99 tips for a better world (15 of 99): take a nap
I am devoted to the Slow Movement. Slow food, slow travel, slow work. I once even tried to get traction on the idea of slow aid because I was frustrated by the push by donors to engender positive change in disadvantaged communities according to 12-month funding cycles.
Sadly my devotion is, at best, one of principle more than practice.
I want to embrace Slow Movement principles in my everyday life, but I also want to assume responsibility at work (which leads to working long hours), keep my side projects moving, maintain a healthy social life, eat well, exercise and play with my ten nieces and nephews on a regular basis.
It’s a puzzle.
So I was delighted to learn of research arguing that my apparently contradictory priorities are indeed symbiotic.
Tony Schwartz, chief executive officer of The Energy Project, made the case in The New York Times recently in the encouragingly titled: ‘Relax! You’ll Be More Productive’ (which I read while eating lunch at my desk).
Schwartz sets out the fundamental flaw of modern productivity measures. There are two key inputs for productivity – time and energy. Both of these resources are finite, but only one is renewable.
We try to increase output by drawing on these two inputs simultaneously. Over the years as we’ve become busier and busier we’ve maxed out the amount of time and energy we can input for productivity but keep trying to increase the output.
Tony Schwartz identifies the problems and offers a solution:
Although many of us can’t increase the working hours in the day, we can measurably increase our energy. Science supplies a useful way to understand the forces at play here. Physicists understand energy as the capacity to do work. Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable. Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.
The answer to increased productivity is rest!
Schwartz draws upon research from Stanford that demonstrates basketball players’ performance dramatically improving with 10 hours sleep a night. He also espoused the virtue of daytime naps. Short naps improve performance and longer naps (60-90 mins) improve performance even more.
I’m sure you will agree this is excellent, life altering news.
Much like my devotion to the Slow Movement, I am an ardent supporter but hopeless practitioner of napping.
I am, however, getting better at this most important life skill and have developed a few tricks along the way to make it easier.
Tips for taking a nap (for those of us who aren’t naturally good at it)
1. Don’t fixate on falling asleep. Just lying down with your eyes closed is good enough.
2. Set an alarm – the control freak inside will appreciate some structure to ease into this radically irresponsible behaviour
3. Unlike night-time sleeping when darkness is preferred, look for a shaft of sunlight to lie in for your nap. In my experience it is impossible not to relax while lying in a shaft of sunlight.
4. Read the definitive text on napping, ‘Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed: The Ultimate Nap Book’ by SARK. Just a few pages long (more a book of word illustrations than a book of prose) this book makes the case for napping while making your eyes droopy as you read.
5. Trick yourself into napping. I used to be wholly incapable of napping but very good at falling asleep in front of a movie. So I just declared it movie time whenever I needed a nap. These days I’m more likely to use podcasts for the same purpose and they work a treat.
6. Use a fan. Because naps often happen in the daytime, it can sometimes feel too hot to lie down. If you, like me, think air-conditioning is the devil’s work, take heart that running a fan for the whole summer will cost about $30 in electricity. All of that breezy box-fan goodness for much less energy than your fridge or kettle is chewing up.
7. If you’re a real productivity hound who balks at the thought of napping, consider meditation. All the CEOs are doing it. Meditation and napping are two different things, but they both require stillness and setting time aside from work. Think of meditation as a productivity junkie’s gateway drug to napping.
8. Keep it snappy. How long you should nap for is contested, but if you need to bounce back straight after your nap, keep it under 30-45 so you’re not groggy when you re-emerge.
9. Figure out the best napping window for you. If you’re an early riser, it will be earlier in the day – around 1pm. If you’re a night owl, push it back to 2pm.
10. Above all, nap freely and frequently. Become an expert of your own nap. If someone gives you grief about taking a nap, remember you’ve got science on your side.