Sleep: Is Eight Hours Enough?

A man sleeping

I’ve read a lot of posts recently about sleep – or more specifically, the lack of it for many of us. Some people don’t think “sleep” is a serious problem. I beg to differ.

The Institute for Health and Productivity Management ( lists failure to address sleep as a major health and workplace issue, although they are certainly not alone in pointing out this problem. According to the National Sleep Foundation, ( roughly 20% of Americans say that they get less than six hours of sleep on average, and the number of Americans who report that they get eight hours or more has decreased.

The effects of not getting enough sleep have been well documented: motor vehicle accidents, relationship problems, heart disease, diabetes, and other physical and mental health issues.

An overlooked sleep issue, in my opinion, is using “eight hours’ sleep” as the gold standard for rest. We all know some people who can get by on little sleep, while others aren’t well rested even with a full night’s sleep. What gives?

Inventors like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were well known for their ability to get by on little sleep – supposedly as little as two or three hours a night. I’m not sure if anyone can adequately explain how they were able to do this, but reports that Edison had a “dirty little secret”: he was a “power napper.” The Urban Dictionary describes this as: “A person who can fall asleep/take a nap at any time of the day, at any place in the world, in any situation and then wake up like a Phoenix reborn from the ashes.

I, for one, am a power napper! How long are these naps? That depends, but 30 minutes to as much how-long-to-napas an hour is pretty common. In brief, I get an overwhelming urge to sleep, many times, though not always, when I’m bored or after a meal. But unlike the typical person who can shake off drowsiness pretty quickly, perhaps with a cup of Joe, in many cases that won’t cut it for me. I need some quick shut-eye to function well again!

Some refer to power napping as “polyphasic sleep,” but I’m not qualified to discuss sleep cycles, circadian rhythms, etc. If you want to learn more, check out a source like this site:

I’d like to point out another sleep habit that’s probably more common than napping: sleeping in! Some folks, like my late dad, don’t get a full night’s rest during the week, but “power sleep” 10-12 hours or so on the weekend. Some people can do this pretty effectively with few ill effects; others, not so much. I used to sleep in a LOT in my single days, the problem was that getting up earlier again on Monday morning was HARD! Of course, there’s also the matter of whether you want to sleep in that much on the weekend when you could be doing other things.

And what about people who say they work 12 or more hours each day? How does that fit in to the sleep equation? “If you have a look at the American Time Study, you will find that most people who claim to work 55 hours a week, actually work around 40 hours,” states a writer on “People who claim to work around 70+ hours actually work around 45-50 hours.”  For more on this study, visit

“There is plenty of research that shows that you can only be highly productive/creative around 3-4 hours a day – that you do your best work in batches of 90-120 minutes and that you need breaks to recharge your batteries,” the same blogger adds.

Perhaps napping, instead of being seen as a weakness or laziness, is actually a smart thing to do? What do YOU think? Leave a comment!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Quitting a Job

Did you know there is a right way, and a wrong way to quit a job? This might seem like a no-brainer to keyboardmany of us as adults…. Give at least two weeks’ notice, don’t “burn bridges”, and so on. But many young people don’t seem to have a clue. And even for adults, adhering to age-old adages like these isn’t always quite that simple.

“Most people that are not skilled in workplace etiquette quit their jobs by simply not showing up the next day and sending a relative to their employer to pick up their paycheck,” writes Larry Robbin, executive director of Robbin and Associates (

“Another common method is to walk off the job,” Robbin adds. “This often occurs in the middle of an argument with their boss, customer or co-worker. In my experience, these two ways of quitting make up about 60% of the quits in entry-level jobs.”

This is what Robbin refers to as a “bad quit,” because in such cases, no one should expect to get a good reference when they leave an employer in this manner. Even if the job doesn’t work out, the employee should always thank the boss for the job and opportunity, and give a brief explanation why they are leaving.

Bad Quits

But “bad quits” seem to be increasingly common. While I’m shopping at a local grocery story, cashiers have complained to me on more than one occasion how “the new guy” just didn’t show up for work the next day. Isn’t that nice?

In other instances, the new person may give notice, but it’s after he/she has only been on the job for a week – or less. It’s not a bad thing when someone knows that a given job isn’t the right fit, but that quickly? Has this individual even given the job a chance?

Certainly, in some cases, a boss may feel that this person will not be very productive in the next two weeks – or they may “bad mouth” the workplace – and so this individual may as well leave now. So, while all employers prefer to receive at least two weeks’ notice, this doesn’t always happen.

