An Introduction to Happiness: Rest

Last week, I shared this idea of being happy at work. Why? Because when you ask the members of Generation Z (the next generation coming into the workforce) what they value most in life, most have a simple answer: Happiness. Happy people are “12% more productive” than those who aren’t, according to a comprehensive study from the University of Warwick.

Over the next few weeks, I’m delving into the various ways I see us becoming happy again. I’m sharing things that I’m personally doing, ideas that I’m seeing others explore, and the research around what contributes to people’s happiness, especially at work.

For this week, I’m looking at the idea that rest helps people be happier.

First, Something Personal

I’m writing this while up in the mountains on a ski vacation with my family. As I finished the first draft of this yesterday, I got up from the table and felt anxious. That led to me becoming unjustly frustrated at my wife and kids about some meaningless things as we were getting ready to head to the mountain.

Today, I’m working on the second draft. And, I’m feeling on top of the world. Our girls are watching a quick show, and I’m dancing around the cabin to the theme song of the kids’ show. I’m answering everyone’s questions and requests with grace and understanding. I’m a much different person than I was yesterday.

The only difference between yesterday and today: My sleep. I only got six hours of sleep two nights ago, and last night I got close to nine.

I was talking to my wife about this, and she brought up something that she does with her clients (she’s a mental health therapist). Instead of immediately digging into what’s top of mind for her clients, she will many times start off asking a simple question: What has your sleep looked like over the past few days?

What Happens When People Are Tired at Work

This won’t come as a shock to anyone, but research out of the Harvard Medical School goes on to say that not getting enough sleep impairs our mood, focus, cognition, and judgment.

Industry research repeatedly proves the negative effects of sleep deprivation. If you have insomnia or insufficient sleep syndrome (ISS), you can see the direct effects on workplace performance (see the chart below). This means you are more likely to struggle with memory, motivation, and decision-making if you’re tired.

Insomnia and interrupted sleep drastically affect our ability to pay attention, make solid decisions, remember key facts, and be motivated. Over time this leads to unhappiness at work. Why? Because without those things, many of us feel useless and aren’t physically able to contribute to the things we care about.

So, practically speaking, how do we make sure our bodies and minds are rested? A few ideas—

Ideas To Help with Rest that Everyone Knows

Ideas To Help with Rest that Everyone Probably Knows

  • Take more naps. According to this research from the National Institute of Health, “planned naps, if taken during working hours, are recognized as a promising technique in maintaining job performance and alertness.” They’re an easy, effective way to get our brains and bodies back up to speed.
  • Sleep more on the weekends. This will help us feel more alert, but it only helps if you get sleep in the following week. The researchers found that it is possible to “catch up” on sleep over the weekends, but you’ll only experience lasting impact with a solid sleep rhythm the following week.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation. Studies are coming out showing that mindfulness meditation helps us sleep better at night. This particular study found that mindfulness meditation helps us sleep better today, allowing us to feel more like humans in the long term. I’ve been using the Headspace app’s “going to sleep” tracks and find them incredibly beneficial.

Ideas To Help with Rest that May Be New To Some People

  • Do difficult and/or meaningful work during the day. In the book The Power of Full Engagement, the authors say that to get the highest quality of sleep, you need to be drained, both physically and mentally. It’s an interesting idea. If you are productive during the day, you’ll probably sleep better at night.
  • Develop (sleep) rituals. This also comes out of the book above and has two points (as broken down by Joel Gascoigne):
    • Disengage: An activity to allow total disengagement from the day’s work. For Joel, this means going for a 20-minute walk every evening at 9:30 pm. This wind-down period allows him to evaluate the day’s work, think about greater challenges, and gradually stop thinking about work and reach a state of tiredness.
    • Avoid re-engaging: After the activity, go straight to bed. Be sure that all devices are silenced in a separate room from where you sleep. Once in bed, do not read books that are related to your work in any way. For Joel, this means reading fiction.

Stay Tuned… 

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of everything related to sleep. Rather, these are tips I’ve found personally beneficial. At the end of the series, I’ll send around other ideas people have shared (email me anything interesting you’ve found!). Next week we’ll be digging into connection as a way to increase our happiness.