Monthly Archives: August 2016

5 Ways to Decrease Stress & Increase Productivity

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Young beautiful businesswoman meditates on the table in office

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

– Sydney J. Harris

I’d say I’m safe in assuming many of you don’t have the slightest clue who Sydney J. Harris is, and that is perfectly fine.

As far as this lesson is concerned, it’s quite inconsequential.

That said, of the innumerable profound and witty statements he made over the course of his illustrious career as a writer and journalist, this quote sticks with me more than any other.

If you’ve read my article on Managing Stress, then you remember that each one of us is constantly surrounded by all sorts of different stressors in our daily lives.

And, unless you’re an unemployed, millionaire trust fund baby, you likely face a bulk of these stressors during your workday.  In fact, its quite possible that most of your bodies are consistently operating under a stress response throughout a bulk of the day.

This may very well be leading to fatigue, lack of focus, poor memory, headaches, aching necks, shoulders and low backs, or possibly some other equally undesirable symptoms of a stressful work day.

Getting to the point, our next step is to work on breaking up the chronic activation of our body’s stress response at some point, or points, throughout the day.   So, we are going to discuss 5 methods you can implement into your daily routine to decrease stress, increase productivity, and leave you feeling refreshed and recharged.

 

5 Workday Recharges

 

  1. Power Naps

Now, I’m aware there is a negative stigma surrounding naps.  Some believe it shows laziness or promotes unproductivity.

However, this guy held quite a different view on napping:

“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

 – Winston Churchill

Yeah, that’s right.

Winston Freaking Churchill was a napper.

Churchill, however is not the only brilliant or well-accomplished, documented napper.  In fact, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein all included napping as part of their regular routine.

That’s pretty much a who’s who of people that kicked ass at life.

Einstein even firmly believed his regular napping contributed greatly to his creativity and ideas.

So, were these men correct in believing that regularly taking time out of their busy lives to nap contributed to their success?  Or, was Winston Churchill a lazy nut-job for taking daily naps even at the peak of World War II?

Well, as you might expect, the research is on their side.  In fact, studies have shown napping to have a laundry list of benefits.

Midday naps have been shown to decrease fatigue and sleepiness, while improving physiological alertness and performance on mentally demanding tasks.  There is also significant evidence that naps may help with mood stabilization, control of inflammation, and recovery after a training session. Finally, because the state of sleep experienced during a naps is that of where memories, especially from new tasks, are consolidated, midday naps can be beneficial in learning new tasks and committing to new information to memory.

So, what’s the best application for a midday nap to experience these awesome benefits?

Well, the most realistic option that many of you should be able to fit into you daily routine is a quick 15-30-minute power nap.

Even in this short period of time you can experience the many benefits of napping without interfering with your regular nighttime sleep. Regardless of if you actually fall asleep or not, giving yourself some time in a preferably dimly-lit, quiet, and secluded area will allow your body and mind to recharge and give you the energy to dominate the rest of your day.

Do be careful, however, not to exceed 30 minutes.  As enticing as a 45-60-minute nap may seem, this will often result in you being awoken from a deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy and possibly more fatigued than before.

 

  1. Meditation

If there are any alpha-male, meat-heads out there reading this, I’m sure they are rolling their eyes right now.

“Pssh… no way you’re gonna get me to meditate, bro.”

Well, bro, meditation is for more than just yoga-moms and kung-fu masters.

Major corporations including Target, Google, and General Mills have all instituted midday meditation practices that have yielded improvement workplace productivity.

These improvements can be contributed to the fact that meditation can decrease stress, improve memory, and help workers stay on-task.

Whether it’s 5 minutes here and there or a 10-15-minute break somewhere in your day, find a place to relax and let your body shut down for a few minutes.  Close your eyes, quiet your mind, and perform a string of good, quality breaths.

If you need a little help, download an app like Brain Wave or Headspace to help you relax or you go online to find a meditation program to help guide you through.

 

  1. Release & Reset

Those of you who have completed or currently are performing one of my programs, these terms should be a well-ingrained part of your vocabulary by now.  However, for the remainder of you, let’s briefly cover meaning of the terms release and reset.

Release work consists of “shutting off” overly-toned muscles in order to restore mobility.  Reset work involves realigning major joints to a more optimal position and unlocking greater range of motion.

Taking time out of your day to perform some release and reset work will help alleviate some of the aches, pains, and stiffness that build up over the course of the workday.

Here is a quick and simple routine that will get you feeling better and ready to tackle the remainder of your day:

  1. Release (15-20 seconds each)
    1. Lats
    2. Hip Flexors
    3. Glutes
  2. Reset (8-10 breaths)
    1. Breathing Reset (pick one: bear breathing, crocodile, supine 90-90, wall squat)

So, if you have a little bit of an open area at your disposal, grab a lacrosse ball or foam roller and get to work.

 

  1. Mobility Circuits

As a whole, we sit WAY TOO MUCH.

