Being stressed seems to be the norm in today’s fast-paced society that pressures us to devote our lives to work and “earning” a living.
People often neglect the basic human need for rest and sleep.
We’ve become a largely sleep-deprived society, working more hours every day and suffering from stress, sluggishness and insomnia, but:
- Are we really being more productive by starving our bodies of much-needed sleep and rest?
- Could it be that we are actually wasting time by working?
- Is working hard the same as working smart?
Let’s consider the notion that overworking might actually be working against us.
The scientific community certainly seems to agree that healthy sleeping habits, proper rest and relieving stress makes us more productive.
When we rest we have the mindset and energy to work harder for shorter periods. This helps us to achieve more and save time in the process!
Does Getting More Rest Make You More Productive?
Research has demonstrated, time and time again, that getting more rest makes us more productive and results in fewer errors.
The “Journal of Sleep Research” and “Psychology Today” are great information sources for the correlation between rest and performance. There are also reams of studies available on Google and Amazon.
Don’t believe the science? Try it in your own life to see if you benefit.
To do this it is important to understand why rest and relaxation makes us more productive and how we can relax.
Why Does Rest And Relaxation Make Us More Productive?
Our brains never actually “rest.” In fact, they are always active, even when we sleep.
Depending on where you look for your statistics, scientists estimate that the average human has between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day.
Just like our heart, our brain never switches off; instead, it operates at different levels, or frequencies.
These frequencies are all useful but, as human beings, we don’t have the capacity or energy to maintain the highest frequencies for long periods. We get fatigued.
This is why rest is important – giving our brain time recuperate, ready for another spike in high frequency activity.
What Are Brain Frequencies?
The Beta State
There are periods of directed and focused activity that occur when we are strongly engaged; for example, working, responding to interview questions, or giving a speech.
These are periods that require mental alertness and are referred to as “beta” states.
Brainwave frequencies in this state are often high at around 12.5 to 40 cycles per second.
The Alpha State
Conversely, there are periods during which brain activity occurs in an automatic, effortless manner; for example, when we engage in a relaxing physical activity such as a casual stroll, or a relaxing creative hobby such as drawing or singing.
These are periods of relaxation and stress reduction that require less focus and mental alertness, allowing for brainwaves to slow down to a steady pace (around 9 to 12.5 cycles per second).
This slowing down of brain activity, to produce a calmer mental condition, is referred to as the “alpha” state and is the state that exists between wakefulness (“beta” states) and drowsiness, known as the “theta” state.
The Theta State
The “theta” state is a more meditative, daydreamy state.
At a frequency range of between 5 to 8 cycles per second, this is the state we enter into when we have just driven for 10 miles without actually remembering the trip or when we get “in the zone” while running.
People often try to create this state by meditating; mentally disengaging from their actions in order to slow down their brain frequencies and improve their mental health.
The Delta State
When our brain operates in frequencies below the theta state, we enter into sleep.
This is called the “delta” state and is the most rested state for the brain.
There are several stages of sleep that we go through and the quality of sleep is also extremely important for a healthy lifestyle but that is worth a whole article on its own!
How Do We Utilise Our Knowledge Of Brainwaves?
So, why is all this important? Well, if we are aware of the activities that go on in our brains we can do a better job of controlling our states.
It’s commonly suggested that the best ideas are generated during the “alpha” and “theta” states because relaxation and mental disengagement allows for the flow of unrestricted and uncensored thoughts.
Creative people may actually save time and generate more interesting ideas from relaxing and daydreaming. So take walks to “clear your mind,” stare out of the window for inspiration or keep a notepad by your bed just in case that light bulb moment hits you!
Don’t be discouraged if you are a non-creative person. You can still utilise this information by reflecting on what state you are in at a given moment and changing your state for better performance.
When you find that you have fallen from your Beta state and are now just daydreaming your way through tasks, take a break, go for a walk, meditate, do whatever works for you and revisit the task when your brain has recharged!
Remember that you are human… You need rest.
You cannot operate in the Beta state consistently; if you rest, relax and refresh at frequent intervals you will no doubt operate at a higher level when you are in the Beta state, saving you time and making you a more efficient machine.
