For 25 years my husband has been teasing me about my inability to take a decent nap. He can take a nap anywhere, anytime. The usual scenario for us is that we lie down and within two minutes he is sound asleep and snoring. Within five minutes I am twitching with restlessness. Within six minutes my mind has turned into a roller coaster of thoughts about what I should be doing, what I have forgotten to do, what I am worried about doing or not doing and a thousand “what ifs” that torture me unmercifully. In the meantime my husbands slumber continues and the deeper his innocent and effortless sleep goes the more agitated I get. Not just because he is right, I can’t take a decent nap, but because I want to and I haven’t been able to figure out why I can’t!
The Accidental Answer
Recently I cracked the code. I had major surgery several weeks ago and every afternoon since I have been taking a blissful, cozy life enhancing nap with a heating pad wrapped around me. So why can I suddenly take such great naps and most importantly, why did I finally understand the necessity of this renewing ritual? The answer is two-fold: First, I gave myself permission. Well, actually the doctor gave me permission and then I gave it to myself. Once I did that, I was able to experience the positive impact that napping had on my focus and work performance. That is when the second barrier to my napping disappeared: the guilt.
Am I Being Delusional?
This napping thing really got me curious. Was it just my imagination or was there any scientific evidence to substantiate my experience, which is that I feel great, I think more clearly and have more energy when I take naps? It turns out there is plenty of supporting evidence. At Harvard Medical, research on napping shows an increase in learning ability, memory and creative problem solving. Those are all capabilities we need at work and in life. And NASA did a study with military pilots and astronauts and found that a 40 minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. Many companies are starting to understand this as well. Google provides its employees with what they call “nap pods” which block out light and sound where their team members can get some quick shut-eye.
Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, works with Fortune 500 Companies around the world and advises them to create cultures and facilities that support naps and many other energy enhancing activities. They take his advice because it makes good business sense. Businesses are in the game to win and you win through sustainably increasing profits and productivity. These goals are achieved when people are inspired, respected and given what they need to contribute in meaningful ways. Research shows that particularly in our knowledge economy, this is facilitated when people can refuel with naps.
Four Tips For Getting The Most From Your Nap
As a coach I always encourage my clients to try new behavioral strategies and approaches and then to gather their own evidence as to the efficacy of their shifted behavior. If you are curious to see if naps can impact your productivity and impact, here are some tips from WebMD on how to get the most from naps:
1. Be consistent with the time of naps and keep them between 1-3pm
2. Make them quick. Set your phone alarm for 20-30 minutes
3. Go dark, wear a mask or keep lights down or off
4. Stay warm (don’t underestimate the impact of the amazing $4 heating pad, my personal favorite!)
Renewable Energy Starts With Each of Us
We are all big on renewable energy but we forget that we have to start with ourselves. And, by the way, it doesn’t have to be napping. It can be any number of things: walking, riding the bike path, meditating, golf or surfing.
The important thing is for all of us to find out what renews us and start making a habit of incorporating those activities into our lives. Our individual and collective sustained happiness and success depend on it.
Can we achieve the same goals if we don’t nap or surf or ride? Of course, but when we renew ourselves along the way, we will achieve everything in life with much less effort and far more joy. Role modeling this practice for our children, friends, work teams and colleagues is a positive way to demonstrate personal and/or organizational leadership.
To read more research on the benefits of napping:
The Wall Street ; The Guardian ; The National Sleep Foundation
Sheila Madden is the CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting where she coaches and consults with leaders of high growth organizations, and individuals wanting to live an extraordinary life .
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