Of course, adults, not just young people with limited work experience, sometimes engage in “bad quits.” The stepdad of a friend of mine ran a propeller factory in my hometown. Grinding the propellers to distinct specifications was hard work. One day, an employee wrote “I quit” in the dust of a nearby window at his work station, right around lunch time. That was the last they ever heard from him!

isGood Quits

As opposed to a “bad quit” a “good quit” occurs when a person advances to a better job opportunity. But things aren’t always quite that cut and dried. Case in point: if a person’s physical or mental health is at risk.

In the case of the latter, I’ll put it this way: Everyone has a breaking point, and if the stresses of the job become simply too much, it IS in the individual’s best interests to leave. Hopefully, the timing in quitting will be in the worker’s best interest and in the best interest of the employer, but the situation may or may not play out that way.

For instance, maybe the job is in retail and the employer would want this person to stay until the end of December. But what if “Susie” feels she’d have a nervous breakdown by then? Then I’d say she should quit, with two weeks’ notice hopefully, but leave she should.

Quitting can be Tricky

Finally, another thing I’ve found about jobs is that if the person is truly unhappy, the pay ceases to matter all that much. I’ve known people who have quit jobs in the mid-to-high five figures, and even six-digit salaries. And in both cases, these individuals didn’t have another job lined up either. That is supposedly another no-no, but again, this is all in an ideal world. In certain cases, waiting any longer to leave could be a BAD decision in terms of one’s mental health, and that often trumps everything.

Moral of the story: Try not to engage in a “bad quit” if at all possible, and try to not burn any bridges and have another job lined up whenever possible. But also know that, in some instances, this is something to be read about in a career development book that might not apply to real life.

Mental Illness: The Invisible Barrier

This is the last post in a series on mental health awareness. This is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

invisibility-realMany disabilities are readily apparent. There’s no question that an individual who is blind requires the use of a cane or service animal to get around or that a person unable to walk will need a wheelchair or motor scooter.

However, other disabilities aren’t so obvious. Mental health impairments are among the most “invisible” and often least understood disabilities, even though they are among the most common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) …   … roughly 58 million Americans, or one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year. In addition, one in 17 individuals lives with a serious mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, or bipolar.

The effects are as real as a broken arm, even though there isn’t a sling or plaster cast to show for it.”

 However, in spite of recent strides in mental health awareness, the truth is that there are still far too many people who are suffering from a mental illness who aren’t receiving treatment.

Mental Illness Affects MANY Lives

I believe that at least two people in my life have bipolar but they’ve never been diagnosed for it. The wife of one relative, we’ll call her “Judy” has mood swings so extreme that it’s led to an extremely stressful, and often estranged relationship with her extended family (especially her mother in-law, “Mary.”)

The issue is serious enough that Mary has only seen Judy’s young daughter (her granddaughter) a handful of times. When people feel like they’re walking on egg shells, not knowing if Judy will be nice to them over the phone, or blow up at them, calls and contact tend to decrease over time. But that only seems to make things worse because now Judy has something else to be upset about — Mary never calls!

That’s not the only person I know whose erratic behavior has left friends and relatives on pins mental-health-screening-spif-logoand needles for a long time. Undiagnosed bipolar (at least that’s our theory) led to a messy divorce between “Susan” and “Frank.” Susan, a nurse, was nice to friends and others much of the time, but when she was upset – look out! At various times she moved out, threw things, hurled insults, and much more. Poor even-keel, upbeat Frank tried to keep the peace, but how long can that go on if the individual isn’t receiving any help? And you’d think a nurse would know better.

Getting Help

Why don’t these people seek help?! And if not for themselves, to help the quality of life of their loved ones?! That is a tough question to answer. Judy and Susan may mistakenly believe that their condition is a sign of personal weakness (if they even acknowledge that it exists) or that they should be able to control it without help. Tragically, they do not recognize that getting a mental health screening, seeking psychological counseling, and educating themselves about their condition, is a sign of strength, and not weakness.

Here’s the thing: Time to Change  correctly notes that, “We all have mental health, like we all have physical health. Both change throughout our lives. And, like our bodies, our minds can become unwell.”

The more we better recognize that mental illness is every bit as real as physical illness, and get the necessary help, the better off we’ll ALL be.

Mental ________ Using the Right Word Matters

This is the second in a three-part series on mental health awareness.

