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Frustrating irony about rest and recuperation.

By Oliver Burkeman/New York

You already know, I take it, that you're supposed to take regular breaks throughout the work day. You've seen the stories about how sitting at a desk is worse than attacking yourself with an Ebola-infected chainsaw; you heard that the Geneva conventions were recently expanded to make eating lunch at your desk a war crime.

You know you should get up, do some yoga poses, nip to the park, perhaps even take a nap -- all the research shows you'll be happier and more productive that way, plus you'll get to leave the office earlier, with energy to spare. But you don't actually do these things, do you? Instead, you check Facebook. You read football blogs. You distractedly shovel peanuts into the vicinity of your mouth while watching videos of excruciating public marriage proposals or skateboard accidents on YouTube.

All of which highlights a frustrating irony about rest and recuperation. Why should you take a proper, wholesome break? Because you're tired. And why do you fail to do so? Because you're tired.

Making yourself take restorative action requires what's known as self-regulation -- and self-regulation, plenty of research suggests, is at its lowest when you're exhausted. (The theory that willpower is a "depletable resource" has come under attack recently, but the basic correlation between tiredness and poor decisions seems solid.) And as Christian Jarrett explained at the creativity website the other day, it is only relaxing activities such as stretching, or social ones such as chatting with colleagues, that have been shown to deliver end-of-day energy benefits.

"Cognitive" breaks, such as checking social media, aren't really breaks at all; given the load they place on your brain, you might as well have continued working.

The too-tired-to-rest trap is familiar to many of us in the form of "bedtime procrastination", as it was labelled in a 2014 study -- "failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so". You know the scenario: you're knackered, and ought to sleep, yet travelling from the sofa via the bathroom to the bedroom seems like too much effort -- while scrolling absent-mindedly through Netflix menus feels, in the most superficial sense of the word, relaxing.

Not surprisingly, the study concluded that bedtime procrastination is associated with sleep deprivation, which means you're even less likely to have the energy to haul yourself to bed the following night.

Is there any way out of the trap? Intriguingly, Jarrett points to research suggesting it's best to start taking breaks early in the day, before you feel you need to: these apparently pay more dividends in terms of replenishment.

Also, focus first on getting outside, not only because nature and fresh air are good for you, but because there'll be fewer screens there to distract you. (You don't need self-regulation when the temptation is absent.)

Finally, don't be shocked if it doesn't feel good at first: when you're all keyed up on cognitive tasks, stopping can be more painful than continuing. Yes, you need a break. But don't expect to want one. - Guardian News and Media

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Sep 20, 2016
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