Sleep is something we all need. It is an important contributor for our health and well-being and is also vital for us to be alert and perform effectively. The amount of sleep a person needs varies from person to person – basically we need the amount that is sufficient for us to feel refreshed and perform efficiently. Most adults sleep typically sleep between 6-8h per night, with a recent consensus concluding at least 7h of sleep a night is needed on a regular basis for optimal health (Watson et al., 2015). However, aspects of our lifestyle, such as work hours, commuting, health, family and social responsibilities, can impact our sleep and lead to instances of shortened or disturbed sleep.
When people think about sleep loss, feeling sleepy and the associated consequences, people may think of instances of extreme sleep loss, for example, staying up all night for events, holidays or work etc. However, it is more likely that individuals experience poor or disrupted sleep or shortened sleep due to getting up early/late nights on a more recurrent basis. Although this may feel part of everyday life, this can still result in increased sleepiness and reduced alertness. Sleepiness can impact performance and in certain circumstances have serious consequences, for example, workplace sleepiness can result in injuries, accidents and incidents (Wagstaff & Lie, 2011; Williamson et al., 2011) and driver sleepiness is associated with increased crash risk (Bioulac et al., 2017).
A typical workday following poor sleep
Waking – If you have had poor, shortened, or disturbed sleep, then it can be harder to get going in the morning. You may find it difficult to wake up, feel groggy, and sometimes even feel ill. This can be particularly worse for people who are evening types or ‘owls’ (compared to morning types or ‘larks’) due to the slightly later running of their body clock meaning they feel less alert in the morning.
Commuting – Many people may also need to commute to work in the morning, usually during rush hour. If this involves driving, this can be a risky time. Driving requires you to be alert and vigilant, and poor sleep and increased sleepiness can result in decrements in driving performance, including simple and complex tasks, slower reaction times, impaired attention and even loss of conscious awareness behind the wheel (Williamson et al., 2011).
The morning at work – due to our body clock, alertness naturally increases in the morning, regardless of sleep. Therefore, the morning might feel ok, although perhaps a little slower going. However, as sleep is important for the brain and cognitive function, poor sleep can impact several skills and abilities which would likely be used at work. For example, you may:
feel sleepy or drowsy,
struggle to concentrate or to focus,
find it hard to make decisions,
struggle to pay attention or attend to new information,
struggle to generate new ideas, think creatively or problem solve,
find it harder to communicate your ideas and thoughts effectively,
find it harder to assess risk,
find your reaction time slower,
find your mood is more irritable.
The afternoon at work – The effects of poor sleep may be more noticeable in the afternoon. Often called the ‘post-lunch dip’, we naturally experience a dip in alertness during the afternoon, again regardless of sleep or lunch. However, this dip is exacerbated by poor sleep; that is if you have had disrupted or shortened sleep, your afternoon dip will be bigger. You may feel sleepier and notice even more of an impact on the cognitive skills mentioned above. Although likely not possible at work, this time (roughly between 1-3pm) would be the perfect time for a short nap! However, strategic caffeine intake at this time also works well to help reduce sleepiness.
Commute home – Following the afternoon dip, our alertness naturally starts to increase again from late afternoon to early evening. Just be aware of how you feel in terms of sleepiness before getting behind the wheel of a car to drive and do not drive if you feel sleepy. Caffeine and napping strategies are the most effective countermeasures for driver sleepiness. It is worth bearing in mind that popular strategies such as opening a window, listening to music/radio or taking a break will not reduce sleepiness for extended periods of time (Horne & Reyner 1996; Schwarz et al. 2012).
Evening – You will likely experience less sleepiness in the early evening due to the natural increase in alertness, but sleepiness will increase as the evening progresses. It is important to you give yourself time to wind down, relax and complete your bedtime routine to try to help you sleep well. A bedtime routine is a good thing to try and do any, and every night.
If you work outside of a 9-5 job / are a shift worker, then poor sleep may result in even more pronounced sleepiness. This can be due to working at times when the body is usually asleep or trying to sleep at times when the body is usually awake, which can be difficult. This can also include working early shifts and waking earlier than you naturally would, all of which would impact sleep and sleepiness.
