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“Sleep is for the weak, Mr. President”

Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense told that to President John F. Kennedy during Cuban Missile Crisis.

“Sleep is for the wise, Mr. McNamara.”

And my overworked colleagues too, unaware of medical research continue to argue against sufficient sleep. Here is a list of arguments made by skeptics of sufficient sleep and my responses.

  • I don’t need eight hours of sleep. Studies have shown that sleep restriction for 4 hours, 6 hours (compared to 8 hours) for 14 days causes a dose dependent decline in neurocognitive performance.
  • I only need five hours of sleep. Short sleeper gene, a rare mutation, is present only 3% of the population (Ying-Hui Fu, University of California, San Francisco.) Majority of leaders get less than 6 hours of sleep certainly at the time of major opportunity or catastrophe.
  • I can fight sleep deprivation with strong motivation. Motivation improves attention but not creativity, flexibility, mood, perception, and information management.
  • I have achieved a lot by sleeping less. You could achieve even more by working on your alertness intelligence.
  • I don’t perceive the deficit in my performance. Sleep deprivation adversely affects frontomedial cortex (the executive center) which is essential for successful self-evaluation. This makes us unaware of our deficit.
  • I am highly productive. You have increased your output as a worker/manager, at the expense of executive output.
  • Stakes are so high that sleep has to be on back burner. This is exactly the reason   you should be giving sleep a top priority. Also there are alertness maximization techniques (discussed in Section II and III of my book Sleep Well, Lead Well) which can help you.
  • I don’t want to spend 1/3 of my life sleeping away. Investment in sleep will enrich your life both at home and at work qualitatively.
  • I will sleep when I am dead. Studies unfortunately have shown increased mortality associated with insufficient sleep. You have to sleep 8 hours every night if you want a successful career that can span 5-6 decades.

Sleep Well, Lead Well.

Sleep Well, Live Well.

Power Nap gives You Two Days in One! Take it.

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.

Alertness Maximization Tips for Journalists

Journalists have to analyze enormous amount of information in a very short amount of time. They have to broadcast this information in a comprehensible manner at times without much rehearsal. Journalists, the watchdogs of democracy, work long hours and get insufficient amount of sleep. This can adversely affect their alertness and their information management skills significantly, but they may not be aware of these deficits because of impaired self-evaluation secondary to under active prefrontal cortex (the executive center located in the frontal lobe of brain) .

General Tips for Journalists

  • Take a long nap to reduce sleep debt. Use the afternoon circadian dip in alertness to your advantage. Take a nap after lunch to pay up your sleep debt. If you are sleeping from ten at night to four in the morning (working for early morning show) OR from two in the morning to eight in the morning (working for late evening show), then take a two-hour nap from noon to two o’clock. Avoid an evening nap because it can disrupt your sleep.
  • Exercise for thirty minutes every day. This will improve your deep sleep, alertness, emotional intelligence, and information management. You can review data while paddling a stationary bike.
  • Beware of bagginess. Sleep deprivation will make bagginess under the eyes worse. Your makeup artist can help. But better yet, just sleep well. This way, you will look and feel better, too!
  • Talk slow, and think fast. Cognitive slowing occurs with sleep deprivation.
  • Compile data in one location as opposed to keeping information spread across various email folders, laptop folders, and your briefcase.
  • Write, or, better yet, draw since visual memory is less affected than verbal memory.
  • Sleep deprivation affects verbal fluency. Avoid tongue twisters.  Short sentences are perfect.
  • Recognize that sleep deprivation forms false memory. Retrieval of information is impaired. Always check and recheck facts, especially when sleep deprived.

Tips for the Early Morning Media Person

Following tips will help early morning media person excel despite insufficient sleep and circadian mismatch.

  • Plan on going to bed at eight or latest by nine in the evening.
  • Enjoy a good lunch and a two-hour nap in early afternoon to pay up your sleep debt.
  • If you sleep in until eight or nine in the morning on weekends, truncate or even eliminate the afternoon nap. If you prefer to continue the weekday routine, that is perfectly fine, too.
  • Avoid caffeine after one o’clock. The early morning caffeine will help maximize alertness, but use it judiciously.
  • Stay alert while driving to work, especially on those dark winter mornings. Most fatal accidents occur during early morning hours.
  • Avoid alcohol within three hours of bedtime because it will rob you of your REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and make your sleep non-restorative. Start drinking early!
  • Avoid staring at bright light in the evening. It will make it harder to fall asleep at eight or nine  o’clock at night.

Tips for the Late Night Media Person

It is relatively easier for the late-night anchor because it is easier to postpone sleep than to advance it. This is, in part, secondary to the fact that our sleep-wake cycle is slightly longer than twenty-four hours.

Following recommendations will help you excel.

  • Sleep from two o’clock to ten o’clock if you can. To help you sleep until ten o’clock, make sure your windows have dark drapes and the phone is turned off.
  • Make sure your family members respect your sleeping through the morning hours. Put a “shift worker at sleep” sign on your bedroom door.
  • Keep your phone and laptop turned off during your sleep time.
  • If you can’t sleep until ten, then catch up by napping for an hour or two after a good lunch. Make sure you take this catch-up nap as early in the afternoon as you can so it does not interfere with your sleep onset at night.
  • Stay alert driving to home after work, especially on those dark winter mornings. Most fatal accidents occur between midnight and six o’clock.

Feel free to email me with your questions and comments at md4sleep@gmail.com.

Thanks for keeping us informed. God bless you.

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