If you’re like many people, you probably spend a good deal of time feeling tired at work. You’re cruising right along getting work done and then, gradually at first, you feel your body beginning to slow down. Your eyes get heavy, your concentration begins to waver, and before you know it you’re either running for a cup of coffee or an energy drink. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll start to nod off at your desk and hope that nobody notices.
According to a study published in JAMA Network, “30.5% of adults experienced at least 1 hour of sleep debt, and 9.75% experienced at least 2 hours of sleep debt”—that is, getting less sleep than is necessary for your body to function, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is at least seven hours per night for adults. In the study, sleep debt was measured by comparing the length of time participants slept on non-work days to the average length of time participants slept on work days.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a couch or a company R&R area, you can grab a quick power nap when you begin to feel tired at work. And there’s nothing wrong with doing so. In fact, a number of companies, employees and researchers have begun to recognize the benefits of grabbing a few midday Zs.
Unfortunately, it’s not a trend everyone has caught onto. Some bosses might see it as laziness. Others may view it as an inability to properly manage your time, both at the office and at home. A responsible worker would, after all, get enough sleep at night to avoid tiring while on the job.
What to do when you’re tired at work
So what can you do, other than get more sleep, to avoid the unpleasantness of drowsiness in a workplace that frowns upon it?
1. Put your phone away at night to prevent being tired at work.
Our devices can be very addicting, the endless scrolling causing us to lose out on precious sleep time. Moreover, research has shown that it negatively affects sleep quality, reducing the benefits that sleep provides, while the restriction of phone use can improve sleep quality and duration. However, some recent studies have found that engagement with screens before sleep may actually help improve sleep quality—in certain circumstances.
2. Take breaks.
Short, strategically placed breaks (especially ones that involve movement) can do wonders when you’re tired at work to help you sustain your focus and energy levels. Research has shown that workers who take brief, frequent breaks—particularly on days when they experience morning fatigue—maintain high energy levels and are more engaged with their work.
3. Feeling tired at work? Get moving.
Physical activity can help to improve alertness and cognitive performance. Try an under-the-desk elliptical or exercise bike to provide you with seamless movement that doesn’t pull you from your work. Alternatively, take short, brisk walks around the office or down the hall. You could even dart up a couple of flights of stairs for a quick recharge.
4. Stand up.
Stand when you can if you’re feeling tired at work. Desks that can adjust to standing positions are a great option for those people who just need to work through a lull or want to get the benefits of added circulation—and potentially even reduced mortality.
5. Eat smarter and better to avoid feeling tired at work.
Don’t skip out on meals, particularly breakfast. A good breakfast filled with carbohydrates will hold you in good stead throughout the morning. Resist the temptation to overeat in order to avoid a blood sugar crash or inundating your digestive system. Instead of consuming sugar to get an energy boost, try healthier alternatives such as fresh produce and complex carbohydrates (legumes and whole grains, for example).
6. Drink more water and less caffeine.
Mild dehydration is an often-unnoticed cause of fatigue and impaired cognitive functioning. Keep lots of water—or another preferred beverage—at your desk and condition yourself to drink about 11 cups of water a day for women or 16 cups for men, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. When you’re tired at work, caffeinated drinks, including coffee and soda, can give you an alertness pick-me-up—particularly in conjunction with a quick nap, in regards to the “coffee naps” that may help increase productivity. But you want to be strategic about how much caffeine you ingest. As with any external stimulant, too much can lead your body to adjust and no longer feel the same level of impact.
This article was published in October 2017 and has been updated. Photo by Kateryna Onyshchuk/Shutterstock
Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Read his blog at impactfulcoaching.com/blog. Download a free chapter of his upcoming leadership book, Becoming the New Boss.
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