General sleep hygiene tips
Although sleep is something we all experience, there are individual differences, for example the amount of sleep someone needs to feel alert and refreshed. However, establishing a bedtime routine is something that can be beneficial to everyone, and can help relax and prepare you for sleep. Some general tips are:
Try to keep a regular sleep/wake schedule.
Avoid stimulants close to bedtime.
Make sure the room you sleep in is dark and quiet.
Avoid screen/electronic use in bed and try to reduce before bedtime.
Don’t use or rely on alcohol to sleep.
Allow time to relax and unwind.
Finally, if you are experiencing poor, shortened or disturbed sleep on a regular basis, or feel excessively sleepy during the day, it is important that you speak to your GP.
Bioulac, S., Micoulaud Franchi, J. A., Arnaud, M., Sagaspe, P., Moore, N., Salvo, F., & Philip, P. (2017). Risk of motor vehicle accidents related to sleepiness at the wheel: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep, 40(10). https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsx134
Schwarz, J. F. A., Ingre, M., Fors, C., Anund, A., Kecklund, G., Taillard, J., Philip, P., & Åkerstedt, T. (2012). In-car countermeasures open window and music revisited on the real road: popular but hardly effective against driver sleepiness. Journal of Sleep Research, 21(5), 595–599. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2012.01009.x
Wagstaff, A. S., & Lie, J. A. S. (2011). Shift and night work and long working hours – A systematic review of safety implications. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 37(3), 173–185. https://doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.3146
Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., Tasali, E., Twery, M., Croft, J. B., Maher, E., Barrett, J. A., … Heald, J. L. (2015). Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 931–952. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.4950
Williamson, A., Lombardi, D. A., Folkard, S., Stutts, J., Courtney, T. K., & Connor, J. L. (2011). The link between fatigue and safety. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 43(2), 498–515. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2009.11.011
Fran Pilkington-Cheney’s Bio
Fran Pilkington-Cheney is a researcher at the Transport Safety Research Centre (TSRC) at Loughborough University. Her research focuses on sleepiness and fatigue within safety critical tasks, for example during shift work and driving. Fran has a BSc in Psychology and has recently submitted her PhD which explores the management of sleepiness, particularly within the applied context of bus driving. Fran is a member of the British Sleep Society (BSS) and European Sleep Research Society (ESRS and in 2020 was elected to join the ESRS Early Career Researcher Network Committee.
I get to meet some wonderful people in my job and I was thrilled when one of those, wanted to become a guest blogger for AV WELLBEING this month.
I met Lee-Ann Cordingley, when we both attended a course about developing online content, something which both of our businesses had to navigate last year. We have kept in touch and last week Lee-Ann attended my online Mental Health First Aid course, during the course Lee-Ann talked openly about her experience of mental ill health and shared this blog about ‘A great way to ease the fear of the black dog’.
Lee-ann delivers nurturing, creative, and vibrant yoga lessons in her yoga studio in Nottingham, hosts an award-winning blog, and an active online yoga and wellness studio membership. She began her career in corporate banking and having created successful businesses in the e-commerce and wellbeing industries as a parent of young children, she understands what it is to feel busy and stressed and how valuable emotional and mental wellbeing is for a healthy life. As well as her community and private yoga classes for adults, children and in corporate settings, Lee-ann has a deepening affinity for women’s wellness, pleasure and empowerment and leads a very strong and successful Women’s Circle. She is a clinical sexologist and sex coach in-training because she believes in passionately in holistic physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
The term ‘black dog’ has become synonymous with depression.
I suffer with it myself and I know the heaviness that grips on just about everything. If you’re “lucky” enough to suffer with anxiety too, well then my friend – I know that it’s a bullshit thing to experience.
It sucks ass and it’s all-encompassing.
So if you understand what I’m talking about, I’m very sorry for it; you’re not alone and I send you hugs 💚
It’s likely you might have sometimes found yourself hiding under a duvet, seeking solace in a packet of custard creams or trawling Google to find answers or suggestions for respite (I do these things, so I understand. I’m not trying to discount your experience.)
Last week, I stumbled over the lyric of a Bastille song and I absolutely love it, because
🐾 💡 CAN WE REFRAME THE IDEA OF THE BLACK DOG?? 💡 🐾
The song is called Survivin’ and all being well, I’ve posted a link here 👇🏼
I happen to have a very wonderful black dog in my life – two of them, in fact – and I don’t see either of them nearly as often as I’d like to.
