This article first appeared on ExecuNet on December 4, 2020. We're re-posting it on our blog.
How Rest Can Help You Become A Better & Smarter Worker
Were you aware that 19% of Americans quit their job in 2019 because of extreme stress? Studies show that 46% of all full-time employees in the US feel stressed at work, and 26% of them experience severe burn out within months of joining their workplace1.
One of the main reasons for this is that 26% of the work a full-time employee does in the US is done not at the office, but at home. This should tell you how skewed work and life balance is in America.
Numerous studies have shown the correlation between long working hours, poor work and life balance, stress, and poor performance3. This stress doesn’t just affect the mind, but it also affects your body. From leading to cardiovascular problems to making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression, stress can affect the quality of your life. The only way to overcome (and prevent) stress and improve job performance is to get adequate rest.
Benefits of rest and why we’re not getting enough of it
- Improve your mood and mental health.
- Reduce possibilities of migraines.
- Lead to a healthier heart.
- Reduce dependence on smoking and alcohol.
- Prevent weight gain.
- Improve mental acuity.
- Improve hand-eye-coordination.
- Reduce blood sugar levels.
- Boost your immunity.
But despite these advantages, most of us ignore rest because of:
- Immense workloads and pressure at the office.
- Fear of being discounted during appraisals (for taking breaks/rest).
- Juggling too many household/familial responsibilities – especially if you’re a single-parent.
- Forgetting to take rest by not being mindful of your health.
- Choosing to consciously ignore signs of stress and ill-health to get ahead in life.
This can really mess with our bodies and create lifelong problems for us. If we want to become better at our personal and professional lives, it’s important to rest up.
The science of rest and how to rest your mind and body
Rest works in miraculous ways and affects both you're physiology and psychology.
Sleep is one of the most powerful ways of getting rest and relaxation after a hard day of work.
When you get good, uninterrupted sleep, you give your body a chance to remove any toxins in the brain. Research shows that during non-REM sleep (the deepest part of your sleep cycle), the quantity of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain increases, and the CSF flushes out any toxins, thereby giving your brain a deep-clean4. This makes your neurons healthier and stronger, improving your mental agility and keeping at bay any memory problems or neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's.
Sleep has also been found to increase creativity by stimulating the hippocampus (where memories are stored) and the neocortex (where learned facts are stored) to work together5. When this happens, your brain is able to recognize and pull out common themes amongst hundreds of memories and come up with ingenious ideas.
When it comes to sleep, it isn’t necessary to sleep all night long to combat the impact of stress. Studies show that a short 30-minute nap in the middle of the day can reverse the negative effects of less or no sleep6.
Doctors recommend that you take a short nap every day, approximately 7 hours after you’ve awoken. This will help reduce high BP, improve communication between your brain’s right & left hemispheres (boosting memory & creativity) and increase your alertness & concentration7.
Recommendation: Get at least 7-9 hours of undisturbed sleep every night. Include a 30-minute nap each day. If working from the office, take two 15-minute breaks (apart from lunch) during the entire day, close your eyes, and meditate/listen to music.
Exercise & play
Exercise & play can be immensely beneficial in helping you experience mental and physical recovery. They stimulate the production of happy hormones called endorphins, which trigger a feeling akin to what morphine provides8. These hormones reduce your sensation of pain and discomfort and enable you to feel relaxed. Exercise and play also boost the production of other hormones like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which improve your mood, allowing you to feel less anxious and be happier.
Pro Tip: other activities can also spike the production of these hormones like scrolling through Facebook. Give yourself time away from screens so that you can literally recharge.
Extensive scientific literature has been published, documenting the relationship between happiness and a longer, smarter & healthier life9. Being happy can enable you to recover fully from the ill-effects of stress, allowing you to lead a fulfilling personal and professional life.
Pro Tip: Walking, hiking, running, cycling, dance, Tai Chi, Yoga, swimming, strength training, stairs, HIIT, CrossFit etc. – all are great for exercise. Even play/games like basketball, football, tennis, golf, horse riding, bowling etc. mimic the same benefits that exercise offers. Just 30 minutes a day will do the trick.
(When you’re working out or playing, consider using the CareRemote multi-utility socks. Our socks are tested by the U.S. Military and have been proven to offer therapeutic benefits during intense physical activity. The advanced textile triple fiber material ensures your socks don’t feel damp or smell after long hours of usage. You can wear them to work in the morning and continue using them in the evening for your workouts/play without worry.) A commonly used term for this type of sock is athleisure.
Each one of us has a particular activity that we love to do. It could be painting, baking, collecting stamps, reading etc. But irrespective of your hobby, it's been found that engaging in leisure activities can improve your physiological and psychological health11. In particular, research shows that hobbies can reduce your BP, improve mental agility, better your self-perception/esteem and reduce your BMI12.
Something as simple as gardening or spending time with animals, has also been found to reduce attention fatigue in people13. In fact, spending time in nature could be one of the best ways to manage symptoms of ADHD14 – a condition known to reduce workplace focus, increase tendency to procrastinate and impair ability to make decisions.
Hobbies also offer people the opportunity to form friendships and develop a sense of community – which are instrumental in improving your mental health and mood. Together, these benefits mimic the same restful sensations that sleep and exercise offer.
