Stress and not enough sleep

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Is too much stress and not enough sleep affecting your efficiency at work?

Last updated on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Written by Dinah Makani

One of the biggest factors contributing to stress levels is a lack of sleep. With all the modern-day distractions of phones, tablets, TV, Netflix, and the need to respond immediately to e-mails coming in from work at all hours, it is easy to see how falling asleep might be difficult for contractors.

There are things you can do to improve your sleep pattern in order to maintain optimal performance levels all day. Whilst the recommended 7 to 9-hours a night might not be ideal for your busy lifestyle, there are other recommended sleep patterns to reflect the changing nature of your working day. As a contractor, you are in a unique position to try some of these tips to see what works for you.

Here are our suggestions if you are struggling to get enough sleep and are noticing a drop in your performance.

Try to go to sleep at the same time every night

Scientific analysis of sleep patterns shows that routine is one of the most important factors to determine quality of sleep. Falling asleep at the same time every night embeds the time in our natural body clock and stabilises our circadian rhythm, making it much easier to fall asleep at that specific time. Similarly, waking up at the same time every day will mean you wake up refreshed, energised and ready to take on the day.

Jessica Alexander from The Sleep Council explains, "A bedtime ritual teaches the brain to become familiar with sleep times and wake times. It programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.” Even if your work as a contractor is flexible and as such leads to erratic hours, making an effort to stick to a routine can really help your performance at work.

Do not hit the snooze button

Our body goes through a natural cycle of sleep and alternates between four sleep stages several times a night. Whilst waking up during stage one sleep is optimal, waking up during deep sleep cycles is discouraged if you can prevent it.

Hitting the snooze button might feel like you are getting another 10 minutes of shut-eye, but ultimately you can force yourself into a new phase of sleep which your brain stays in for longer. Essentially, this means that you will find yourself waking up feeling groggy, and this feeling will be difficult to shake off.

If you find yourself waking up tired, there are plenty of apps like Smart Alarm, Sleepbot and wearable technology like the Jawbone Up2 that have built in Smart Alarms. This technology monitors your sleep and instead of specifying a time to wake you up, you specify an acceptable duration of time to wake up. For example, if you normally wake up at 6am, you would instruct the app to wake you up between 5:45 and 6:15am. The app would then monitor your sleep, and wake you during the given time period when you are in stage one light sleep. This prevents disruption of higher Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycles and leaves you waking up full of energy.

Cut out caffeine after lunch

Did you know that caffeine has a 6-hour half-life? As in, half of the caffeine that perks you up at four in the afternoon is still in your system at 10pm. If you are a frequent coffee consumer, it is likely this that is keeping you awake, preventing you from relaxing sufficiently in the evening and preventing you from feeling tired. This starts a vicious cycle in which you are more tired in the morning and more likely to reach for that caffeine boost throughout the day.

Turn off the blue light

Technology with light emitting screens produce something called ‘blue light’ in order to reduce surrounding glare. This means that your Smart watch, tablet, phone, TV and even digital photo frames are surrounding you in a haze of blue light. This light interferes with your brain signals and neurons, causing you to stay awake. Whilst it is fine in small doses during the day, it does keep you alert at night and makes it that much more difficult to relax.

Try to switch off all digital screens an hour before you go to sleep, and you will find that you fall asleep much faster. As a contractor, you may sometimes catch up on emails and correspondence from your devices before bed when you have more free time. If this is the case, try turning down the brightness on your phone or use the Twilight app, which gradually reduces the colour temperature of your device display in the evenings.

Other methods to improve sleep

While the ideal solution to a lack of sleep is to optimise the sleep cycle in the traditional way, sometimes our lives are not structured that way. We understand that as contractors, sometimes you have to work late, start work early and be accessible to your clients at all hours; however, this lifestyle gives you the added flexibility of being able to try alternative sleep methods.

The Everyman cycle of sleep suggests that sleeping from 1-4 am, and then taking three twenty minute naps interspersed throughout the day will give you constant boosts of energy. Similarly, the Spanish siesta system suggests sleeping between one and 4am together with a 90-minute nap in the late afternoon. If you find these methods work for you, they could leave you feeling energised throughout the day and ready to give 100% to your day-to-day tasks.

Regular exercise

It is likely not the first time you have read or heard this, but getting regular exercise and cutting out excess fat and sugar from your diet is a key component to getting more sleep. It can be hard to find the time, but research suggests that 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week could reduce the risk of heart disease. What’s more, the natural boost of endorphins in the nervous system will certainly help when it comes to falling asleep at the end of a hard day.

Cut down on alcohol

Consuming alcohol over the recommended weekly consumption limit is one of the most counter-productive things that you can do and can severely affect your sleep cycle. Many times, falling asleep after a few drinks means you skip REM sleep and fall straight into deep sleep.

Dr John Shneerson, Head of the Respiratory and Sleep Centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge explains, "As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and [go] back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from.” This is why you will often find yourself waking up quickly and feeling exhausted after falling asleep with alcohol in your system.

You can prevent this by sticking to the governments recommended figures for alcohol consumption: men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week, and you are encouraged to spread alcohol consumption over three days.

Sleep is such an important facet of staying alert, responsive and at the top of your game. With so much riding on performance in 2016, it makes sense to prioritise sleep as something to get right so that you continue to operate at your peak consistently, day after day.

By using some of the tips in this blog and trying out new methods, you may be able to improve the quality of your sleep and reduce your stress.

Another way to make your life a little less stressful and give yourself more time to rest and rejuvenate is by using a contractor accountancy services, such as the one provided by Churchill Knight & Associates Ltd. By passing on the hassle of your day-to-day contractor business administration, you will find you have more time to focus on the things that are more important to your work-life and well-being.

Our expert team can take care of your invoicing, bookkeeping, payroll and administration, removing the stress and burden of taking care of your own accounting. By having one less task to worry about you free your mind of that added pressure and can instead focus on something more enjoyable than number crunching.

To find out more about minimising your stress, speak to one of our specialist consultants who can advise you on the details of our all-inclusive service. You will be able to ask the questions you need in a no-obligation consultation and find out exactly how our service can benefit you. To get in touch, simply call us on 01707 871622 or email

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