One of them is a big bundle of boundless energy who loves to play, and swim, and jump. She has a muscular tail that can knock you off your feet with her whole-body wag. Her nickname is Bobbers and she brings me joy whenever I think of how much she loves to see me (Over the years, I have unashamedly brought her affection with snacks. What can I say, she’s a Labrador and I have no guilt 🤷🏼♀️). You can see a picture of her beautiful snout at the top of this post 👆🏼. Isn’t she the cutest??
The other is the gentlest, most loving & handsome boy who will do anything to be snuggled up on the sofa with his Daddy (or with his Mumma if Daddy’s not around). I know that he loves me, too, because when I’m able to visit I’m someone else to cuddle with and he’ll cry until he’s invited up onto the sofa for a hug. He is a real gentleman. Here he is waiting patiently with Lola for a snack.
I MUCH PREFER THESE TYPE OF BLACK DOGS TO THE OTHER TYPE
Do you have a dog or do you know one of these furry creatures? Do they ever go off their lead? If you don’t have a dog, maybe you could find another human who lives with one and see if you can make friends with their Furbaby.
Lola loves to go off her lead and despite being almost ten, she races around like a puppy with her tongue lolloping around out the side of her mouth. You can tell she is absolutely Loving. Life.
In fairness, she also barks far too much at the postman and anyone who dares walk past the house and is a bit of a prat in that regard. (And the postman is a really lovely guy, so I don’t know what her problem is. Cheers Mark 👍🏼)
I tried to find a picture of her whizzing around to show you the sheer joy on her face but to be honest, she’s just too damned fast and there’s no capturing it. So instead, here she is posing to allow everyone to admire her beauty…
You see how easily I’ve gone off topic?
These fluffy, four-legged angels on earth are the perfect teachers of how to live in the moment and savour every single moment of joy.
They also like to get involved with your yoga practice (which can also help with anxiety and depression, you know)
…they like to pull funny faces
… and let’s not forget they always know when you’re feeling playful and
DOGS ALWAYS KNOW WHEN YOU’RE SAD
and so they can love you like you are their favourite cuddly toy.
That was the last dog-spam picture. I promise.
KEEP THE FEAR OF THE BLACK DOG AT BAY
The next time I feel the prowling of the malevolent hound coming around the corner, I am going to try my hardest to remember that all dogs started out as puppies who loved to race and bound and play.
Maybe there’s a very valid reason that my feelings are requesting that I pause to process situations or emotions rather than just getting on with the daily grind.
Maybe there’s something that the dog is trying to teach me.
Keeping a personal journal is a really excellent way to dig deep with those kind of questions. Brain-dumping all of the words out of your mind and getting them onto paper is a really good way for clearing some space for other stuff.
The third of the Niyamas, Tapas, invites us to grow through the challenges that life presents us with. And let’s face it, growth and self care is actually not always about bubble baths and having a chill time reading a book.
It’s about doing the work of processing difficult emotions.
This is just one of the ways that a regular yoga practice can influence and benefit your emotional wellbeing. Tapas also applies when you’re in the yoga pose that you really dislike and the teacher says Three. More. Breaths. And you feel the tension in the body and the tension in the mind as Ego starts to pipe up.
It’s normal and it’s ok.
(It is said that the yoga pose you don’t like is the one you should take more frequently to be better able to deal with difficult thoughts or feelings.)
How I’ll get along with this practice is anyone’s guess but you can bet your last Scooby snack I’m going to give it a go!
Do you think you might benefit from reframing the Black Dog? Or do you know someone else who it might be helpful for? Do all the friendly, social stuff like sharing, commenting, liking etc so these words can reach a wider audience and perhaps help one or two extra people.
(You can also get in touch just to tell me which is your favourite picture! If you love dogs and you use Instagram, check out Aunty Annie’s All About the Dog page. She takes the most wonderful pictures of her tribe of doggos and their adventures around Wiltshire. They are great images and often make me laugh with their wonderful expressions. )
NOW THEN. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
I really, really hope this change in perspective might be helpful for you and I would love for you to tell me your thoughts on the subject. I need you to know that I am not being dismissive of your personal circumstances, at all. If you are struggling in any way, I implore you to talk to someone you trust, or speak with your GP or the Samaritans if you could do with some extra support.