Mental health. Mental wellness. Mental illness. It’s easy for mental health professionals to use these mental-healthwords almost interchangeably, but this is a mistake, according to Steve Baue, president and owner of ERC in De Pere, Wis. See

“We get sloppy with these terms,” says Baue. The Workplace Mental Health Promotion guide concurs. “Although the terms are often used interchangeably, mental health and mental illness is not the same thing; but they are also not mutually exclusive,” the guide states. “A fundamental difference between mental health and mental illness is that everyone has some level of mental health all of the time, just like physical health, whereas it is possible to be without mental illness.”

“…mental illness is a particularly dangerous word to misuse, because it can drive people from help who could really benefit from it the most.”

Baue and other sources illustrate and define the terms as follows:

* Mental wellness. This is the mental equivalent of going to the gym, eating a healthy diet, and getting a good night’s sleep, according to Baue. Like physical fitness, it involves being proactive and taking care of ourselves, while also recognizing that physical health also tends to promote mental wellness.

The World Health Organization defines it as follows: “A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

ttc_mentalhealth_bloggerbadge* Mental illness. On the other end of the spectrum from mental wellness is mental illness. Like a physical illness, mental illness is a biological issue, often something people have a predisposition to from birth, says Baue. When we don’t focus on our mental wellness there can be an increased risk of sliding into mental illness.

Mental illness features a behavioral or mental pattern that may cause suffering or a poor ability to function in life. Such traits may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode.”

In other words, while most of us suffer from “the blues,” now and then, mental illness refers to an ongoing condition that negatively impacts a person’s daily life.

More importantly, mental illness is a particularly dangerous word to misuse, because it can drive people from help who could really benefit from it the most. When we describe a mental health condition as mental illness, a person may think, “I don’t feel like THAT, that’s an extreme of what I feel – my issue is small in comparison.” The result is someone not seeking care because they don’t feel their issue rises to the right level of need.

* Mental health. This is the overarching part of the equation. While not easy to pinpoint, it refers to an individual’s life events, particularly a person’s health and family, according to Baue. puts it this way: “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”

Life events drive our mental condition; regardless of whether that is healthy (mental wellness), or unhealthy (mental illness). Factors that can tilt us toward illness include: biological conditions, such as genes or brain chemistry; life experiences, such as trauma or abuse; and a family history of mental health problems.

But much like heart disease and many other physical conditions, a person can live with and sometimes recover from mental illness. Learning more about mental health and mental illness – including the different distinctions – is a crucial step in dispelling stigma, stopping prejudice and promoting early identification, and receiving effective treatment. “Use the right word; choose wisely,” Baue concludes.


Suicide is Painless? Hardly

This is the first in a three-part series on mental health awareness.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

depressed1Did you know that there were words to the theme in the hit film and TV series M*A*S*H? The song was written for Ken Prymus (the actor playing Private Seidman), who sang it during the faux suicide of Walter “Painless Pole” Waldowski (John Schuck) in the “Last Supper” scene in the 1970 film. The tune was called, “Suicide is Painless.”

Now it’s true that the film’s director, Robert Altman, said the ditty had to be the “stupidest song ever written.” Still, I’d like to make the point that suicide is hardly painless, especially for the survivors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; and these rates are increasing.

Why has suicide reached what many consider to be epidemic levels? Too many guns? Newsweek reports that, “the suicide rate has grown even as the portion of suicides by firearm has remained stable.” The economy? Newsweek points out that, “the shift in suicides began long before the recession…”

“Regardless of the circumstances, survivors of a suicide are haunted by the same questions and what-ifs that can never be answered.”

The truth is, there is no easy answer, but suffice it to say that this disturbing trend has affected a LOT of depressed2people, including myself. My late friend, I’ll call him “Allan” for confidentiality reasons, took his life eight years ago, and none of his close friends saw it coming. Allan didn’t seem to fit the profile. He was dealing with OCD, but otherwise seemed his usual generally upbeat, sociable, and physically fit self. (He was an avid jogger and lacked the paunch the rest of us had.)

Now it’s also true that Allan was recently being treated for some mental health issues (as I mentioned, he had OCD), and he was also coping with a very ill wife. But that had been going on for some time. Besides, Allan had always been incredibly resilient to life’s problems in the past. So, just as he always had, we assumed that Allan would pull through these setbacks as well. How wrong we were.

Regardless of the circumstances, survivors of a suicide are haunted by the same questions and what-ifs that can never be answered. All we know for sure is that they’re gone, but they’ll never be forgotten – and if keeping their memory alive and passing along even a snippet of their story helps keep someone else from taking their life – the effort is worth it.

