balance, renewing his energy, and reviving his spirits. He had gotten into the habit of napping during World War I, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and even during the Blitz, Churchill would retire to his private room in the War Rooms after lunch, undress, and sleep for an hour or two. Unless German bombs were falling, he would then head to 10 Downing Street for a bath, change into fresh clothes, and return to work. Churchill’s valet, Frank Sawyers, later recalled, “It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.”

It was also the visit that got me to pay some attention to Churchill’s love of painting. There are a couple panels devoted to his painting, but they were enough to make me track down his book Painting as a Pastime.

"Armed with a paintbox, one cannot be bored"

That, in turn, made its way into my discussion of “deep play” in the book.

I just wish I’d taken more pictures of the War Rooms while I was there, but given that you see everything from behind big plexiglas sheets, most of the space wouldn’t have photographed very well anyway. Instead, here’s another picture of Big Ben.

Big Ben and Parliament

There are also pieces on the value of sabbaticals, the importance of hobbies (hello deep play!), and drivers of overwork. All worth a read.

Nap cafes in Korea

So apparently nap cafes are now a thing in Korea.

Mr. Healing, a “healing” cafe franchise, has opened 47 branches in just two years. Three more are set to open by early May.

“The customers vary from people who come alone to couples, friends, families, travellers — simply anyone who needs a break in their life,” said Park Hye-sun, manager of Mr. Healing in Myeong-dong, central Seoul.

The coffee store devotes half of its 115-square-meter space to a healing room. Customers who purchase beverages can nestle in big massage chairs and relax for up to 50 minutes.

Within Korea, it’s part of something called the “fast healing” movement (which sounds largely like a marketing term), but it’s getting exported. According to the Hindustan Times, Koreans are on the leading edge of a cultural trend across Asia (as they so often are), and in Tokyo and London there are pop-up nap cafes (one was cosponsored by food giant Nestlé and bedding company Caspar).

Even Korean movie theaters are getting into the business:

CGV, Korea’s biggest cinema chain, has also jumped on the bandwagon. In March, the chain began offering a siesta service. During lunchtime, customers can lay on a fully reclining chair in its premium theaters listening to the sounds of nature, with a cup of tea and blanket.

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