An instant fix for fatigue in the workplace

Mental wellbeing and fatigue are becoming overwhelmingly present issues, with employers and employees struggling to cope with it's effects. Hear from Dr Olivia Remes, mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge and associate at the Møller Institute, about her perspectives on fatigue, burnout and mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Research quote about mental health with white brain graphic on red background

About three in ten people report getting six hours or less of shut-eye. Not getting the sleep you need and feeling chronically drained can have a negative impact on you. In fact, insufficient sleep can increase the risk for heart disease and type II diabetes, and it has been linked to poor mental health.

Leaders are living fast-pasted, stressful lives with many responsibilities. If, as a leader, you are chronically feeling sleep-deprived and running low on energy, you can start experiencing emotional exhaustion and overwhelm. And feeling overwhelmed can lead to serious consequences.

Overwhelm can lead to serious errors 

Decades ago, researchers noted that some of the best pilots who displayed peak performance during calm situations would start making serious mistakes during periods of overwhelm. These mistakes would lead to fatal catastrophes.

Feeling overwhelmed and chronically low on energy can result in you making significant errors on important projects or sub-optimal decisions at work; you might also start getting irritable with your team members and behaving in ways that you might later regret.

This is why, as a leader, it is important to recognise if you are feeling drained and stepping into the arena of overwhelm. Here is a strategy based on research that can help during times of fatigue. While it may seem straight-forward, not enough of us do it and the benefits are significant.

Research-based strategy for combating fatigue

During periods of overwhelm, it can be difficult to get the night time sleep you need, particularly if you end up working late. Therefore, to combat fatigue, daytime napping is especially beneficial. A few years ago, a study came out by Brice Faraut, a researcher at Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité. This study showed that even if you slept very little the night before, a short nap of 30 minutes lowers stress levels and boosts the immune system.

Interestingly, people who regularly nap seem to have larger brain volumes compared to people who don’t nap, according to research published in 2023 by University College London (UCL) and the University of the Republic in Uruguay. This research was based on over 35,000 people ages 40 to 69 years.

Given the wide-ranging benefits of power napping, Google and Samsung have installed sleep pods at their workplaces for employees wanting to get some quick shut-eye. Therefore, if you’re feeling overwhelmed because of your responsibilities and projects, and you’re not getting the sleep you need, using this strategy can help.

A quick power nap right after lunch

Napping can be helpful during periods of overwhelm, but also on a day-to-day basis when your energy dips. Have you had days when you felt so lethargic after lunch, that completing tasks felt next to impossible?

The period after lunch falls during a sleep phase of the sleep-wake cycle. This, and the fact that your body is expending energy to digest the food you’ve eaten, makes people feel tired and sluggish.  So you slow down. Therefore, getting some shut-eye can provide a quick recharge. In fact, naps have been shown to increase feelings of vigour and the benefits can be felt almost instantly.

How do you take power naps at work?

Simply place your head on your desk and close your eyes for 15-30 minutes. If you can block out 30 minutes for this, this is beneficial. But even 15 minutes can help. Simply close your eyes, relax your body and let go of all thoughts as you slowly drift off. If you don’t have an office to yourself to do this, perhaps check if there is a meeting room or quiet library that you can go to instead.  Or if you drove to work, then it might be worth nipping off to your parked car for some rest and relaxation.

Sometimes when people are feeling stressed and juggling too many tasks, taking care of oneself can become the last priority. Healthy routines, such as going to bed at the same time each day or switching off from work in the evenings, can start to fall apart – but it is precisely during these times that you need to take care of yourself. Power naps are quick, effective ways of getting a small dose of energy – not only during times of overwhelm, but also on a day-to-day basis when you’re feeling drained and could benefit from a boost. And it’s got significant benefits for your overall health and wellbeing too.

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