You Are Not Overworked, You Just Need a Sweet Restorative Nap!

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For the past 90 days, I have written one quality article per day, as part of a 100 days writing challenge. That’s a lot of work knowing that:

  • One article usually takes me 4 hours to write and publish
  • This is in addition to an 8 hour demanding full-time job (I’m a software engineer)

When I first started this challenge, I feared I would get a burnout. But this has not happened.

I attribute this mainly to two recovery practices:

Both have been essential to sustaining this level of productivity, but today, we’ll concentrate on napping. In a few lines, you’ll understand why napping is such a brilliant recovery tool and how to get started.

Fighting for my naps

I’ve been blogging on productivity since 2007. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that I started to nap regularly at work. This was because my office work did not encourage the practice at all. In fact, I had to fight for my naps.

In the beginning, I was so desperate to try naps that I started to do them in the toilets. I would sit down, close my eyes, and do my best to try to sleep on my hands. Obviously, that included the bad smells and FX sound effects…

Then my office moved to one of the latest floors of my building. This was perfect because I could nap on the stairs. In fact, I went to the very latest floor to do my naps. It was dark and quiet, just perfect!

That was such a blissful moment! In the beginning, I could not fall asleep quickly enough. But then I became proficient at power napping.

I would close my eyes and fall asleep quickly. Even a short 12-minute nap would make a difference. The practice would dramatically reduce my stress levels. And I would come back to my desk with a fresh mind. This helped me so much with my productivity!

Finally, in 2020, I became a remote worker because of the COVID-19. While many workers saw this unfavorably, I was celebrating! From now on, I could do the most restorative naps.

Now let’s see why napping is so powerful.

Sleep cycles

You probably already know that our sleep is broken down into different sleep cycles. Those cycles last approximately 90 minutes. And they are themselves broken down into different stages.

Broadly speaking, they consist of 2 main stages:

  • Slow Wave Sleep (SWS)
  • Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM)

The first one, SWS sleep, is a low-frequency stage where your body basically repairs itself. It is deeply restorative and is linked with an increase in the growth hormone and a decrease in cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

The second one, REM sleep, is linked to dreaming and consolidates your brain connections, which helps you learn, memorize and get creative.

The ratio of SWS sleep over REM sleep changes over time. The first cycles have a lot of deep SWS sleep in them, which helps restore our body. Then, the more you progress in your night, the more you have shallow REM sleep.

This means that your body first prioritizes the restoration of its vital functions, then while the night progresses, you get to dream more and consolidate your neural connections.

3 types of nap

Did you know that your sleep cycles continue throughout your day? Yes, that’s true. How surprising, right? This fact has an impact on our levels of wakefulness during the day.

It also means that taking a nap in the morning and the afternoon does not contain the same ratio of deep SWS sleep compared with shallow REM sleep.

If you nap in the morning, you have more shallow REM sleep than deep SWS sleep, while if you nap in the afternoon, you have more deep SWS sleep. You can also nap in the middle of the day to have a balanced amount of deep and shallow sleep.

Also, you need to know There’s a transitional phase of sleep called second-stage sleep. This second-stage sleep happens just before and after the deep SWS sleep stage. So if you do a 12-minute or 20-minute nap, it will only consist of second-stage sleep. The main benefit of this stage is an increase in your alertness level.

If you want to also have the restorative effect of the deep SWS sleep stage, you will need to do a 60 minutes sleep. Then if you also want to have benefits in your memorization/learning/creative abilities, you need to finish the full 90 minutes sleep cycle.

To summarize, there are 3 types of naps you can do:

  • A power nap of up to 20 minutes sleep
  • A 60 minutes restorative nap
  • A full fledge 90-minute nap which also helps with creativity and memorization

Although each nap has its benefits, any type of nap will improve your productivity.

The benefits of napping are pretty obvious. But if you need the scientific evidence, I would advise you to read Sara Mednick’s book “Take a nap! Change your life”. Alternatively, you can watch her presentation at Google.

Getting started

Now let’s get practical. How can you take the sweetest restorative nap ever?

What I like to do is follow these 4 steps:

  1. First, find a comfortable isolated place. For me, it’s usually my bed since I now work remotely.
  2. Cover your eyes with an eye mask, if the place is not dark enough.
  3. Make sure you disable your notifications on your smartphone.
  4. Set up a timer for how long you want your nap to last

Usually, your nap will not distract your sleep circadian rhythm at night. However, you must be careful not to sleep too late in the afternoon. Sleep expert Sara C. Mednick recommends that you don’t take a nap after 5 pm.

If you are an ambitious person, you probably have a busy schedule and get exhausted by your workload. For me, personally, I struggled a lot with my workload and I would feel helpless about it. But since I discovered the power of napping, I know I can reduce my stress levels in a dramatic way and stay alert longer throughout my day.

Many people feel ashamed about napping, as it’s often associated with laziness, or they feel guilty about taking a nap because it’s not in their schedule. In reality, napping makes you more productive and helps you sustain high performance throughout your workday. So I warmly recommend you give it a try!

Featured photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

About the author 

Alex Philippe

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