Sleep on the Job. It's the Right Thing to Do! - Careers Articles

By Lisa Johnson Mandell

Admit it -- you've been guilty of this: You're sitting at your desk with your head propped up on your arm, pretending to be fascinated by whatever is on your screen, but you're really surreptitiously catching a few Zs before you move on to the next project. We've all been there, done that.

And it's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Dr. Matthew Edlund, author of the recently released 'The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough' (HarperOne). Edlund founded the West Coast Regional Sleep Disorders Center, and now runs both the Center for Circadian Medicine and the Gulf Coast Sleep Institute in Sarasota, Fla. After years of research, he discovered that "many people aren't just sleep-deprived, they're rest-deprived. The result? Our hearts, minds, and central nervous systems are overloaded, our health is suffering, and we've forgotten what it feels like to be truly refreshed."

"Too many people today accept sluggishness and fatigue as the inevitable side effects of hectic lives, and believe that there isn't much they can do about it besides squeezing in another hour or two of sleep," Edlund said. "Getting enough sleep is important; but it's only one part of a much larger spectrum of rest. The benefits of making time for rest have proven extraordinary: When people engage the body's power to restore and renew itself, they look younger, heal faster, lose weight more effectively, and experience greater joy in their work and their relationships."

Edlund goes so far as to recommend taking a short nap at 2PM, citing studies that show the early afternoon is a period of low energy. "If possible, take a short nap of 15 minutes or less," he advised. "Studies prove that short naps improve work performance."

Among other ways to rest effectively at work, Edlund suggests:

  • When you get to your desk, take 30 seconds and breathe deeply. Breathe in to the count of four, out to the count of eight -- really open up those lungs.

  • At 10:30AM, or after you've been at work for an hour and a half, take your first break. Get up and move around. If possible, stop by to visit a coworker for a brief chat. Short social connections help us switch gears and are a powerful rest technique.

  • Walk with a co-worker at lunch. The physical activity and exposure to sunlight will help keep your energy up, while the social interaction helps relieve stress.

  • If you are feeling a bit sluggish, stand up and practice mountain pose: Align your ankle, knee, hip and shoulders along the same imaginary line, breathing in deeply and slowly.

  • Before you leave the office, practice deep breathing for 15 seconds and then think of your first work priority. Did you accomplish it? If not, plan how you might get it done tomorrow. Take stock of your day and think about what you learned -- perhaps a new technique from a colleague, or a better way to interact with your boss. Congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished.

  • There are some bosses, however, that will probably be opposed to a 15-minute nap, or practicing that mountain pose. They might feel that those resting techniques seem lazy or distracting. Edlund also debunks a number of myths about rest that will help you convince your boss that resting is not only good for you, it's essential:

    Myths about rest and counter-arguments

    1. Rest is laziness.

    Rest is how the body rebuilds, rewires, and renews -- necessary for function, and necessary for peak performance.

    2. Rest is useless.

    Rest is like food; you cannot live without it.

    3. Rest is slow.

    Rest is enormously active; the innards of your heart cell are replaced in three days; the skin on your face entirely replaced in two weeks; your gut lining in two days -- you rebuild all the time, and quickly.

    4. Rest is passive.

    In active rest you put the power of rest under your control, quickly and easily.

    5. Rest is boring.

    With active rest, you can markedly improve health and performance, turning rest into flow activities that can become peak experiences.

    6. Rest is sleep

    Sleep is an important, passive part of rest; but rest is ongoing throughout the day and night. Much of rest can become active, purposeful, and directed if you know how.

    Many people are surprised to learn that there are active forms of rest -- and that in addition to the physical, there are mental, social and spiritual forms of rest that are also essential. "We wouldn't expect our bodies to function without food and we shouldn't expect to feel fully fueled and alert without rest," Edlund said.

    Posted via email from AndyWergedal