Physicians are known for putting in long hours, but when does it become a real problem? Here are eight signs that it's time to slow down.
Overwork is not pretty, and in some cultures it's deadly. In Japan, "karoshi" or death from overwork, annually claims anywhere from 10,000 workers to 30,000 workers. The range is vast because, without autopsies, it's difficult to accurately assess the cause of death of people at their desks, slumped over.
Karoshi does not appear to be a significant phenomenon in the U.S. Still, among over-workers and the highly fatigued, high blood pressure and heart disease are exceedingly common.
Given that you work very long hours - why can that be dangerous? When you encounter stressful situations by working longer and harder, your muscles contract, your blood thickens, your heart pumps blood faster, and your arteries narrow. You're prepared for fight or flight. If you actually did fight or flee, the situation would largely take care of itself.
Instead, your internal "engine" is revving for eight hours to 10 hours on end. You arrive home, where more stressors may emerge. You cannot sleep as many hours as your body requires, or if you do, it's fitful sleep with tossing and turning. As a result, you're being worn down and your immune system is becoming weaker. Thus you're more susceptible to illness.
Some researchers believe that consistently having too little sleep could impact your whole life, to your detriment. Combined with too much work and too little sleep, any illness that you might contract can be more troublesome.
You feel tired, but when are you bordering on danger? Among many signs, here are a few:
1. Lack of appetite or indigestion. You normally look forward to meals, but when highly fatigued, you have trouble getting them down. Maybe, you're eating less. Your fatigue is prolonged.
2. Extra sleep doesn't help. Getting many nights of extra sleep in a row or sleeping for an entire weekend doesn't seem to diminish your fatigue. Perhaps worse, you feel as if you'll never "catch up."
3. Excessive sleepiness. You doze at inopportune moments, such as during an important meeting, or when driving!
4. Loss of sex drive. This isn't obvious because decline in libido usually occurs a bit at a time and you don't notice, although your partner likely will.
5. Interrupted sleep. At night, you wake more often or toss and turn, and then, worse, you spend the rest of the night overly concerned that you're not attaining good sleep.
6. Persistent fatigue. You feel tired upon arising even after a full night's sleep. Realistically, if, by 9:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m., you can hardly keep your head up, it's time to take heed.
7. Poor concentration. Your focus on the task at hand is poor. Your concentration is diminished and is not due to your aging.
8. Feeling ineffective. Finally, you feel that you're no longer in control. In many ways, this can be the most worrisome of all signs. Roll back your number of working hours as soon as you reasonably can.
If one or more of these has been a lingering issue for you, it's time to take a personal inventory and make some decisions about how you are going to change things.