After a nice and satisfying lunch, you return to your office to get back into what you were planning to do for the rest of the day. But instead of doing work, you are yawning, struggling to concentrate and your eyelids are starting to feel very heavy.
You are probably thinking that a coffee or an energy drink would be great. But what if you could do something else that improves your concentration and makes you feel more energized, and it will not give you heartburn or play havoc with your blood pressure or health?
It is a technique you used all the time. So did our ancient ancestors. It is called napping.
Before you think this is ludicrous, sleep researcher Sara Mednick emphasizes in her book, Take a Nap! Change Your Life, how twenty to thirty minute naps have shown to:
• boost productivity
• increase alertness
• quicken motor reflexes
• raise accuracy
• heighten perceptions
• strengthen stamina
• improve decision-making
• elevate mood
• enhance creativity
• bolster memory
• lower stress
• reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol
• lessen the frequency of migraine and ulcers
• promote weight loss
• minimize the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer risk
I am a huge fan of napping. After school, I used to race home just to take a nice nap. I didn’t nap everyday, but mainly when I had a hefty amount of homework or a complicated assignment to do that night. When I awoke, I would feel recharged, alert, and re-energized to tackle my work. And because of my heightened alertness and focus, it always felt like I was very productive and I probably completed my homework faster than if I hadn’t taken a nap to recharge my batteries. Many studies have shown that learning after a nap is as effective as learning after an entire night’s sleep.
A misconception that arises from napping is that people occasionally wake up feeling groggy, or find that it disrupts their evening sleep cycle. This problem arises if you only allow yourself to descend into deep sleep.
When you are tired, the areas of your brain that are critical to thinking receive less blood flow. Sleepiness slows down your thought processes. You can power through your tiredness when you need to, but it will only be at a reduced level of functioning.
The main reason naps are frowned upon, as Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, has demonstrated, is that we usually equate hours on the job with productivity. If you believe that performance is entirely a function of effort, you see anyone who takes a break as a slacker.
In the past, people’s values were tied to the amount of hours they put in on the factory floor. Today, the majority of people do not work in a factory. In today’s knowledge and fast-growing economy, it is the quality of your thinking that matters most, and quality thinking is directly tied to your energy levels.
A short afternoon nap allows you to recharge your mind and your memories to consolidate. It relaxes your mental filters that allow unconventional ideas to eventuate.
When at the gym, we cannot lift weights continuously without a break. We know there are limitations to our muscles. But we do not acknowledge this for our minds. Declining performance is not as visible to us in the office as it is at the gym, but we still continue trudging along, oblivious we may be contributing at a fraction of the rate we could be.
Ignoring your body’s need for rest or drugging it into submission may keep you awake. What it will not do is position you to deliver your best performance. Best performance also includes maintaining a positive mood. Most jobs comprise of building interpersonal connections and strengthening collaborations. Feeling irritable can have serious implications for performance. When we are tired, we get into more disagreements, and not just because we are less patient. It is because our ability to read other people diminishes.
The tide is turning on workplace napping. Organizations including Google, Procter & Gamble and Huffington Post, believe rest improves performance and are investing every year to create napping environments for their people.
We can clearly see that sleep is a performance enhancer. When you allow time for adequate rest to recharge, repair and re-energise your body, not only does your whole body function better, so does your brain; enabling you to make better decisions, come up with creative ideas, have sharper and clearer memory, be nicer to people and look and feel like your best self.
Just like businesses seek to tick the “healthy” box and support people to exercise, they need to be mindful of people in regards to supporting their performance.