There’s no getting around it – “performing” in back to back meetings five – eight times a day, travelling to different cities and staying in different hotels each evening, for a week or more, whilst still trying to keep on top of the everyday running of your company, is a killer. Here are some tips to help you through this stressful time.
If you are a regular drinker of coffee, Like 54% of Americans over the age of 18, then giving up in a stressful time is the worst idea. Researchers from Portugal, the United States, and Brazil discovered that mice given caffeine were better able to handle stress than mice subjected to stressful situations without caffeine. The reason: While caffeine usually blocks adenosine receptors from activating sleep processes, it also prevents the receptors from reacting to, and causing a stress response, including a bad mood, memory problems, and an enhanced susceptibility to depression, the researchers said.
This doesn’t mean I’m advocating setting up a caffeine IV. A 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll found that people who drank four or more cups/cans of caffeinated drinks a day were more likely than those who drank zero to one cups/cans daily to experience at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights each week.
In a 2012 paper in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, a study was undertaken over a two year period to determine the risk factors in clinical burnout. The results identified “too little sleep (<6 hours)” as the main risk factor for burnout development.
Whilst on a roadshow, it is understandable that you try to keep expenses down, but there are certain areas where it really doesn’t make sense. If you are in a different hotel every night, this is unsettling enough in itself, without adding outside noises, lumpy beds, bed bugs etc. You only have to do a quick Google search to find hundreds of articles and reviews on this very topic.
I once had a client who vetoed my hotel choices and asked me to find much cheaper hotels. I did as they asked and after the first night in a Paris hotel, I received a call from the travelling banker, asking me to revert to my original suggestions for the rest of the roadshow. The reason; the CEO’s bedroom was next to the lift, and had very little soundproofing, so every time the lift dinged, he was woken up. Cue extremely tired and stressed out CEO for the rest of the day; not at all ideal.
Switch your gadgets off
According to the National Sleep Foundation, our beloved gadgets are negatively affecting our sleep.
The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. To make sure technology isn’t harming your sleep, give yourself at least 30 minutes of gadget-free transition time before going to bed (that includes television).
It may seem harmless to send a few emails before bed or unwind with a favourite movie, but by keeping your mind engaged, technology can trick your brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake. And if you’re surfing the web, seeing something exciting on Facebook, or reading a negative email, those experiences can make it hard to relax and settle into sleep. After spending an entire day surrounded by technology, your mind needs time to unwind.
In an article for Harvard Health Publications, they state:
“The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts — or, at least, the hot shower after your exercise is over.”
Over the years, I have received a few requests to only book hotels with 24 hour gyms and, thankfully, hotels really are catching onto this and there are now quite a few out there who do offer this service. This means that, if you are suffering jet lag and happen to be awake at 4am, you can easily slip downstairs and start your day with a good workout, setting you up for the rest of the day.
How many times have you really craved a burger for lunch, only to find yourself pinching your leg in a meeting, just to stay awake?
Some people don’t eat breakfast, and if that works for them, then fine, but if you do, try to start your day with a bowl of porridge – Oats contain quality carbohydrates that are stored in the body as glycogen and provide fuel for our brains and muscles. When you eat oats, your body will digest and absorb them slowly, keeping you feeling full, controlling your appetite, and delaying hunger pangs.
Your nutritional strategy for maintaining your mental edge during and after lunch is to eat foods that will give you a gradual, steady release of food energy throughout the afternoon while placing only a light burden on your digestive system. Foods that can interfere with your alertness and concentration are common lunch fare: high-fat hamburgers with high-fat fries; non-whole-grain, low-fiber pasta dishes with oily or creamy sauces; non-whole-grain, low-fiber pizzas topped with high-fat cheeses and fatty meats; and deep-fried fish and chips. Lunches are often downed with high-sugar soft drinks and followed by a heavy, high-fat, and high-sugar dessert, both of which will exert their toll on alertness, concentration, and a feeling of well-being.
Drink lots of water
Studies show that dehydration reflected in a 1-2% reduction in body weight can reduce our ability to concentrate, our cognitive and physical performance, and increase feelings of aggression or irritation. As we don’t have a real water storage in our body, it must be replaced regularly by water from our diet.
Fluid requirements are individual and a single recommended water intake that is applicable to everyone is difficult to define and can vary greatly, even on a day-to-day basis, as there are many factors that affect an individual’s need for water, such as age, gender, body mass, physical activity levels and climate. Experts recognise that a regular intake of water is necessary for maintaining water balance, and that water is a nutrient essential for life and health. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends an intake of 2.5 litres of water for men and 2.0 litres of water for women per day, via food and drink consumption.
Whilst it may be tempting to have alcohol before bed to help you get to sleep or relax after a stressful day, this has a negative effect on the type of sleep that you have, resulting in feeling groggy and unfocussed the following day.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the following happens when you sleep after drinking:
Drinking alcohol before bed is linked with more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity. That’s the kind of deep sleep that allows for memory formation and learning. At the same time, another type of brain pattern—alpha activity—is also turned on. Alpha activity doesn’t usually happen during sleep, but rather when you’re resting quietly. Together the alpha and delta activity in the brain after drinking may inhibit restorative sleep.
While you may fall asleep quickly after drinking, it’s also common to wake up in the middle of the night. One explanation is that alcohol may affect the normal production of chemicals in the body that trigger sleepiness when you’ve been awake for a long time, and subside once you’ve had enough sleep. After drinking, production of adenosine (a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain) is increased, allowing for a fast onset of sleep. But it subsides as quickly as it came, making you more likely to wake up before you’re truly rested.
Another reason people get lower-quality sleep following alcohol is that it blocks REM sleep, which is often considered the most restorative type of sleep. With less REM sleep, you’re likely to wake up feeling groggy and unfocused.
Alcohol causes your whole body to relax, including the muscles of your throat. And that makes you more prone to snoring and sleep apnoea.
Typically, your body knows that nighttime is time for sleep, not time for trips to the bathroom. That means that your body has learned to put your bladder into hibernation for the night. But alcohol, a diuretic, can make you need to go more, interrupting your normal sleep pattern.
Eat and drink well, sleep well, and save the partying for the end of the roadshow.