Permission to Power Nap.
Permission to sleep! Think of a nap as a personal luxury and a healthy habit – not laziness. Some of the most energetic people I know steal 20-30 minutes for a ‘kip’ every day.
Eight hours of sleep and a full, active day, right? That pattern may not be optimal for our natural rhythms. More than 85% of mammals sleep for short periods during the day. There is evidence that a short nap, 20-30 minutes, can improve mood, memory, energy and thinking.
“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill
During WWII, in the most stressful period of his life, we are told that Winston Churchill napped every day. Other famous nappers are said to include JFK, George Bush, Reagan, John D. Rockefeller, Brahms, da Vinci, Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Napoleon, Einstein, and Edison.
How long a nap should I take? The Cornell psychologist who coined “The Power Nap” suggests that the benefits of napping occur in the first 5-30 minutes. The goal is to begin a sleep cycle (usually in 18-25 minutes), but not complete it. Longer naps, entering deep sleep, can result in the groggy fog that is lovely and restorative on a rainy weekend afternoon – but not the performance enhancement we want. It is said that Thomas Edison napped with a handful of ball bearings. When he drifted into light sleep, he felt that his subconscious would solve the problems with which he struggled. Just as he would have crossed into deep sleep, his hand relaxed, the ball bearings clattered to the floor and he woke up, clear headed, often with a break-through. Winston Churchill reportedly had a similar system.
What time of day should I nap? The Mayo Clinic suggests that we nap mid-afternoon, post-lunch.
Best napping approach? Ideally, find a quiet, dark place with a comfortable temperature where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Lie down if you can. Experts say that it takes 50% longer to fall asleep sitting up. Some people find that relaxing music blocks out other distractions. Some like to focus on breathing. Some relax muscle groups – beginning with their toes. Consider using a light blanket. When you fall asleep, your metabolism slows and you cool down a little.
Google, Nike and British Airways all make it easy for employees to nap in quiet rooms or, in Google’s case, ‘energy pods’. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 54%.
Note: If you have trouble sleeping, the research I’ve read shows that napping can make it more difficult to get restorative sleep at night. You’ll need medical advice.