Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information
about leading a balanced and productive life while making
In this issue, you'll find:
- Smart Professors - Part II - Even Smarter
- The Peak Performing Professor
- Professor Destressor Workshops and coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Smart Professors - Part II - Even Smarter
You might have noticed a two years gap since the last
Professor Destressor Newsletter. During that time, I took a
sabbatical from some of my professional responsibilities to
complete a book (www.ThePeakPerformingProfessor.com) that was
published by Jossey Bass in October 2013. Since many of the
ideas inside that book were shaped from content from
workshops and previous issues of this newsletter, I am
grateful to all of you who have sent notes of encouragement
over the years.
The book was a challenging project, requiring me to integrate
five disparate areas of performance research into a practical
book that would help faculty become more productive and
happier. At the beginning of the book project, I often wished
that I was just a little bit smarter so that the writing and
thinking would go better. The project made me aware of how
important it is for professors to work at their peak.
You should want to be smarter for two reasons: your own sake,
because as you handle your academic responsibilities quicker
and better you will have time and energy to create a great
life, and for the sake of higher education, because the
smarter you are, the more creatively you will contribute to
your discipline and to the quality of instruction at your
I know how much professors value being smart because the last
newsletter, about the role of exercise in making professors
smarter, got more response than any other topic I have written
about. That newsletter began a series describing the SANER
practices that help professors get and stay smart with E of
SANER for exercise. The current issue continues the series
with the topic of how good sleep practices, the S of SANER,
makes you smarter.
Sleep, Perchance to Dream
One shortcut that professors often take when they are
overwhelmed and stressed is to cut down on sleep. That turns
out to be a big mistake. Sleep deprivation causes:
- Driver fatigue which causes 100,000 crashes a year,
resulting in 1,550 deaths and more than 70,000 injuries.
- Problems with motor control which contributes to the risk of
accidents of all kinds whether auto, falling, and difficulty
operating machinery safely.
- Weight problems brought on by three effects of sleep
deprivation: disrupted glucose metabolism, insulin resistance,
and the disruption of the production of leptin, a hormone
that regulates hunger and appetite.
- Lowered cognitive and other decision-making abilities which
lead to learning difficulties and general irritability. Those
late night grading sessions will increase your grading time
for papers that you could race through during the day.
By the way, your sleep deprived students will do poorer on at
least one of their work tasks, taking exams, than if they got
a normal night sleep. Whenever appropriate you might consider
discussing the effects of sleep deprivation and how much
better you feel since you started getting more sleep.
- Lowered frustration tolerance and managing emotions. Small
frustrations become big aggravations. Your late night grading
session will likely result in lowered student grades since
your sleep-deprived irritability will lower your tolerance
for student mistakes. While no one has studied the effect of
sleep deprivation on faculty mood, a study of UCLA college
students deprived of sleep for a week found that they began
show symptoms of depression in otherwise healthy students.
- Impairment to immune functions, making you more vulnerable
to various maladies such the common cold and perhaps even to
some kinds of cancer related to weakened immune functions.
- Susceptibility to lowered immune system and illnesses such
Professors often develop sleep deprivation habits during
crises in graduate school when they are pushing to reach
deadlines on dissertations and other projects and then
continue those habits after the crisis calms down and
start their professorial careers.
The cumulative effect of this bad habit can shorten the
years of your life and can decrease the life in your years.
Why We Need Sleep
For decades, scientists have not been sure why we actually
need to sleep. They knew the negative effects of sleep
deprivation such as those listed above but only inferred the
benefits of sleep by examining research results such as
- Draining of lactic acid, a substance built up in our
muscles when we use them. Without this clearing out, your
muscles will hurt more the day after a strenuous workout than
if you rest.
- Consolidating of memories. Sleep deprivation causes memory
difficulties, both difficulty encoding experiences into
memory and decoding memories that did make it into long term
- Clear headed thinking. New research by Maiken Nedergaard and
her team at the University of Rochester Medical Center (2013)
have discovered another benefit of sleep. It seems that sleep
helps the flushing of waste products in the brain through
mechanisms the “glymphatic” system. This system flushes enough
fluid from the brain through the space between brain cells
that it increases the spaces between the brain cells by 60%
thus causing more efficient movement of the brain fluid that
flushes toxins away. This nightly cleanse may act like a
protection factor for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease because
when the researchers injected amyloid-beta, a natural byproduct
of brain function that, when it builds up, can lead
to Alzheimer’s disease, into their lab rats’ brain, the
researchers found that the glymphatic system was 10 times more
active during sleep than when the rats were awake thus sweeping
away the debris to the liver, where it gets disposed. Better
sleep habits may keep you smarter longer and, in the short term,
may help you wake up with a “clear head” because toxins were
flushed from your brain while you sleep.