Even if you work out regularly, or even if you don’t work a desk job I can almost guarantee you’re sitting or stationary far more than you are moving.

For a number of us, this has contributed to chronic aches and pains, as well as an inability to perform even some of the most basic movements.

Honestly, it’s alarming how many adults I’ve encountered in my still relatively young career that are unable to coordinate simple skipping and crawling movements. However, that’s another rant for another time.

Want a simple solution?

Add a quick mobility circuit to the middle of your workday.

Here are a couple quick routines you can perform:

Option 1:

The Full Body Recharge

(8-10 Reps each)

Option 2:

The “I Don’t Want to Blowout My Dress Pants” Routine (8-10 Reps each)

1. Core-Engaged Straight-Leg Raise 1. Bear Breathing
2. Core-Engaged Leg Lowering 2. Reach, Roll, & Lift
3. 90-90 Mobilization 3. Yoga Push-Ups
4. Yoga Push-Ups 4. Broomstick Pec Mobilizations
5. Reverse Lunge with Rotation 5. No Money Drill
6. Pull-Back Butt Kickers
7. Bodyweight Squats

 

If you have a little bit of time left after performing your routine, try finishing with some crocodile breathing.

Pick the routine that works best for you, find a time a place to perform the exercises, do it on a daily basis, then feel the difference!

 

  1. Walking

If none of the aforementioned methods stick, you can always just simply take a walk.

There’s plenty of research, double-blind test studies, and all that wonderful stuff out there that show a bevy of benefits to be gained from talking a regular midday walk.

But, instead of boring you as I usually would, we’ll keep it simple.

If all else fails, simply take 20-30 minutes at the end of your lunch break or in the middle of your afternoon, get up, go outside if the weather permits, and just walk.

You can go by yourself or with a friend.  You can listen to music, meditate, pray, or just zone-out.  Whatever you choose, you will return to your desk refreshed, re-energized, rejuvenated, and any other redundant adjective you could insert here.

 

Listen To Sydney

There’s no denying that making one or more of these workday recharges a part of your regular routine is going to take time and dedication.  While time and dedication are required in the development of most habits, this one in particular may be difficult as it involves, for many, taking time out of busy workdays and breaking up some extremely well-engrained routines.

I’d imagine there are more than a handful of you out there somewhere who may already be writing off this lesson because you believe you are far too busy or set in your ways to dedicate the time necessary to make one of these recharges part of your routine.

However, for those of you who hold this sentiment, it comes back to that simple and profound quote from the beginning of this lesson:

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

Sydney J. Harris hit the nail on the head with this one.

In truth, the busiest of you are those who will benefit most from taking this lesson to heart.

So, regardless of what your schedule looks like, your challenge is to make time to fit one of these recharges into your routine.  If it’s 20-30 minutes, fantastic! If it needs to be 5-10, that works too.

One way or another, make the it a priority.  Give your brain time to shut off and your body to recharge and you’ll be feeling better, moving better, and more productive!

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

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Sleepy young woman trying kill alarm clock while bury face in pillow. Early wake up not getting enough sleep getting work concept. Female stretching hand to ringing alarm willing turn it off

When I was a kid one of the things I hated most was having a set bedtime.

I didn’t understand the importance of sleep and I really just wanted to cram as much playtime or fun as I could into one day. So naturally, I didn’t like my parents telling me when it was my bedtime.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt like this as a kid. But, when we get older we realize our parents knew that sleep was important for our health. And, I’m sure those of you who now have kids of your own make sure they get enough sleep.

However, now that we are all grown-ups here, we no longer have mom and dad putting us to bed on time.

So what are we doing now?

Many of us are staying up to get more work done, going through emails, spending way too much time on the internet, or watching 3 more episodes of that show on Netflix than we planned to. Basically, we’re sacrificing sleep to cram as much work and/or entertainment as we can into one day.

What’s the result?

Well, 50 years ago less than 3% of working adults averaged less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Today, that number has ballooned to 30%. Overall, the total sleep time in the US has decreased 20% in the last 50 years. Meaning the average person is essentially losing about 1 night of sleep per week.

Many have conditioned themselves to get less sleep by pounding coffee or any number of other stimulants. I’m sure they think, for the most part, they are making it by alright. However, the truth is that most of us have lost touch with what it feels like to be truly rested, and the current lifestyle many of us are living is plaguing us with many short and long-term effects.

So, the next step we are going to take in propelling your toward your health and fitness goals is to work on is getting you the appropriate quantity of sleep.

 

How much sleep do you need?

Seems like an appropriate place to start, right?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for anyone 18 years or older.

Now, if you’re an athlete in intense training this number can be greater, but the take home point is that the research shows ALL adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

 

Why 7-9 hours?

Let’s answer the obvious question…

Why do you want to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night?

  1. You will retain more information

While we are asleep, our bodies cycle through multiple phases or stages of sleep, during which various processes take place to restore our bodies and minds after the activities of the previous day. In one night’s rest, our bodies will cycle through these sleep stages multiple times. Each cycle takes roughly 90-120 minutes. Research performed by sleep experts Dr. Robert Stickgold and Dr. Erin Wamsley, has shown that during all of these stages our brains work to process information learned the day before and store them as long-term memories.

