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The Power of Napping


"Mornings belong to whatever is new; the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters."

~ Stephen King

 

Sleep is essential. Without it we do not function well; our cognition is impaired and we cannot think clearly. Sleep is restorative, cells are repaired and it allows the laying down of memory. In addition, when we are sleep-deprived the parts of our brain associated with initiating the fight-flight response becomes over-sensitive. As a result, we respond to smaller and smaller triggers and can find ourselves in fight-flight with high levels of cortisol and adrenaline all day. This is exhausting, and paradoxically the negative body chemistry further impacts our ability to sleep, compounding the problem.

 

We have spoken about sleep before and shared practical and meditative rituals to help. Today we want to look at the power of an afternoon nap.

 

Napping is, in fact, an age old tradition in many parts of the world. The ancient Greeks and Romans recommended it and in China the right to rest is now a part of the constitution, and a midday nap is common in office workers. In Spain many businesses close after lunch to allow for siesta time. Perhaps the Mediterranean lifestyle has more to offer then just heart-healthy cuisine.

 

Napping has many health benefits including improved memory and cognition, reduced stress, better mood and enhanced performance with a reduction in fatigue and better reflexes. There is mixed evidence for the effect on blood pressure, which indicates that napping is more complicated than it may seem. The beneficial effects are not simply about napping indiscriminately. In fact, Dr Charlene Gamaldo from the John’s Hopkins Sleep Center says “naps need to be taken in the context of the person and his or her own sleep cycles and body.” It is not the same for everyone.

 

Digging deeper into the science of napping shows that short naps are the most effective, 20-30 minutes at most. Longer naps are often associated with a protracted feeling of grogginess when we wake and can affect our night-time sleep, which is not beneficial. 20-30 minutes permits restorative rest, but avoids us slipping into the deep sleep which creates that groggy feeling on waking, allowing us to wake feeling refreshed and energised.

 

Napping earlier in the afternoon is better than later as again, later naps can impact on our night rituals.

 

A cup of coffee or tea before a nap delivers just enough caffeine which is works its way into the blood stream in the required timeframe (20-30 minutes) to help us wake without feeling muzzy headed.

 

Getting outside into the fresh air and sunshine after a nap is a good way to enhance the positive effect of a power nap.

 

Napping is not for everyone, and sometimes has a negative connotation of being lazy. Here we need to recognise that we are worthy of rest, and 20-30 minutes is not a lot to ask for. There are many examples of highly productive, successful people throughout history who have happily shared that they nap. Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Dali, Einstein, Napolean, Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and JFK to name a few.

 

If you try it and don’t feel it helps, then stick to your night-time rituals, but remember it is a tool that we can harness to help us rest and recover. Alternatively use the 20 minutes to listen to an audio of a guided meditation. The deep relaxation that comes will have a similar energising effect.

 

Try this:

Find a cool, comfortable, quiet space

If you can make the room dark this will help or consider an eye mask


Bring your awareness to your breathing

The tidal in and out


On each outbreath allow the tension to flow out of your body

Brow

Jaw

Neck

Shoulders

Stomach

Back

Hips

Legs

Toes


You are aware of thoughts floating in and out of your mind but you are not focused on them

They will still be there in 30 minutes


Right now, in this present moment you are warm and comfortable

Nothing requires your attention


You are at peace

Resting

Recovering


Luxuriate in this feeling

Focus on your breathing


Allow yourself to float into the dreamy state of half sleep

 

Remember you need a way to wake yourself after 20-30 minutes. Einstein used to nap holding a spoon. Just as he slipped into deep sleep the spoon fell out of his relaxed hand and the noise it made woke him up. You could, of course, set an alarm on your phone!

 

For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your

human experience see our book:

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