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How to stop falling asleep at your desk

Feel like you’re the only one trying to stifle a yawn in the office?

“Most of society is actually sleep deprived,” according to Respiratory & Sleep Medicine Physician Dr Linda Schachter.

“We push ourselves and with our now 24-hour lifestyle, we try catch up with our sleep on weekends, which doesn’t always fully work. Our natural body clocks don’t like sleeping during the day, [so] shift workers tend to be even more sleep deprived than others,” Schachter, based at Sleep Services Australia said.

Signs you’re not getting enough sleep

“Although not everyone is a morning person, if you wake up and don’t feel refreshed, if you keep hitting the snooze button, that’s a sign you haven’t had enough sleep,” Schachter said.  

“During the day you’re not as sharp as you’d usually be. It might be as simple as when you sit in front of the computer you’re tired, or you might have a micro-nap, or it’s hard to pick up new tasks.

“Alertness, concentration and coordination are decreased.”

Simple ways to sleep better

Relaxing activities in the hour before bed are key for improving sleep quality, Schachter said. That means not rolling into another episode on Netflix, putting your smart devices away and not checking your work email.

“Instead you should be telling your brain it’s time to go to sleep. This might be by having a shower, listening to soft music, or reading a book.” A blue light-free Kindle makes a good reading device alternative to an iPhone or iPad.

“Devices and blue light increase our brain wave activity; this wakes us up, increases our alertness, and delays [the release of melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’], which delays sleep onset-time.

“Coffee is a stimulant, so it may improve productivity and alertness, but it can impact your sleep. If you’re going to drink it, drink it in the morning, and stick to a maximum of 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. That’s about four coffees, but depends on the type of coffee. Instant coffee is weaker. It usually takes eight to 10 hours to get out of your system, so have your last cup of coffee around lunchtime.”

Is that extra bit of sleep really that important?

“If we’re fatigued, we often don’t exercise, and also tend to make poorer food choices,” Schachter said. “People who are tired tend to look for sugar and fat for a quick hit of energy but that increases risk of putting on weight.

“There is also an increased risk of occupational and motor vehicle accidents with fatigue. After 16 hours of no sleep, a person will have the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.05.”

Getting enough sleep and still waking up tired?

“It’s important to talk to your doctor because you might have a sleep disorder,” Schachter said.

“Sleep apnoea is very common and is becoming more common as society puts on weight. [If] you’re choking at night or your partner notices that you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds,” this might be indicative of the condition.

“We need to get enough sleep. We all need a certain amount of sleep to wake feeling refreshed. Everyone usually needs between seven and nine hours, but it can be [slightly] shorter or longer than that. 

“Most people know how much sleep they need to feel good, and you need to allow enough time to fall asleep on top of that.”

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