Author: Eric Pollak

March Madness and Mental Health

Written by Eric Pollak

March Madness is in full swing and for many Americans this means 3 weeks of NCAA college basketball, brackets, betting, and lost work time. According to the employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, approximately 50 million Americans participate in March Madness pools, costing employers an estimated $1.2 billion dollars in lost productivity.  Furthermore, the FBI reports that March Madness generates $2.5 billion in illegal bets each year. However, there are many positive effects of this annual tradition, which are often overlooked. As a March Madness fan myself, I’d like to shed some well deserved light on the benefits of the great tournament.

March Madness facilitates conversation between colleagues and can create an environment of camaraderie. Communication is an integral aspect of the work atmosphere, even if it’s about topics unrelated to work. Through these exchanges and dialogue, the NCAA tournament can aid in boosting worker morale. According to a 2010 survey, 41 percent of managers polled reported that March Madness increased employee happiness.

The increased social bonds created through March Madness are not limited to relationships in the work place, but extend their benefits to interpersonal relationships in general. Studies have found that sports provide a common ground for people to be able to relate to one another and connect in ways that would otherwise not be possible. Daniel Wann, Pd.D., a professor of psychology at Murray State University, explains “being a fan gives us something to talk about, to share and bond with others and for the vast majority of people, it’s psychologically healthier when you can increase social connections with others”. Regardless of whether you are a lifelong diehard or a once a year fan, the tournament creates a social forum for people to discuss, analyze, and debate.

Research has demonstrated time and time again that there is a correlation between feeling connected to others and greater happiness. Just as food and shelter are essential foundational components of our lives, so are friendships and social connections. Regardless of whether one connects to family, spouses, friends, or work colleagues, each of these relationships can impact our experience of happiness. Feeling connected to a group or community also provides us with a sense of identity, as it helps us feel that we are part of something. So, rooting for a particular team or one’s alma mater can allow one to feel part of something greater than themselves and thus a greater sense of happiness. Additionally, researchers have found that people are happier when they are in the company of others, than when they are alone. Throughout the three weeks of the March Madness tournament people tend to gather to watch the games and have shared experiences, which can also boost levels of happiness.

Many employers are aware of the aforementioned benefits and have started to utilize the tournament for team building and enhancing morale in the office by encouraging employees to complete brackets and watch the games together. For those employers that don’t allow employees to watch, I am by no means sanctioning employees using their work time to watch college basketball without employer consent. However, psychologically savvy supervisors will certainly recognize that the benefits of March Madness tend to offset the potential drawbacks

The Madness is here! Let’s embrace it and utilize it as an opportunity to increase our social connections and thus our happiness. The probability of picking a perfect bracket has been estimated to be 9.2 quintillion to 1. Fortunately, the odds of one benefiting from the social and communal nature of the tournament are much greater!


My New Year’s Resolution to Get More Sleep!

Written by Eric Pollak

2015 is upon us and our local gyms are filling up as people are beginning to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions. According to a University of Scranton study, losing weight, getting organized, and spending less/saving more were the top three New Year’s resolutions for 2014. These are great goals to focus on, and I encourage everyone to pursue these. However, one important item that is often neglected from New Year’s resolutions is sleep.

Research demonstrates that chronic lack of sleep is linked to numerous health difficulties including colds and flu, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental health issues. Despite these risks, prevalence of sleep problems is at an all-time high. According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll, more than 50% of Americans report at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights per week within the past year. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that approximately 30% of the population at large complains of sleep disturbance, and roughly 10% have symptoms that impair their daytime functioning similar to those that have a diagnosis of insomnia.

A refreshing night of sleep is a great way to start off the year, and can even help you save enough energy to keep working on your other resolutions as well. Therefore, here are three things I will be doing this year to dramatically improve my sleep:

1. Don’t do anything in your bed except for sleep and sex:
It is crucial that while in bed, you avoid doing anything aside from sleep and sexual activity. This includes, but is not limited to, watching TV, eating, studying, texting, reading, or using your phone in any manner. If you are like the many people that partake in any of these activities in your bed, then you are inadvertently training yourself to stay awake. This is because you learn to associate normal sleep cues (bed, bedroom, etc) with activities other than sleep. In order to create a strong connection between your bed and sleep, you must refrain from all other activities. If you stay away from these activities while in bed, you will increase your likelihood of falling and staying asleep at night.

2. Limit the amount of exposure to blue wavelength light one hour before bedtime:
Research at Harvard University and elsewhere has demonstrated that blue wavelength light – which is emitted by computers, cell phones, TV’s, and energy-efficient bulbs (CFLs) – can suppress the secretion of melatonin (a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles) and have a significant negative impact on sleep. So, start powering down a full hour before bedtime and make sure to expose yourself to lots of sunlight throughout the day.

3. Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible:
It is important that your bedroom be very sleep-friendly. When it’s time for bed, make sure that the lights are turned off and that your room is dark. Additionally, attempt to limit surrounding noise (including snoring bed partners), which can cause you to wake or move during sleep, thus impacting your sleep quality. If needed, use an eye mask, black out curtains, or earplugs to reduce light and noise. Furthermore, due to the rise and fall of your body temperature throughout the night, sleep experts suggest that a cool room (60-68 degrees) is optimal for sleep. If this temperature is too cold for you, use blankets to keep yourself warm.

While 75% of Americans are successful at upholding their resolution during the first week in the New Year, this number drops significantly by June. I hope I’ll be successful in keeping to this plan. Here’s to a restful and refreshing year!