x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

More sleep, a walk and no BlackBerry for a better lifestyle

Medical journals and research suggest that nearly all of us adults require between seven and eight hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested and to be productive the next day. But what can a busy person do to get more rest?

An alarm clock with a sleeping young woman in the background. Rich H Legg / istockphoto.com
An alarm clock with a sleeping young woman in the background. Rich H Legg / istockphoto.com

Have you ever dragged yourself to work after only a few hours of sleep, leaving behind a comfortable bed, feeling drowsy the whole day at your desk and having barely done anything productive?

One morning this summer I met a friend, a financial analyst at a government organisation, for a business meeting - and she was exactly like that.

After just four hours of sleep, she was not in the mood to discuss any business topics. I was not surprised. After all, most of my friends operate on too few sleeping hours and make up for that by taking afternoon naps.

The situation worsens over the month of Ramadan as they stay up late to socialise and pray. And yet medical journals and research suggest nearly all of us adults require between seven and eight hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested and to be productive the next day.

The cost of not doing so, however, shows up emotionally, physically and financially.

My friend was not overweight, nor did she suffer from any illness. In fact, she followed a healthy diet and exercised four times a week.

And yet, just a few months back, in her prime 20s, she suffered from a heart condition because of stress that had worn her body down. Because of that she had to rest and had to stop working on several projects that could have led to a promotion.

Two factors were to blame here. First, sleeping less than six hours a day increases the risk of developing and possibly dying from heart disease. Second, my friend worked long hours at work, and outside work too, often stressing herself out.

A few days after meeting her, I decided to offer some help that would not only have a positive impact on her health but also on her productivity.

We decided to experiment by altering her sleeping ritual.

She typically went to bed after midnight, she said, but had no reason for staying up that late. It was a habitual behaviour in her household.

Also, being a workaholic, she often got up at 5.30am and was at her desk by 7am even though her working hours officially began at an hour later.

Again, she was not compelled to do that, it was simply force of habit.

So we agreed on the following: she would go to bed about 11pm after unwinding by reading a good book or meditating and then she would wake up an hour later than usual at 6.50am.

My friend agreed there was no time like the present to put the plan into action and she decided to start the following day.

Amazingly, there is not one single thing that affects mood, energy levels and work productivity as much as a good night's sleep.

In my friend's case, the change was dramatic.

In the mornings, she stopped rushing out of her home for no good reason and instead enjoyed a healthy breakfast and still got to work on time. She was not drowsy by midday but was more productive.

In the evenings when she got home, she did not feel the need to nap but instead focused on personal projects and spent more high-quality time with her family.

A month later, we added another change to her work pattern. In the afternoons, she would leave her office and walk for about 20 minutes.

The BlackBerry was banned for this exercise. In fact, we both got rid of these devices. The constant messages from our contacts and the countless notifications distracted us and we opted instead to check our emails at a certain time each day.

We realised the world won't end if we were not constantly hooked up to our emails. Instead, we now have more time to clear our heads and focus on key business issues that arise throughout the day.

Between sleeping longer, coming to work a little bit later and taking a walk to wind down in the afternoon, my friend now works less but is more productive. She has been promoted and has been assigned more senior responsibility at her work.

Here is the bottom line. Adding extra sleeping hours to your night has a profound impact on your productivity level at work and satisfaction with your life.

Manar Al Hinai is an award winning Emirati fashion designer and writer. You can follow Manar on Twitter: @manar_alhinai