I promise you, my darling, you are not on your own with whatever you are dealing with. All things are temporary and they pass.
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week will take place from 10-16th May 2021. The theme is ‘Nature’.
We have known for a long time that being outside has so many benefits for both our physical health and mental health. Personally, when I reflect on the past 15 months, being outside, has, at times, kept me going. Kept me going, when the days felt long and equally like they were disappearing at the speed of light. On many occasions my stress container was overflowing, but I felt that ‘nature’ was my ever-available resource. This resource protected not just my health but also many of the the peoples’ around me.
Often, my motivation to go out walking is not to feel the benefits of exercise, but to engage with my surroundings. I LOVE birds. Sitting or walking, listening to different bird calls is my mindfulness activity. I try to engage in this most days, whether it’s in my garden or out in my local park.
During Mental Health Awareness week, I will be following the guidance from the Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness of the benefits nature has on our health. Nature can give an abundance of gifts in alleviating stress.
During Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation are asking us to do three things, find out more on their website :-
Experience nature: take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice!
Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others. Join the discussion on how you’re connecting with nature by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
Talk about nature: use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides to discuss in your family, school, workplace and community how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.
I’d like to say I’m a pretty optimistic person, I like to look at the positives in a situation, I find gratitude is exceptionally powerful in my ability to remain resilient in challenging times. However, I have to apply caution to my optimism. I do not ever want to invalidate another persons experience by offering them an optimistic alternative view.
Often, we don’t know what other people are experiencing and an empathic alliance is what people need, rather than forcing someone to look for unicorns and rainbows. However, optimism isn’t always sickening positivity and I wanted to have a look at what we know about it and how to cultivate it to your advantage.
What is optimism?
Optimism is defined as a mental attitude reflecting hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something (Oxford Dictionary), i.e. Is the glass half full or half empty? This question epitomises the definition of optimism, those who view the glass as half full would be viewed as optimistic.
Optimism doesn’t have to mean engaging in wishful thinking, it can be a way of looking at the world and viewing yourself as responsible for areas of your life that are going well. This optimistic view on life gives more personal agency to yourself for positive events, creating a healthier outlook.
Benefits of optimism
Optimists have been found to live longer than those perceived as pessimistic, they also tend to be less susceptible to the negative effects of illness, fatigue and depression (Andersson, 1996).Optimists are likely to cope better with stressful situations and tend to take more direct action to solve these problems, by viewing the situation as temporary where things are likely to get better. (Fox, 2012).
Tips to cultivate optimism
The ‘best possible self’ exercise – This exercise involves taking 15 minutes every day to write an ideal future 1-10 years from now with everything going as well as possible, being specific and optimistic. This has been found to increase positive emotions, help identify goals and feel more control in our lives.
Trying on a ‘positive lens’ – making a conscious effort to challenge yourself to try and think of something positive in every situation, this small effort has been found to train our brains to alter our responses to negative experiences to cope better (Davidson, 2003).
Keep a gratitude diary – At the end of each day writing down and focusing on all the things that had gone right and have made you happy that day can be a good way to feel more grateful for the small things. This can be something as little as the car starting or someone making you smile.
Cultivate positivity to others – Making other people feel positive has found to have lasting effects on your own life, making you feel more positive and optimistic (Lambert et al, 2012). Share positive feedback with someone, compliment a person at work or tell someone close to you how much you appreciate them! Whilst doing this don’t forget to bestow positivity on yourself – praise yourself and think of all the good things from your day.
Being optimistic but remaining realistic
Although optimism can have various benefits for both physical and mental health, individuals with an unrealistic belief that the future will only contain positive events can lead them to take unnecessary risks with both their health and finance.
Being optimistic is not always easy and research suggests it may not always be the best strategy. It suggests that by coupling optimism with a small dose of realism individuals can build resilience and encourage individuals to achieve their goals (Schneider, 2001).
Individuals who try to always be optimistic can sometimes dismiss their real emotions, failing to take time out to understand these emotions (Whitbourne, 2010). By adjusting coping methods that take into account the reality of situations, individuals can be both optimistic and realistic.
