Exhaustion and Performance

Friday, August 4, 2017

A survey commissioned by the Better Sleep Council found that of 1,000 adults, one in three admitted to sleeplessness affecting their work. Among other findings: 

  • Twice as many men as women confessed to dozing at their desks on company time. 
  • Nearly half of those polled believed that long work hours keep them from getting all the sleep they need. 
  • Twenty percent of those polled admitted to calling in sick or being tardy for work because they didn’t sleep well the night before. 
  • One out of three adults says they are not well rested when they wake up for work. 

Nothing New, but Definitely Concerning 

Exhaustion is nothing new, and nothing to take lightly. George Washington, it is said, used to retreat for days if not weeks on end to get precious rest and restore his facilities. From NBA basketball coaches, to Lebron James, to Fortune 500 CEOs, to the heads of universities, to speakers, trainers, and consultants, everyone needs to get the right amount of sleep. Now, proper relaxation is more critical than ever.

In Japan, death from overwork, known as karoshi, is estimated to claim thousands of lives annually. Karoshi is not a significant phenomenon in America. Nevertheless, among those severely fatigued, heart disease and high blood pressure are quite common.

OK, so you don’t get enough sleep; why is that potentially dangerous? You respond to stressful situations by working at a higher gear: Your heart pumps blood faster, your muscles contract, your arteries narrow, and your blood thickens. You’re ready for fight or flight. If you did fight or flee, the condition would subside and you’d go back to normal. Instead, your engine is revving for eight, maybe nine, maybe 10 hours straight while you’re at work. You get home, and there are potentially more stressors there. You don’t sleep as many hours as your body needs, or if you do, it’s not very good sleep; it’s fitful, with tossing and turning. The net result:  

  • You’re worn down. 
  • Your immune system is weakened. 
  • You’re much more susceptible to illness. 

Some experts believe that getting too-little sleep on a consistent basis may undermine your entire being, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Any illness that you do contract, combined with too-little sleep, will be more severe.

Too Tired to Manage?  

So, you feel tired, and based on what you do in an average day, that is understandable. When does the tired feeling that you experience border on danger? There are many signs, among them these: 

Your fatigue is prolonged. Getting several nights of extra sleep in a row or sleeping for an entire weekend doesn’t seem to put a dent in your fatigue. Perhaps worse, you feel as if you will never catch up. 


You experience indigestion or lack of appetite. You normally look forward to meals, but when highly fatigued, you have trouble getting them down. Maybe you’re eating less. 

You experience a loss of sex drive. This isn’t as obvious a sign as you might think. Loss of your libido usually takes place a little bit at a time, such that you don’t notice what’s going on. 

You have trouble getting to sleep, if not outright insomnia. During the night, you find yourself waking more often or tossing back and forth. Then, to exacerbate the situation, you spend the rest of the night worrying that you’re not getting good sleep. 

You feel tired in the morning, even after getting a full night’s sleep. If by 9:30 or 10 in the morning you can hardly keep your head up, it’s time to take heed.

Your ability to focus on the task at hand is diminished. Your powers of concentration are not what they have been in the past. Generally, this is not due to aging. 

You feel that you’re no longer in control. In many ways, this is the most insidious of the signs. You doze at highly inopportune moments, such as in an important meeting or when driving. 

Not Dangerous, but Not Desirable 

 Here’s a second list of indicators that you’re not getting enough sleep, but perhaps you’re not at the danger level:  

  • Your eyes are red. 
  • You’re not mentally sharp. 
  • You avoid tasks that involve adding up numbers. 
  • You find yourself daydreaming often. 
  • In situations with others, you simply go through the motions. 
  • You don’t want to handle any phone calls if you can help it. 
  • You watch the clock frequently throughout the day, hoping it will go by more quickly. 

Years ago, before I learned how to keep my stress level in check, I used to look forward to going to the dentist. When I got to the dentist’s chair and they tilted the seat back, it was one of the few times during the day when I actually reclined and had relatively little to do. In some cases, I became so relaxed that I didn’t want to leave.
For me, that was an indication that I was highly fatigued. You probably have your own examples of this. The realization that you are fatigued is the first step to defeating the problem and increasing your efficiency.

Today, of All Days 

Don't wait for illness or an accident to demonstrate to you that you’re overtired. Plot out how and when, over the next month, you will start getting the rest your body is currently craving. A life of constant exhaustion, no matter what else you accomplish, is not a desirable situation. No one, however, is coming to bail you out. The road back from exhaustion starts with self-awareness, then resolve, then action. Will today be that day?

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About the Author
Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC (aka "The Work-life Balance Expert"®) offers keynote presentations and workshops on a creating work-life balance, managing the pace with grace, and thriving in a hyper-accelerated world. He has spoken to Fortune 50 companies, such as Lockheed and IBM, as well as American Express, Westinghouse, America Online, and Wells Fargo. Jeff also is the author of Simpler Living, Breathing Space, and Dial it Down, Live it Up. His books have been published in 19 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Turkish, and Russian. For more information visit
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