The benefits of a nap
I was all geared up for today. I envisioned spending two hours working on my coaching programme pilot, an hour writing a blog for you guys, a bit of business finance, a few items on my to do list and the afternoon doing some sort of French thing. After all - we are in France - we should make the most of it.
But I woke up with a headache. I spent the first hour of my day thinking about my coaching clients - what they need and what I can do for them. Nursing a cup of tea, I was into that. It was fine - fun even. An hour went by in a flash. But then I found myself an hour behind my “schedule”. My headache returned; my daughter woke up and wanted attention; and I tried to power through.
How often do we do that? We have our plan for the day and, whatever happens, we are going to make that plan a reality.
I tried writing in the sun. It helped, but the words still wouldn’t come. I tried taking a break. It was okay, but my mind was churning with everything I should be doing and the guilt that I wasn’t doing them. I listened to an inspirational podcast which talked about having compassion for the “contrasts” between the state you are in and the state you wish to be in. It was helpful! But it didn’t stop the throbbing in my head and the serious case of writer’s block.
In the end nothing was happening. So I went to bed.
I woke up 45 minutes ago. And since waking up, I’ve done everything I’d planned for the day, and here I am writing this for you! Turns out, having a nap is one of the most useful activities (or inactivities) you can choose when you need to be efficient.
Scientific benefits of napping
I’m sure you’ve read about the scientific benefits of napping, even if you generally forego a nap yourself (for reasons I will come to!).
What you might not know is that a nap can make up for sleep lost at other times (e.g., insomnia at night). Losing sleep is has negative effects on the immune system and can damage the liver, the lungs and the gut. So catching up on your sleep helps repair damage caused by your trouble sleeping through the night.
Beyond that, if you’re into the more ‘woo-woo’ aspects of self-development, as I am, napping is one of the most effective ways to align yourself. Your brain achieves a higher frequency during sleep than we can bring about when awake, which might be why no amount of meditation, listening to inspirational podcasts or willing myself in to a better state was as effective as rebooting my system by and switching it off and back on again.
Despite these and many other known benefits of napping, it’s a rare occurrence for most of us, a treat we save for occasions when we simply can’t do anything else, or when there’s not much else to do, which is ironic as these are the times when we least need it!
But, if you need reassurance, many successful people have taken naps as part of their daily routine. Thomas Edison apparently took two three-hour naps a day. That’s six hours spent napping a day, folks and he invented the light bulb!. Of course, he probably worked all night because he slept ALL DAY, meaning the lightbulb was particularly important to him! Winston Churchill was well known for his daily nap. Ronald Reagan was also fond of 40 winks. But maybe that’s not the kind of inspiration you’re looking for.
The point is that napping doesn’t have to be the exception. Speaking for myself, I put off my nap for a few hours today due to a strong sense of guilt and I was over-committed to keeping the schedule I had created for myself. We aren’t machines. We can’t decide three days in advance what we’ll have energy for in three days’ time. When we schedule ourselves as if our energy levels, concentration and appetite are consistent we find ourselves “pushing through” much of the time. The work we do when we’re pushing through cannot be as effective as the work we do when we’re in flow. And it certainly cannot be as enjoyable.
By all means, make a plan, but leave enough flex to respect your mood, your motivation levels and your energy on any particular day.
How to nap
Wait until you are really ready for a nap. You want to feel tired rather than thinking, “It’s time for my nap!”.
Get comfortable. Don’t let guilt persuade you that falling asleep on the sofa is somehow more acceptable than falling asleep in bed. Cover yourself with a blanket as your body temperature drops when you nap and you don’t want the cold to wake you.
Think about how long you want to nap. Although many studies say that 20-30 minutes is the right length for a nap, it depends what you want to achieve with your nap. A 20-minute nap helps with fine motor skills, 30-60-minutes is good for memory and decision-making. And 60-90-minutes means you get in a whole REM cycle, helping your brain make new connections and improve creativity (which is what I needed today).
Make napping into a regular part of your realignment, energising or general well-being routine. You don’t have to nap every day but, equally, it doesn’t have to be the rare exception.
If changing the way you live and work is something you’re considering, why not listen to the ABG Podcast, Episode 71 where I talk about the difference between forcing yourself through your to-do list vs flowing from activity to activity.
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