Finding it hard to switch on may be because you are finding it hard to switch off.
Chronic lack of sleep means that all those awake hormones – adrenalin and cortisol – are going into overdrive to compensate for lack of down time. Persistent reliance on your own reserves rather than taking time off to recuperate means that your body gets used to feeling wired. Feeling wired begins to feel normal – except you also begin to feel jangled, irritable, and less able to concentrate.
But it’s a vicious circle because, once you’ve reached this state of hyper alertness, fuelled by an excess of hormones, it’s really hard to switch off.
But it’s important to recognise these early signs of physical adaptation to what is a pattern of chronic stress, because in the end, being constantly on ‘red alert’ begins to affect not only your capacity for concentration, but also your health. Insomnia may be the first obvious sign, which further compounds the problem. The more tired you become, the less able you are to sleep.
In the short term, we cope. In the long term, it is very stressful physically and emotionally and damages our ability to concentrate and function well, and our relationships and health.
Six steps towards alleviating this problem and enhancing your ability to concentrate:
· Reduce distractions – turn off your mobile, iPod, email alert, music. It will feel odd at first, but stay with it – aim to do one thing at a time without background stimulation
· Focus on your breathing. Calm your inner body and you will help calm your mind. This takes practice
· Go for a walk outside, even if it’s for 20 minutes around the block during your lunch break. Some fresh air, natural light, physical exercise – these all help to break stressful patterns
· Factor in some regular, but calming exercise three times a week – no pumping iron at the gym – walking, yoga, t’ai chi, swimming – for a minimum of one hour. No iPod, just focus on what you are doing physically so you can reconnect your mind and body
· Eat nutritiously and regularly and cut out caffeinated drinks altogether for the moment – that’s tea, coffee and colas – and other artificial stimulants
· Clear your bedroom of TV, computers, music systems – it should be your calm refuge, designed for sleep: peaceful and dark. Go to bed and get up at a regular hour to re-set your sleep/wake cycle