Guidelines for Restful Sleep
Help nature along by allowing your brain to get the maximum
benefit from your time in bed.
- Sleep needs are individualized but vary around a tight
average, 7 ½ - 8 ½ hours a night. You know you are getting
enough sleep if you wake on your own without an alarm
feeling refreshed, get through the day with very little
daytime sleepiness, and are able to fall asleep in about 20
minutes at night. Flip those indicators over and you have a
check list for not enough rest: needing an alarm to wake,
fighting sleepiness all day (other than the after-lunch or
mid-afternoon slump everyone has), and falling asleep
immediately when your head hits the pillow.
- Avoid stimulation such as caffeine consumption and
exercise close to bedtime.
- Allow sufficient wind down time at night for the brain to
build sufficient serotonin, the neurotransmitter that
relaxes us and allows us to sleep deeply. Do relaxing rather
that stimulating late night activities such as reading
(not exciting mystery novels), eating a light snack
(a heavy meal), listening to music (not hard rock),
meditating, or taking a leisurely bath.
- Avoid bright lights and blue lights. Thomas Edison did us
no favor when he invented the light bulb because light after
dark takes us away from our more natural ancestral roots in
which our cave ancestors got tired when the sun set, used
the camp fire and candles for a little early evening light,
and then fell asleep in the dark. Dimming the lights across
your evening will cue your brain to produce more serotonin
and increase sleepiness. Stay away from the blue lights of
TV, computer, tablet, smart phone, and other electronic
- Sleep in a room that is dark (no blue lights from the
electric vampires), cool (low 60s), and quiet (no TVs on in
- Naps are not necessarily bad for your nighttime sleep. It
all depends on how early in the day or how deeply you sleep.
Your ideal nap would be to siesta shortly after lunch as
people do in non-US cultures and to doze for only 20 minutes
without getting into such a deep sleep that it replaces one
of your nightly sleep cycles.
Changing Bad Habits
- It may take up to three weeks to clear out a serious
sleep debt. Be patient. You should start feeling better
immediately but with regular sleep you can continue to
improve for a few weeks.
- Try to allow natural sleepiness and a relaxing evening
to produce enough sleepiness to fall asleep. Don’t use
chemical sleep aids including alcohol; they have a
potential for dependency and they produce unnatural
sleep patterns that do not restore your brain’s depletion.
- Go to bed and get up at approximately the same time
each day. If you stay up late on weekends, resist the
temptation to sleep later. Instead, prevent what is known
as “social jet lag” by continuing with the same waking
time. Even though you may feel a little sleepy on the
weekend, this strategy encourages a natural sleep-wake
cycle that ensures that you will be alert and smart
during your work week.
Healthy sleep hygiene habits will help you work more
productively and happily.
2. The Peak Performing Professor: A Practical Guide to
Productivity and Happiness
Drawing on research from the fields of neuroscience,
faculty development, work productivity, positive
psychology, and resilience, The Peak Performing
Professor is filled with techniques, strategies, and
practical tools for managing the complexities of
academic life while maximizing professional potential.
This much-needed resource reveals the four skill sets
(PACE) that enhance peak performance and shows
faculty step-by-step how to:
- Power their work and lives with purpose and
- Align all of their activities with that purpose.
- Connect with mutually helpful colleagues and
- Energize themselves to thrive in this
interesting and engaging career.
To help develop these essential skills, the book
contains exercises that can help faculty to hone their
abilities to anchor their work, roles, and use of time
in their most deeply held values; to integrate their
personal and professional lives into a seamless whole;
to experience more work-life balance; and, ultimately,
to create a legacy of a life well-lived. Administrators
will also find the book a useful tool for guiding their
faculty to produce, stay engaged, and experience job
3. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
Now that my book is published, I am now available for
presentations on how faculty can increase their
productivity and happiness to conferences and
universities. So far I will be working in May for any
universities in Georgia and Virginia that might want
to invite me to offer a seminar and/or consultations.
August and October are filling up quickly but the
rest of the year still has openings for presentations
on the above topics. Contact me if your conference or
college/university needs a presenter on any of the
topics listed above.
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© Copyright 2014 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The
above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or
distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a
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Susan Robison, PhD.; 9005 Chevrolet Drive;
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Voice: 410-465-5892 or 410-461-1382