I once was in a museum and watched a guard cross his feet and arms, lean back against a wall -- and go sound asleep. I couldn't believe it -- surely he was just resting his eyes? But then I heard the unmistakable sounds of soft snores.
Now that, I thought, is a useful skill.
But how many workers can learn to sleep standing up? Surely, this is a specialized skill. What about the other millions of mentally and physically exhausted employees who have been doing twice the work in the last year in an effort to hang onto their jobs? Where can they find the rest they need during the day to keep going? I found the answer when I did my latest column for Gannett/USAToday.com:
Would you like to look younger, feel better, lose weight and be happier?
There’s a simple way to do all those things: get some rest at work.
While the idea of resting at work may seem ludicrous – especially since many employees are doing more work than ever before in this tough economy – getting more rest really can make a huge difference in your life, says Dr. Matthew Edlund, a sleep and rest expert.
“People have turned themselves into machines,” Edlund says. “They’re working 24/7. But they’re not machines, and their bodies aren’t getting the needed rest to rebuild and renew.”
In his new book, “The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough,” (HarperOne, $25.99), Edlund says that we need all kinds of rest – from getting enough sleep to giving our bodies a chance to recharge through spiritual, mental and social activities that refresh us. Such activities, even at work, are critical if we want to thrive, he says.
“More people are developing insomnia, so they use sleeping pills to sleep, then using stimulants like caffeine to stay awake,” he says. “They race through the day, instead of going with the natural flow and rhythm. I’m saying they shouldn’t fight the need to rest. The body needs time to rebuild.”
For those who may think they don’t have “time” to rest, Edlund provides theses extra incentives: Studies have shown that those who get enough down time not only do better at work and are in a better frame of mind – but they also have better skin and control weight gain. In other words, getting more rest makes you not only feel better, but look better, he says.
Edlund advocates finding periods throughout the day to rest. Trying to go at a non-stop pace is simply bad for your mental and physical health and leads to poorer performance, less creativity and more mistakes at work, he says. “People are working harder and harder these days, but they’re producing less,” he says. “People use machines so much, they think they are machines.”
But most bosses aren’t willing to let employees sleep at their desks – so how does the average worker find time to recharge?
Here are some ways he says workers can cope better with their hectic workdays:
· Pop your ears. Close your eyes, place your fingers in your ears for 10 seconds and the pop your ears loudly. Open your eyes and begin mentally naming the colors you see, then the sizes and shapes of various objects. Identify the sounds you hear. This helps you “reset” your system and eases your stress so you can move forward, he says.
· Walk to the bathroom. Use the time to walk to music you love or stop and chat briefly with a friendly co-worker. Such activities can give you the rest break you need.
· Visualize the task. If you’re anxious about a job you need to do, you can try self-hypnosis. Close your eyes. Focus, relax and concentrate on what you need to do, such as imagining the details of the task, imagining yourself doing it quickly and efficiently. If you don’t think you can do self-hypnosis, close your eyes and imagine an identical twin doing the task. That should enable you to approach the task more calmly.
· Use lunchtime for mental and spiritual rest. Edlund suggests going for a walk outside, since sunlight has been proven to improve productivity for early afternoon activities and greenery benefits your alertness and health. If you can’t get away from your desk, focus on something from nature such as a plant on your desk or even an interesting rock found on a vacation. If possible, spend time with a colleague socializing over a meal.
· Take a nap. Afternoons are often a sluggish time for many people. If you have private work space, place a yoga mat on the floor, put on an eyeshade and sleep for no more than 15 minutes. If you can prove to your boss that your productivity goes up after a short nap, you may be able to convince him or her to let you use a quiet area – such as a conference room – if you don’t have a private work space.
· Take a coffee break. Taking a five- to 15-minute mid-afternoon break – especially with another person – gives you a “social” rest that will renew you to go back to work. If you take a break alone, make sure you savor your tea or coffee so that you get the relaxation you need, Edlund says.
What techniques do you use to get through your day?