It’s no secret that sleep is essential for wellbeing and productivity – research even shows our bodies need 40 winks as much as eating, drinking and breathing. Yet, 1 in 3 people suffer with insomnia – difficulty falling, or staying, asleep – on a regular basis. In today’s society, achieving the recommended 7-9 hours a night can be difficult, especially with the increased use of technology and work pressures. Poor sleep quality can leave us feeling lethargic the next day, with lowered concentration levels, increased irritability and difficulty coping with stressful situations. 74% of Brits then actively worry about not getting a good night’s sleep, setting off a vicious cycle.
We’re an increasingly sleep deprived nation, but the wellbeing experts at CABA believe power napping holds the solution to supercharging productivity.
Power nap in the name of productivity
If you’re struggling to sleep at night, and notice your productivity dips by day, one solution is a power nap. While it’s easy to assume this is unachievable in the working day, employers are waking up to the importance of sleep. Google, for example, has installed ‘sleep pods’ on-site that play relaxing music to help employees drift off. Employers are embracing the idea of naps if it improves their workforce’s alertness, productivity and morale.
In fact, it’s proven that power naps alleviate ‘sleep deficits’ (the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep). A quick kip boosts our brain, improving problem solving, creativity, learning and memory, which is good news for our overall performance and productivity. It leaves us feeling happier, more alert and less fatigued. Medically speaking, napping benefits the heart, blood pressure, stress levels and weight management.
Beware of sleep inertia
Power napping isn’t for everyone. Sleep too deeply and you’ll feel groggy, which is counterproductive. This sensation is known as ‘sleep inertia’, thought to happen when part of your brain is still asleep. We tend to feel this first thing in the morning, when our alarm goes off. A typical period of sleep inertia can last up to 30 minutes, though you may be affected for up to 4 hours. To overcome this, many may reach for a strong cup of coffee (or 2) to recharge them. While a temporary stimulant, the caffeine in coffee can stay in the system for 5-9 hours, leading to disrupted sleep at bedtime.
The science behind sleep inertia
Sleep inertia occurs when you’re woken from a stage in the sleep cycle called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The entire sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, during which there are 5 stages. REM sleep is the last of these 5 stages; the first 4 stages make up NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep.
The REM stage is when you dream. Your brainwaves speed up, your muscles relax, your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow and your heart rate increases. But if you’re suddenly woken during the REM stage, your body may be producing high levels of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy.
How to nap effectively
If you’re new to power naps, you may not find it easy to fall asleep quickly when it’s not your regular bedtime. So, CABA has shared the following tips to send you on your way:
Tune out for 10 minutes
Some scientists believe the way to combat sleep inertia when it comes to napping is to wake after 90 minutes (that is, after an entire sleep cycle). However, this can be difficult to achieve at work on a busy schedule (and you may fear raised eyebrows from colleagues!) or at home with distractions and responsibilities.
So, for a quick-fix, nap for 10-20 minutes. Research proves that 10 minutes is all it takes to notice immediate improvements in your performance and mood. Just remember that REM is the final stage of sleep, so the further along the cycle you are when you wake, the harder it will be to feel alert.
Schedule your sleep
If you nap at the same time every day, it could help train your body to fall asleep quickly and wake at the right time. The time of day for your nap could be important too. It’s common to experience an energy dip after lunch, so aim to take your power nap in the middle of the day, between 1-3pm if you can. Nap any later and you may find it affects your ability to fall asleep at night.
Turn off technology
If you don’t want to be disturbed with calls or texts, put your phone on silent. When waiting to fall asleep, it’s tempting to browse through social media or check emails. However, the brain interprets the blue light phones and tablets emit to mean it’s daytime. This light, especially when received in short wavelengths, curbs the production of melatonin – a hormone that helps you fall asleep – stopping you from switching off.
Block out the light
The darker your environment, the more likely you’ll fall asleep faster – even dim lighting can distract you. If you can’t find a dark enough room or corner, try wearing a sleep mask. Slip under a blanket or coat otherwise – this will also keep you warm, as your body temperature drops during sleep.
Drown out distractions
It’s natural to find the concept of napping at work strange but, if you appreciate the benefits, why not broach it with your employer and start a trend? Find a quiet, private space to relax. The buzz of your surroundings may keep you awake but turning on a fan can mask those noises. Alternatively, you could download a white noise app on your phone, as many people find they help them fall asleep in noisy environments.
Seek out support
Don’t suffer with sleep deprivation in silence or self-medicate with sleep aids, especially when you may be experiencing stress and/or anxiety as a result. Confidential phone, online and face-to-face counselling is available, with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) an effective treatment to help you achieve a sound sleep.