Now, while this process of converting fleeting memories into lasting knowledge occurs over all of the sleep stages, according to Dr. Charles Czeisler, the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, the stages of deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep are especially important in the process. While memories and information are processed during the earlier stages of sleep, these memories are solidified as knowledge in the latter stages of the sleep cycle, i.e., deep sleep and REM sleep. REM sleep, in particular, has been shown to stimulate the regions of the brain involved in learning.

So, I’ve spit all this information out, but why does this make getting 7-9 hours of sleep important?

With each cycle you go through in a period of sleep, the time spent in REM sleep increases. The first cycles of sleep contain very short durations of REM sleep, while the later cycles contain considerably greater periods of REM sleep. Studies at the National Center for Neurological Disorders and Stroke concluded that most REM sleep occurs between the 6th and 8th hour of sleep. This means many Americans are missing out on this valuable sleep that is vital to solidifying memories and retaining information.

  1. You want your brain to function properly

When you are sleep deprived, whether from several nights of insufficient sleep or one all-nighter, there is a decrease in activity of the brain’s prefrontal cortex and an increase of activity in the amygdala.

In other words, your rational, discerning brain shuts down and your emotional brain runs wild.

Sleep experts, such as, Dr. Czeisler of Harvard, have likened the brain impairment resulting from sleep deprivation to that of being legally drunk. In fact, 24 hours without sleep or a week of 4-5 hours of sleep per night has shown to induce brain impairment equal to that of a BAC (blood-alcohol content) of .1%.

Now, let’s be honest…

If you’re trying to perform at a high-level at work, ace a big exam in school, or train hard in the gym, showing up legally drunk likely isn’t going to get things done.

  1. You fellas don’t want plummeting testosterone levels

The release of several important hormones is among the many vital processes that occur in our bodies during sleep. Testosterone, quite an important hormone for all you fellas out there, is one of these hormones released during sleep. In fact, the Journal of American Medical Association maintains that a vast majority of testosterone release occurs during sleep.

A study performed at the University of Chicago, showed just how important sleep quantity is to testosterone levels. The study showed a 10-15% percent drop in testosterone of adult males who slept 5 hours or less each day for a week. Leaving their testosterone levels equivalent to that of a pre-pubescent, 11 year-old boy.

Ok fellas, save yourself a trip to the Low-T Center and get yourself 7-9 hours of sleep.

  1. You want to train better, recover faster, and maximize your performance

Well-balanced hormone levels, proper brain function, better retention of information, and simply being well-rested are going to go a long to help improve your training, quicken your recovery, and help you maximize your performance in all walks of life.

If you want some more awesome details on this point, check out my article, 3 Reasons Sleep is Stealing Your Results.

To give you the very abridged version, sleep is the cornerstone of recovery, and how well you recover is going to heavily dictate how much progress you make. 

 

Take Action: Make Sleep a Higher Priority

We’ve covered numerous reasons why getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is of the utmost important to your health. Some of you may still be wondering how in the world you’re going to fit this into your busy schedule.   Some of you probably have every intent to make it happen.

Well, now it’s the time to come up with a plan of action, to overcome the obstacle of your busy schedule and to turn intent into action.

To achieve this I want you to start doing two things.

 

Work backwards

In order to plan ahead, we are going to work backwards.

First, determine what time you need to wake up the next morning. Then, since I want you shooting for 8 hours of sleep, we are going to move the clock back 8 hours.

If I’m setting my alarm for 6am, I’m going to be in bed no later than 10pm.

 

Cut out the excess

If you’re still having trouble its time to examine how you’re spending your time in the evening. Yes, you may be busy, but to be honest you are probably wasting a good chunk of time in there some where.

So, here are a couple strategies to use to free up some time and get more sleep.

  1. Cap your computer time.

Give yourself a time limit of 30 minutes to get in all your e-mails, facebooking, tweeting, etc. If you have a bit of work you need to get done it may take a little bit longer, but by giving yourself a limit you are more likely to stay focused on the task at hand instead of wasting time doing something else.

  1. Use your DVR

There’s this awesome new technology called DVR. It allows you to record your favorite shows and watch them later. You can even fast-forward through the commercials!

That may have been a little overly sarcastic.

Seriously though, take advantage of technology. Just because you record a show that’s on at 8pm doesn’t mean you have to watch it later that night at 9:30. You may be afraid of getting spoilers of the latest episode of Game of Thrones at work, but remember what’s most important.

Record your favorites shows during the week, and then wait to watch them until the weekend or your day off.

And remember, you can always cut back on the number of shows you watch as well…

 

Recap:

Sleep is not only going to play a huge role in you achieving your health and fitness or performance goals, but also on your long-term health.

Turn intent into action, feel better tomorrow, and start getting the proper amount of sleep today.