Realistic optimism is a way to remain optimistic whilst also being realistic. Realistic optimism involves hoping for positive outcomes by setting achievable goals and working towards the desired outcome (Schneider, 2001). These people tend to hold a positive outlook on life but within the restraints of what they know to be realistic in their world (Action for Happiness). Understanding that the road ahead may be rocky but still will lead to success is an important outlook for a realistic optimist and means that they tend to better deal with problems before they arise and persist longer in the face of difficulty (Halvorson, 2011).
It’s National work-life week from 12th-16th October and we wanted to share why it’s important to have a healthy work life balance. We’ve also shared a few hints and tips for employers and employees.
Why is it important?
When individuals have a poor work-life balance, it can lead to their health suffering and can ultimately affect their wellbeing. Research suggests that individuals who are overworked are at a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems than those with a healthier work-life balance (Virtanen, 2010). Whilst mental health is also affected by a lack of a healthy work life balance with 27% of individuals feeling depressed if they are working long hours and 40% neglecting other aspects of their life (Mental Health Foundation).
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is not only important for health and relationships but it has also been found to improve employee’s performance and productivity. By individuals being able to leave work at work they can become more engaged and go the extra mile during their work hours (Perrin, 2006).
Studies into what a good work-life balance looks like
Byrne (2005) – This study suggests that the work-life balance is beginning to change with the generation of workers, with millennials wanting more control over when, where and how they work. They suggest that the work-life balance is achieved when the individual’s life inside and outside work is accepted, respected and is benefiting that individual. Within the workplace work-life balance might include flexi-hours, compressed working hours, self-rostering, working from home and flexible benefits. These types of work differences allow individuals to spend more time with their friends and families whilst be productive in their job role.
Spring (2002) – This study found that although work-life balance can mean different things for different employers and employees there are some basic wants for a good work-life balance. Employees tended to indicate a better work-life balance with incentives of flexi-time, a higher entitlement to holidays and less travelling to meet clients. It was indicated that these benefits allowed employees to spend more time at home with their families, allowing them to be more productive in their work environments.
What businesses can do to create a good work-life balance
Breaks – Encouraging small breaks throughout the day can help individual’s health and mental wellbeing. To help encourage this, workplaces could consider installing a ‘break out space’ such as a games room or a room with sofas to help individuals socialise and take their minds off work. All of these techniques have found to positively impact on your team’s performance, productivity and workplace happiness.
Healthy food options – ‘Fruit Fridays’ has been an initiative used to help the healthy work-life balance. Businesses work with local fruit grocers to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for employees encouraging them to eat healthily and have healthy snacks whilst at work. The benefits of eating fruit can also work against those of over working with helping to lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. Whilst also promoting mental wellness and improving moral and motivation.
Break out space – With individuals becoming more glued to their screens the use of a breakout space has found to be really important in order to encourage a better work-life balance, encourage employee retention and attracting individuals to the workforce. An efficient break-out area allows individuals to take their minds off the job promoting productivity, creativity and has found to improve wellness and reduce stress levels.
Employee Assistance Programme- Invest in an EAP to help support your employees. Make sure the provider is registered via the EAP Association.
Mental Health First Aid – Having a trained mental health first aider is another way to keep a balanced work life. Mental health first aiders are trained to understand the benefits of a healthy work-life balance and it encourages employees to gain support on how to effectively achieve this balance.
Ask workers what they need – A work-life balance can look different to every employee and therefore it’s important to listen to your employees and how to achieve this. 41% of employees do not feel listened to regarding work-life balance, therefore encourage your employees to take part in a survey and give them balance-related options allowing the company to implement achievable work-life solutions.
Boundaries people can set to preserve their own mental health at work
Leave work on time – Are you often the last to leave work? Long hours mean you may be working harder but not necessarily working better, these long hours can take a toll on your productiveness, concentration and health. Try to leave work on time to help separate your time at work and time at home.
Ask for help – If you feel as though you are struggling to manage your work load, take the opportunity to discuss this with your manager or supervisor. It’s important to ask for help if you are struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Take your breaks- we know that breaks are essential for us to be productive. People often work through their breaks because they want to achieve more. However, when people don’t take timely breaks they are less productive.
Take time off – A break from work provides a chance to switch off and enjoy yourself, use this opportunity to recuperate and recharge. This is essential to improve your productivity and remain focussed whilst at work.
If you are working from home. Take a look at our working from home tips.
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