I've never had a particularly good relationship with sleep. To be honest I've always been pretty shit at it.
I've always thought it was boring. A waste of time. Why would we go to sleep when there are so many fun things to do?
I actually missed a large chunk of school because of how much I hated sleep, about 50% in fact, which caused a lot of trouble for both me and my family as it turns out schools don't like it when you don't show up. (I also think the entire education system is fundamentally broken so maybe I'll write an article on that another day).
Although not as bad now, I've still had problems with staying up all night, sleeping through alarms, having almost no alertness at work and turning to coffee to save me (there is only so much coffee you can have). I've often turned to skipping out on sleep, not realising the impact it has on my health.
When we went into lockdown I found myself getting better sleep, generally. If I had problems getting to sleep when I had to go into the office the next day, I'd start getting stressed about not waking up to my alarm, thus struggling to get to sleep even more. This was a horrible cycle that led me to going into the office a zombie after 3-4 hours sleep. That stress has now been lifted so I'm finding it easier to get to sleep.
However, if there is a time that I struggle to get to sleep and am stuck on less than 8 hours I have discovered a superpower, one that wouldn't be possible without remote working - napping!
If ever I don't have a good night sleep and it comes to around lunchtime and I'm feeling tired, I'll have a 20-minute nap and feel great afterwards. I've since waxed lyrical to people about my new superpower and that they should try it, but I often get the same responses "no I can't nap", "I find it too hard to fall asleep", "I always wake up feeling tired".
I was baffled because I knew what these people were missing out on. I decided to dive in a little further about napping, why I find it so useful and if there is an actual technique to reap the benefits of it. I started looking into a few resources and here's what I found.
What makes us tired?
Matthew Walker is the author of Why We Sleep, and I've found many of his book and many ofhis videos to be useful. This man knows a lot about sleep and I'm here for it.
It might be good to quickly explain what makes us tired. Throughout the day, we build up a chemical called adenosine in our brain that makes us tired. When we sleep, our bodies start to clear out that chemical which makes us feel less sleepy and refreshed. Naps help clear out some of that chemical.
Here's a short snippet where Matthew talks about naps and it's all good! He's mentioning the power of long, 90-minute naps where you can get the benefits of a full REM cycle, but shorter naps also still have their benefits.
Ever wondered why the Spanish have a Siesta? That nap that often happens anywhere between 2-5pm. Not only is it a cultural thing, but it's also a physical thing too. Matthew mentions in the clip the difference between 'monophasic' sleep and 'bi-phasic' sleep, with the former being having one sleep every 24 hours, and the latter being two sleeps in that same period.
This is because of a proven physiological drop in our alertness between 2-5pm. This is where we usually find ourselves in the office after lunch feeling tired and feeling our head drop in that meeting. Don't worry, it's not your Katsu Curry from Wasabi making you feel tired, it's physiological.
How do you get the most out of napping?
This video was helpful explaining the differences between the lengths of naps (although I'm not too sure how much I trust it). But it looks like 20 minutes is the sweet spot as your body goes into restful sleep. This is when your body temperature lowers, your heart rate begins to slow down (you're already relaxing thinking about it) and it allows you to recharge. For 30-40 mins you go into deep sleep when the restorative things happen. Your muscles relax, your blood pressure drops. Great at night. If you sleep for 90 mins you go into REM sleep, that's the deep sleep you have overnight. If you have 90 mins to spare for a nap, go for it!
James, I can't nap, I always feel tired after it
If you feel tired after napping, you're probably doing it wrong. If you nap for too long, or too little, you can wake up with sleep inertia which is that groggy feeling you get. Here are some tips:
- Set an alarm for 20 minutes if you're worried about not getting up
- You don't have to 'fall asleep' just laying there restfully for 20 minutes will help clear out some of that adenosine.
- Darken the room if you can
- Don’t put music on
- Turn off notifications so no distractions
- Don't feel guilty about it
- Have a coffee nap
What the hell is a coffee nap? They don't sound like they go together...
Drink a cup of coffee. Then have a nap.
These are of my favourite things but I usually get laughed at when I suggest this. I remember telling my good friend Chris Higgins about this while we were in Boston and he thought I was going mad. This short video from Vox explains it better than I can but I'll try to break it down.
Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to get into your system and considering the ideal power nap is about 20 minutes, you wake up with the benefits of both.
As your body builds up with adenosine, sleep is what starts to clear it out. So the caffeine doesn't even need to compete with the adenosine. The video shows some studies of those who took coffee naps to be more alert and feel less tired, definitely more so than those who took the placebo.
Caffeine essentially stops the power of these molecules and stops them from working, temporarily. Caffeine stops your brain from slowing down, the analogy used in the Vox video was that it's like putting a block of wood under your brake pedal.
Napping isn't for everyone
Although I've found naps to be beneficial and I think you would too, I will note it's not for everyone. As naps clear out some of that adenosine, you might clear out too much so you struggle to fall asleep at night. I've certainly found if I nap too late into the evening (after 7pm) then I'll find it very hard to get to sleep that night.
I'll end on a message I got from a non-believer. Dave Stewart from Weekend Club messaged me the other day saying he'd discovered my superpower to be beneficial.
Dave is a changed man.
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