Recommendation: Spend a minimum of 45 minutes each day doing an activity you love.
Vacations allow us to combine the wonderful effects of all the above restful activities we’ve just discussed.
When you are on a vacation, you have the opportunity to get more sleep, exercise/play with friends and spend more time on activities that you actually enjoy – all of which reduce the amount of physical and mental stress you have.
In particular, if the vacation is extremely laid back or involves activities that rejuvenate you, you will experience a higher sense of physical and mental relief. This allows you to come back calmer and more collected, ready for work.
Recommendation: Take at least 2 long vacations of a week or longer each year, interspersed with weekend getaways whenever you can.
How companies can improve work and life balance
It's easy to say that people should rest more often. But given the extremely hectic work-life we are leading today; the onus of rest and recovery lies primarily on employers. Suppose companies are willing to accommodate their employees' recovery needs. In that case, it becomes easier to improve work and life balance, reduce stress, fuel inspiration & new insights at work and reduce chances of burn out & attrition.
Two ways this can be done are:
Shorter working weeks
Studies have shown that working more than 40-hour shifts (and in particular working 84-hour shifts regularly) can create hormonal imbalances in the body, by exposing workers to acute stress15. Flexible working hours and shorter work weeks have shown a tremendous, positive impact on workers' health and well-being, not to mention an improvement in workplace productivity & job satisfaction and a reduction in absenteeism16.
Allowing employees to log-in at staggered times, limiting daily working hours to 6-7 hours and discouraging staff from carrying work home, can help reduce numerous problems and make staff feel well-rested.
Remote working also achieves similar benefits as a flexible work week.
Work-from-home set-ups ensure employees don’t sit in traffic for hours each day, as they commute to work & back. It also gives staff the opportunity to access healthy home-cooked meals at the right time, preventing an unhealthy dependence on junk food – which is one of the consequences of stress and absence of rest17.
Additionally, remote working gives people the opportunity to access their leisure activities and workouts much faster and more easily (because of the absence of commute), allowing them to recover from work stress, feel rested and gear up for the next day.
- CompareCamp.com. 2020. 79 Work-Life Balance Statistics: 2019/2020 Current State & Industry Practices | Comparecamp.Com. [online] Available at: <https://comparecamp.com/work-life-balance-statistics/> [Accessed 24 November 2020].
- RescueTime Blog. 2020. The State Of Work Life Balance In 2019 (According To Data) - Rescuetime. [online] Available at: <https://blog.rescuetime.com/work-life-balance-study-2019/> [Accessed 24 November 2020].
- Hsu, Y.-Y. et al. (2019) “Long hours’ effects on work-life balance and satisfaction,” BioMed research international, 2019, p. 5046934.
- Makin, S. (2019) “Deep sleep gives your brain a deep clean,” Scientific American, 1 November. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deep-sleep-gives-your-brain-a-deep-clean1/ (Accessed: November 24, 2020).
- Lewis. A.P., Knoblich. G., Poe.G.. “How Memory Replay in Sleep Boosts Creative Problem-Solving”. Available at https://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(18)30070-6/ (Accessed: June 1, 2018)
- Endocrine Society (2015) “Napping reverses health effects of poor sleep, study finds,” Science Daily, 10 February. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150210141734.htm (Accessed: November 24, 2020).
- Breus, M. J. (2018) “9 interesting ways napping can make your life better,” Psychology Today, 14 June. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleep-newzzz/201806/9-interesting-ways-napping-can-make-your-life-better (Accessed: November 24, 2020).
- Harvard Health Publishing (no date) Exercising to relax, Harvard.edu. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax (Accessed: November 24, 2020).
- Happiness & health (2010) Harvard.edu. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/ (Accessed: November 24, 2020).
- Panagi, L. et al. (2019) “Happiness and inflammatory responses to acute stress in people with type 2 diabetes,” Annals of behavioral medicine: a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 53(4), pp. 309–320.
- Harvard Business Review (2019) “Why you should work less and spend more time on hobbies,” 7 February. Available at: https://hbr.org/2019/02/why-you-should-work-less-and-spend-more-time-on-hobbies (Accessed: November 24, 2020).
- Pressman, S. D. et al. (2009) “Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being,” Psychosomatic medicine, 71(7), pp. 725–732.
- Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L. and Atchley, P. (2012) “Creativity in the wild: improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings,” PloS one, 7(12), p. e51474.
- Kuo, F. E. and Taylor, A. F. (2004) “A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study,” American journal of public health, 94(9), pp. 1580–1586.
- Persson, R. et al. (2006) “Impact of an 84-hour workweek on biomarkers for stress, metabolic processes and diurnal rhythm,” Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 32(5), pp. 349–358.
- (No date) Researchgate.net. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232480680_Flexible_and_Compressed_Workweek_Schedules_A_Meta-Analysis_of_Their_Effects_on_Work-Related_Criteria (Accessed: November 24, 2020).
- Why you eat unhealthy food when you’re stressed. (no date) Edu.au. Available at: https://this.deakin.edu.au/self-improvement/eat-unhealthy-food-youre-stressed (Accessed: November 24, 2020).