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Hack Your Naps For Productivity And Health

Feb 2 2014, 8:30am CST | by

Hack Your Naps For Productivity And Health
 
 

The health benefits of getting enough sleep have received a lot of attention recently. The image of brain fluid cycling rapidly during sleep and washing away amyliod plaques and other noxious byproducts of the day’s mental activity is compelling enough to convince the chronically sleep deprived to try to hit the sack a bit earlier. But the demands (real and imagined) of post-modern, internet-mediated life are such that a solid eight hours of down time is hard for most of us to achieve.

This is where napping strategies come in. A quick look at Google trends reveals that search interest in sleep has risen by 50% in the past decade and interest in napping has doubled. And what are people searching for? Nap strategies for their kids, of course, but increasingly also “power naps” and “nap hacks.” A highly ranked blog postfor the term “sleep cycle” boasts, “Alternative Sleep Cycles: You Don’t Really Need 6-8 Hours!” How does author Jordan Lejuwaan suggest achieving this? Extreme napping!

Are you up for the “ uberman cycle”? That would be “20 to 30 minute naps every 4 hours, resulting in 6 naps each day.” The catch? Miss a nap and you will wish you never were born! More reasonable is the “everyman cycle,” which involves, “one 3 hour nap and three 20-minute naps… all of which have equal amounts of time in between each nap.” True geeks, however, may opt for Buckminster Fuller’s “dymaxion cycle,” which calls for “sleeping for 30 minutes every 6 hours. That’s 2 hours a day of sleep!” Apparently he lived in good health with this routine and described it as, “the most vigorous and alert condition I have ever enjoyed.” Closer to reality is what the author calls the “biphasic /siesta cycle” which consists of “sleeping for 4-4.5 hours at night, and then taking a 90 minute nap around noon.”

As unmanageable as most of the regimens are for anyone with responsibilities to other people, the 30 and 90 minute nap cycles do have a firm basis in science. A much more moderate take on this subject can be found in Nick Meyer’s “A Guide to Optimized Napping.” Meyer is a collaborator with MIT and Harvard Med School graduate student Justin Lee who just completed a successful Kickstarter last weekend for his Napwell napping mask.

Meyer suggests five “hacks” to help people reap “the proven benefits of napping, including enhanced job performance, reaction time, and memory retention.” His prior post on NASA’s napping research backs these claims up. There is a good case to be made to make time for an afternoon nap as part of your workday, but how can you make sure you don’t wake up groggy from “sleep inertia” and lose the potential benefits of your snooze? Here’s how to optimize your naps:

Hack 1: Nap After Lunch. This seems obvious because many cultures have traditionally institutionalized the siesta or mid-afternoon nap, but it seems to be scientifically valid. Meyer quotes a sleep researcher as saying that the dip in energy after lunch phenomenon is observable “even when the individual has had no lunch and is unaware of time of day,” but “It is certainly exacerbated by a high-carbohydrate lunch, and may be more likely to occur in extreme morning-type individuals.”

Hack 2: Find A Dark And Quiet Place. Avoiding stimulus makes it easier to fall asleep. This again seems obvious, but being able to fall asleep and sleeping well are not always the same thing. Light is the biggest culprit because it inhibits melatonin and resets the biological clock, interfering with sleep. Meyer recommends a sleep mask and earplugs if you can’t find a suitable nap spot.

Hack 3: Choose 20 Minutes Or 70-90 Minutes. This is where avoiding “sleep inertia” comes in. There are three stages of sleep named after progressively slower brain waves, alpha, theta and delta. If you sleep for only 20 minutes you get the restful, stage one alpha wave sleep and just a bit of the stage two theta wave sleep, but you don’t get in so deep that it’s hard to regain alertness. On the other hand, if you have more than an hour to spare (as if!) a longer nap can enable you to cycle through all three sleep stages into slow wave sleep (SWS). Meyer writes, “If the napper awakens after a cycle of SWS, they gain many of the benefits of a full night’s sleep and can function at a higher level in the afternoon. If a napper wakes up suddenly during SWS, they experience sleep inertia, and often feel drowsy for up to an hour later.”

Hack 4: You Still Need To Get Nighttime Sleep. Hacking your naps has many benefits, but getting a good night’s sleep is still the best. Naps can restore focus and concentration during your work day, but if you are just too tired, you will not be able to wake up from a brief nap because your body will quickly cycle into the deep sleep that it most needs.

Hack 5: Drink Your Coffee In The Morning. Limiting caffeine in the late morning will make a quick, restorative nap after lunch possible. Caffeine confers a feeling of alertness that does not actually translate to better performance of certain tasks that, for instance, involve the recall of specific information. Timing your coffee intake is the subject of another post (and an issue of considerable fascination for me.)

What Meyer doesn’t list as a hack is the Napwell sleep mask itself. This ingenious device (see video below) incorporates a timer into a sleep mask for convenient nap scheduling. The real innovation is the way the material of the mask changes opacity to help you fall asleep and then gradually wake up at the required time. This gentle rousing is particularly useful in terms of avoiding sudden waking from SWS and the resulting grogginess. Beyond making it easier to develop a napping habit, the physical presence of the Napwell itself becomes a trigger to remember to take a nap break during your busy day. And the fact that it has MIT and Harvard Med School bonafides will make it easier to convince your boss (or co-workers) that you’re not just lazy for wanting to nap! If you missed the Kickstarter, you can still pre-order it for $60 (shipment estimated by October 2014.)

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Source: Forbes

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