A power nap can regain your leadership and life itself.
While talking to Dan Rather of CBS in 1993, Bill Clinton said, “If I can take a nap, even fifteen or twenty minutes in the middle of the day, it is really invigorating to me. On the days when I’m a little short of sleep, I try to work it out so that I can sneak off and just lie down for fifteen minutes, a half hour, and it really makes all the difference in the world.”
Because of our circadian rhythm, our alertness and, hence, our performance dips in the afternoon. This nadir is deeper when we are sleep deprived and when we are traveling across multiple time zones. If we can fight this drowsiness with a strategically placed power nap, then we can maximize life and executive function and certainly avoid fatal mistakes. (Most fatal vehicular accidents occur in the mid-afternoon and after midnight.)
Studies prove that a fifteen-minute power nap provides benefits lasting up to one hundred and fifty minutes, including:
- Improves alertness, both subjectively and objectively
- Reduces fatigue and improved vigor
- Enhances creativity and problem-solving
- Improves perception
- Facilitates learning
- Improves declarative and procedural memory
- Produces positive mood and emotions, clearer communication, humor and optimism, and situational awareness
If a fifteen-minute nap gives you one hundred and fifty minutes of improved executive function, how can you resist such an investment?
How do you take this power nap? Relax. It’s easy. You don’t have to do anything. And of course, there is a definite learning curve, and you will get better as you take these power naps on a regular basis.
In the medical studies, the participants were asked to take nap in a quiet, dark, and comfortable environment. You may not have such an environment at work, but, with practice, you can still take a very invigorating and rewarding nap. Legend has it that a ferocious Mughal warrior, Aurangzeb, used to take naps while still sitting on his horse in the middle of the battlefield.
The biggest obstacle to the practice of power nap is the stigma associated with it in our frenzied corporate culture, which looks at napping as a sign of weakness and not that of wisdom. How do you take a power nap then? As with most changes, this also begins with your mind. Go over the reasons behind it and the benefits resulting from it. Analyze the data and make a rational decision. Next, share your plan to invest in power naps with people around you, starting with your wife, your secretary, your closest colleague, and so on.
As appropriate, educate your staff and colleagues about the performance benefits of power naps. Inform them that napping is a sign of wisdom, not weakness. This will help you overcome that cultural barrier and stigma associated with daytime napping. Then show the confidence of a leader and just do it. It is not that difficult. And it is worth the trouble and time.
Technique of a Conventional Power Nap
Following tips will you help you rejuvenate your day with a 15 minute power nap.
- Proudly let your staff know that you will be taking a fifteen-minute nap. “Doctor’s orders,” you may add.
- Set your Smartphone alarm, preferably on vibrate, to go off in fifteen minutes. A study from Australia has shown that napping for less than ten minutes is suboptimal. More than twenty minutes can be counterproductive because of post-nap grogginess.
- Turn on relaxing music. You can try noise-canceling headphones. Bose are the best.
- Put on eye shades. I find my Notre Dame cap very useful, especially when taking a nap in the public place. I just pull it down over my eyes, and I am off to the land of dreams.
- Stretch on the couch or recline in the chair. Turn the chair away from people and toward the window or wall. A study from China showed greater benefit with stretching on the couch as opposed to sitting.
- Close your eyes, shut off your mind, and relax.
- Wake up with a smile and vigor when the alarm goes off.
A REM nap improves creative problem solving by a whopping 40 percent. A very interesting study done by Dr. Sara Mednik and her team at University of California, San Diego, looked at creative problem solving before and after a nap. Participants were given three words and asked to find a word that can link all of the three words, for example, sixteen, candy, and heart. The answer is sweet: sweet sixteen, sweet candy, and sweet heart. There was an amazing 40 percent improvement after a nap containing REM sleep.
Remember that REM sleep has an active brain in a paralyzed body. Mother Nature made it so we do not act out our dreams. Also, studies have shown that REM sleep has a tremendous amount of random, bizarre, and seemingly unrelated activity going on, which our brain is trying to connect together to make some sense of it. Some researchers believe this is why REM nap is able to boost creative problem solving by linking these random and totally unrelated activities together. This is the wildest and craziest form of thinking outside the box. Studies have shown that REM sleep plays a pivotal role in memory consolidation, too.
Can we do better than just lie down and relax for fifteen minutes? Can we modify our technique to make our nap more restorative, more recuperative, and more energizing? I think we can by adding just a few steps to our conventional nap. I should clarify that these recommendations are not based on any specific scientific studies, but my experience as a practicing sleep specialist and lifelong nap-taker.
Let us learn to take PREM (Patel’s Relaxed Eye Muscles) nap in the next blog.