As well as sharing the stories of our loved ones, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention lists other things that survivors can do, including: sponsor a walk to raise awareness of suicide, bring awareness about suicide prevention to a local school, or create a quilt square in memory of a loved one.

One thing is for sure, suicide is not painless, at least not for the survivors.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Bring a Dog to Work!

004Have you ever brought your dog to work? Seriously! If he doesn’t bark a lot, or shed all over your boss’s furniture, why not? The benefits of therapy dogs are well known, but even if your pooch isn’t trained as such, I’ll guarantee he’ll still bring a smile to people’s faces when you bring him into the office.

Don’t think so? You should see folks’ light up when they see me walk in the door with our cute Maltese, Baxter. “How much do you want for him?” I’ve been asked repeatedly. “Uh, he’s not for sale,” I respond, not entirely sure if this lady is serious or not.

Living in a small town, I’ve been able to bring our pooch into the library, post office, assisted living facility (many seniors especially seem to love dogs), and pharmacy. Since he’s small, I usually carry him because, well, he just might decide to “do his business” if I set him on the floor. Actually, he did once, and the pharmacist not only didn’t mind, but she cleaned it up and gave him a treat anyway!

My wife works in a bank, and I’ve brought him in there, too. Again, you should see folks eyes’ light up. Why? Besides being cute, it’s a break away from the usual humdrum. And more than that: Dogs have been known to reduce people’s blood pressure and heart rates, and decrease stress.

He was even welcome in a dealership when we bought a different car some months back. People smiled, t1larg-touchinglooked at him, smiled some more, petted him. You’d think he had a license to drive and mucho bucks in his wallet!

And what dogs are best to bring to the office? According to “The Best Dogs to Bring to Work” poll, it’s the Vizsla, something I didn’t quite get because I had never heard of the breed, and I’m quite the dog enthusiast. Nothing against the breed if you have one, I was just surprised.

Other dogs on this list included the Great Dane (wouldn’t that be pretty big?), Miniature Schnauzer (could be, cute enough, but would have to bark less than mine did), poodle, and a Golden Retriever.

Check out the list at

Of course, we’re all pretty prejudiced about something like dog breeds, but whatever type of dog you have, you can be sure there are a lot of people who would like to meet him.


Does Working from Home WORK for You?

In recognition of the author’s 400th post on this blog, we are re-running select posts from time to time.

working-from-home_colorWith Labor Day just past us, I am reminded that I have been working from home (WFH) for roughly five years. It definitely has its pros and cons (mostly pros). The flexibility in being able to work whatever hours you want is a plus. I’m not a big morning person, so I really enjoy being able to ease into the day. It’s also a real bonus not having to worry about commuting to work during the sometimes brutal winters we have here in the Upper Midwest.

But WFH does take a lot of self-discipline, which is still not always easy for me. For one thing, unlike a traditional office, you have the luxury of throwing in a load of laundry in between various work tasks, doing the dishes, and so on. This is good and bad: You get things done you wouldn’t normally until you got home from the office, but it’s easy to overdo it and not get enough for your “job” done.

For me, the biggest drawback when WFH is really hard is on a gorgeous day when I’d much rather be walking my dog or going for a bike ride. In such cases, you might go one better and just work outside that particular day. (See picture below right.)

One thing that helps regardless of the weather is to set “mini-goals” for yourself. For instance, tell yourself that you ARE going to get project X done today. Just make it something attainable or you’re just setting yourself up for a letdown. It doesn’t have to be a single project… in fact, it’s been my experience that sometimes it’s more realistic to set multiple goals for the same project; steps that you know you can accomplish in a given day, but which, when taken together, will keep you on track for getting the work done when you are supposed to have it completed. For instance, let’s say you’re working on a big proposal. Tell yourself on Monday you are going to have the first part written by the end of the day on Tuesday, and so on.

A detriment of WFH is definitely the lack of interaction with co-workers. outdoor-officePicking up the phone or emailing or texting can help, but it often isn’t the same thing. Most of us don’t handle isolation very well, so mix things up. If a big project keeps you chained to your computer on a given day, give yourself a break the next day and take an hour-long lunch at a local diner. Even better, invite a friend to join you!

However, if you are an extremely social person at work, chatting with everyone from the janitor and executive secretary to co-workers most of the day, I would NOT recommend WFH — at least not very often.

Many of us are working from home more than ever, and so while I hope these tips have helped, the truth is that you will probably have to experiment and find whatever schedule works best for you. A brief word of caution: Be prepared to explain a barking dog or meowing cat to an important client you are on the phone with! Good luck.


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