May 27, 2020 by Mark Hammerstrom
“Someone asked my wife once, ‘Do you wake up grumpy in the morning?’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘I let him sleep.’”—John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.
There sure seems to be a lot of focus on sleep these days. The need for it, and of course the consequences of the lack thereof. During these times of uncertainty and crisis I hear from people the whole range of sleep related issues from not enough because of worry and stress, to getting too much because, well, that may be all someone has to do at the moment because of quarantine or self-distancing.
The importance of a good night’s sleep is hard to deny. If we get a good one, we wake up ready to charge into the world full throttle. If we get a fitful rest, tossing and turning, filled with bad dreams, coming awake can feel like waking up in a pool of mud.
The thing is we still don’t really know why we need to sleep. We do know of course that we need it. In fact, sleep depravation studies show how people can go through very dramatic changes, including delusions, physical illness and even death.
But why do we need to sleep almost a third of the day away? Some people really need the recommended seven or eight hours; others seem to get by on just a few. We don’t fully know. It would seem, though, that to be healthy we need to ‘reboot’ sometime every twenty-four hours, and that re-boot is typically best at night at a regular time with no interruptions.
Dream on, right?
Well the solution may be this: “Stop, drop, nap.”
What a great idea!
I came across this notion (and the above quote) in an article in Domino by Raven Ishak titled “What Happens to Your Body When You Take Naps Every Single Day?” (read it here).
Ok, first a disclosure here: I am a great fan of “Power Naps.” That said, I am not a doctor and can only tell you what works for me. Also, if you are tired all the time and sleeping more than usual it is good advice to check in with your doctor or other medical professional.
Admittedly saying that I like naps sounds like a baby. But why should babies have all the fun? Just think about all the energy they have when they wake up from a nap! We should be so lucky.
I first discovered the glory of the Power Nap when our kids were small. After not much sleep the night before, a Power Nap for just ten or twenty minutes often gave me the gas to power through the rest of the day. Why my wife could have gone all day without one I don’t know; maybe I am a baby after all!
At all events, Power Naps seem to be an increasingly popular way to relieve stress and recharge during the middle of a busy day. Akin to meditation, a nap can clear our minds and let go of the stresses that are making us, well, stressed out.
Ishak says that this does not mean sleeping all day is a good thing. Rather anywhere from 20-30 minutes, up to 90 minutes seems optimal.
How to get into a routine for napping? Well, first you need to find the time, and that is always problematic. Sometimes the noon hour is optimal because we have a structured time away from our tasks. Then we need to find a quiet, comfortable place that allows you to nod off for a bit.
Generally, I try to read for a few minutes to get my mind off of my stressors and distract me enough to relax. A good chair or a couch is perfect for this, and if you are worried about waking up to get back to it, set a reminder on your phone or other device to wake you up when you need to.
What to expect? If done right, you will probably be thinking about a lot of things right before you nod off. About 20 or 30 minutes later (longer if you can take the time) you will wake up wondering when you fell asleep. Pretty easy, actually.
I realize by this point in my life I am pretty much a professional at this. According to Ishak, getting into it right off the bat takes a bit of work. She says that the first day you should be able to fall asleep pretty much right away. You should wake up clear headed and refreshed.
However, the next week or so may be a challenge as it takes dedication to carve out the time to take a snooze. During this time your body may have a hard time adjusting, but you will likely begin to feel the benefits almost right away. Ishak says you should start to notice better concentration and increased attention span when you wake up. This should feel like it is virtually the start of a new day.
After a month or so you should notice that you are experiencing an increase in your productivity and improvement in your outlook. After a longer period of time, say six months or so, you may also find physical benefits including a lowering of blood pressure, reduction in your risk of dying from heart disease, and maybe (!) an improvement in your sex life!
Ishak quotes sleep specialist W. Chris Winter, M.D., (The Sleep Solution): “Taking a nap can enhance your sleep cycle, regulate your sympathetic nervous system, help you think and let go of things that are causing you stress, and be used as a circadian marker to help your body understand where you are in the 24-hour cycle. Like meditation, it can be [used] as a quiet time in the middle of a chaotic day.”
So, an alternative to another cup of coffee when you are lagging and stressing out, take a nap! “Stop, drop, nap”!
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