How to Stay Alert and Improve Performance

More and more people are recognising the importance of rest and sleep and how it affects performance. A society that increasingly runs on 24/7 results in individuals working and sleeping at times that are out of phase with the normal sleep/wake cycle.

This is not about to change so help needs to be found to cope with the challenges of shift work and loss of sleep. Alertness during the night is naturally low and performance during these hours may be associated with an increased risk of accidents.

It is important to know which individuals are sensitive to loss of sleep and, if possible, allow them to sleep more frequently or longer than others. Morning hours are also poor times for concentration and alertness and with many workers commuting in the early hours between 6 and 8 am this is increasingly affecting people who may be losing up to two hours of sleep a night as family commitments and social opportunities prevent them from taking early nights.

Staying Alert

Caffeine has become increasingly popular and large doses often leave the system immune to the ‘pick up’ properties, meaning that increasingly large doses are needed for any effect. The side effects (shaking, palpitations, dizziness, insomnia are just a few…) and the problems of withdrawal mean that to gain the benefits it needs to be used judiciously at other times.

Napping is also beneficial and a short nap will often provide the energy and refreshment the body needs to get through the day. Coffee followed by a short nap (which allows the coffee enough time to become effective – 15 minutes is about right) may also help.

The sleep debt needs to be repayed so planning can also help in times of demand. By having some early nights and sufficient sleep before a planned long journey or heavy workload it is possible to face extra challenges.

Of course, there is little value in laying in bed and not sleeping. A good nights sleep varies between individuals and during life. There are many ‘sleep preventers’ including alcohol, caffeine, lack of exercise and physical and mental health. This site provides help and advice on how to recognise sleep problems and what can be done to help.

From time to time we can all do with a little help to stay awake and keep going, but if coffee, napping and other props start to become more than a short term solution, it is time to get help. Worrying about how to stay awake only leads to anxiety and that can also keep you from sleeping!

Getting Advice

GPs are aware of the physical and emotional toll that lack of sleep can cause. Staying alert during the day is essential for safety, learning and day to day functioning. There are many causes of insomnia and help is at hand.

Lifestyle changes can also stimulate the mind and body. Aerobic exercise during the early part of the day and involvement in stimulating and challenging activities helps keep the feelings of fatigue at bay. The body will eventually demand its sleep so it is important not to ‘overrule’ this need. But in general, many people who increase their level of activity (preferably not near to bedtime when the body and mind need to prepare themselves for sleep)find that this in itself improves their days – and their nights.