How Do We Incorporate Rest And Relaxation Into Our Lifestyles?
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. By modifying your daily habits, you can begin to encourage yourself to gradually include more periods of “alpha” and “theta” states into your lifestyle, as well as encouraging better sleeping habits.
Learning to relax and sleep more effectively will certainly have positive health outcomes in the long run.
Win The Morning – Win The Day!
While many of us have become “night-owls” in response to lengthy working hours and other pressing responsibilities, studies have shown that people are generally more productive when they start work early in the day and concentrate on their most challenging tasks while their body is fresh and their creative energy is peaking.
Try going to bed an hour or two earlier so you can wake up earlier and really smash those challenges you have in front of you!
If you’re not a morning person, complete really simple challenges like making your bed or doing the washing up.
Accomplishing simple morning duties puts you in a more positive frame of mind and increases your motivation to bulldozer through more difficult tasks.
Research also suggests that having a daily routine can enhance creativity by freeing up the mind from having to come up with a new plan every day.
Mark Zuckerberg, owner of Facebook, is famously know for wearing the same grey t-shirt, stating: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,”
Napping is another extremely beneficial way to reboot your mental energy, particularly if you have difficulty sleeping for long periods during the night.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most sleep therapists recommend taking a nap shortly after your mid-day meal, typically between 2pm and 3pm, as it is less likely to impact on your nighttime sleep.
If you just want to recharge your batteries and spring back to work immediately, keep your nap short, maybe 10-30 minutes at most. Otherwise, you may drift into deep sleep, which will cause grogginess and disorientation upon awakening.
There is a long list of wise historic figures who enjoyed napping as part of their daily routine. Einstein, Dali, Aristotle, Da Vinci, J.F. Kennedy and Thomas Edison all advocated short naps.
Salvador Dali even wrote a technique for taking the perfect nap, without falling into deep sleep, in his book “50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship”
His technique :
- Sit upright when you nap
- Hold a key between your fingers above an upside down metal plate
- When you fall asleep, you’ll drop the key!
- Dropping the key wakes you up before you fall into deep sleep!
Dali used a skeleton key and a plate, but you don’t have to. Anything will do as long as it wakes you up!
Sharpen The Saw!
As Stephen Covey described in his book “7 habits of highly effective people” it is important that you take time away from what you are doing to think about the task and to refresh your mind and body.
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
There are a couple of military mottos that will help you when it comes to slowing down the pace in order to relax and save yourself time: “slow and smooth is fast” and “don’t run to your death.”
You don’t have to cease completing tasks all together in order to perform them in a relaxed state.
If you slow down and settle into a rhythm WHILST carrying out your responsibilities you will no doubt become more effective, reduce errors and save yourself time!
Use examples descried in the “Alpha” and “Theta” sections above – daydreaming, meditation, light exercise, drawing and singing are all activities that may help to slow your brain frequencies, initiating a more relaxed state.
If you want to read more about relaxation techniques, take a look at (or bookmark) some of our popular articles:
Other activities that may help you to switch off include:
Refreshing your mind and body will increase your efficiency when you come to rely on your mental and physical state.
The more refreshed you are, the more effectively and efficiently you complete tasks. The more effectively and efficiently you complete tasks, the more time you have to rest and relax!
Now this is a really difficult one. Multitasking is so tempting in modern society because of the unlimited access to information and the speed at which things operate.
Multitasking puts pressure on the brain as it is not programmed to deal with several things at once. This slows you down and reduces the quality of your work; two things that lead to wasted time!
It has also been suggested that multitasking has negative impacts on concentration, organisation and attention to detail, as well as possibly lowering IQ.
Find yourself multitasking? Why not try…
Let’s face it, research indicates that we need more rest and sleep in our fast-paced lives.
While society may be pressuring us to overwork, this won’t cause us to be more productive or to achieve more during our working hours. Quite the contrary: apparently the secret to achieving more is actually working less!
In order to save time, reduce errors and be more effective we actually have to rest and recuperate. We have to control the state of our mind and body so we are ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
This means working smart and using the techniques provided in this article!