I seem to be having a lot of conversations about rest lately. It came up in Office Hours in the Academic Writing Studio. It’s come up in more than one Guide for the Journey session.
If you are tired, you need to prioritize rest even if you can’t take time off right now and completely devote yourself to it.
The work that is preventing you from taking time off is not going to be possible if you are too tired.
If you are using the need to get things done as a reason not to rest, remind your gremlins that you will be more productive if you are rested.
If nothing else try to avoid situations in which you are neither working effectively, nor resting.
If you notice that you are so tired your cognitive function is impaired, then it’s really impaired.
Stop working. Take an emergency nap.
- Set a timer for 30 minutes.
- Do whatever you can to reduce stimulation (e.g. cover your eyes, ear plugs).
- Slow your breathing.
- Don’t worry about whether you actually sleep (though the timer is there to keep you from sleeping too long and waking up groggy).
- Allow yourself to rest.
- When your alarm goes off, try that work task again.
You don’t have to wait until the cognitive impairment is noticeable.
Experiment with daily naps. Figure out your optimum length, best time of day, what supports you resting during this time. Give yourself time to learn how to do this. You’ve got the whole summer to figure this out. You can test a lot of variables.
I read a really good thread on Twitter by someone with a chronic illness causing fatigue that described the moment you switch from just experiencing cognitive fatigue to a kind of buzzy feeling because the adrenaline has kicked in. Pay attention to that!!
If you don’t stop before it happens, stop as soon as you notice it. Do something to process the adrenaline (and cortisol) because that stuff makes it hard to fall asleep even though you are super tired. (Great suggestions for burning off stress hormones in Burnout by Emily & Amelia Nagoski.)
You might also work on evening activities to rest and wind down. Or, stop using an alarm to wake up in the morning. Or be more strict about not working on weekends.
But really, start noticing when the fatigue is getting to be too much and take emergency naps!
Sent to the Studio newsletter on 26 May 2023. Lightly edited.