Ever have trouble getting anything done in the afternoon? Your energy drops, your brain calls it quits, and you struggle to perform even the most basic tasks.
Queue “5-Hour Energy” commercial. (Just kidding.)
This used to be me every single day. Not anymore. Over the last year, I’ve developed a little habit I use any time I’m struggling to stay focused and productive in the afternoon.
The secret is in the age-old energy-boosting remedy of nap-taking. Now, if you’re not a natural nap taker, don’t worry; neither am I. What I’ve learned is you can actually get many of the benefits of taking a nap without ever falling asleep.
Keep reading to learn how.
Why You Should Take Naps (Even If You Don’t Think You Have It In You)
I’m not a nap-taker. In fact, I never have been. My mother likes to tell stories about putting me down for a nap as a baby only to come back and find me standing up in my crib.
When I was in pre-school and kindergarten, I hated nap time. I’d toss and turn with nervous energy while the other kids slept. I wanted to be awake as much as possible—there was so much to see and do. Naps felt like a waste of time.
Last year, though, I found myself struggling to get anything useful done in the afternoon. At first, I refused to consider napping as an option but, after talking to a few of my much smarter friends who embrace the practice, I decided to give it a shot.
For 30 days, I took a 20-minute nap each afternoon to get myself used to the process. The results were phenomenal. Just that small bit of time transformed me into a superhuman in the afternoons. I had energy like I’d never experienced before and, rather than spend the time struggling to get even the simplest tasks done, I could blaze through difficult work.
And I didn’t actually have to fall asleep because just lying down and closing by eyes 20 minutes had tremendous effects.
But it turns out there are even bigger benefits to napping than boosting energy. They actually make you smarter.
You Don’t Have Time To Not Take Naps
If you’re the kind of person who has to solve difficult problems at work every day or keep track of lots of new information, I’d argue you don’t have time not to take naps.
I get it. You’re busy. There’s hardly time to stop for lunch and, every day, you’re racing against the clock to get things done. But new research being done in the world of sleep science is actually showing that setting aside time for a nap could help you finish your work faster and better. How? By improving your memory.
A recent study of the affects of napping on children and young adults has shown that kids who take naps perform significantly better at school than kids who don’t. But the research doesn’t stop there. Naps are also critical to busy adults with important work.
A group of German researches tested a bunch of people on their ability to memorize illustrated cards. Half the group napped between tests; the other half didn’t. The findings were significant. The lazy nappers performed 42% better. Another study of people memorizing the solution to a maze made non-nappers look like bumbling idiots when nappers destroyed them on a timed maze problem.
If you ever have to memorize information for a test or to present at a meeting at work, you could spend a whole day cramming and still struggle. Or, you could spend half the time memorizing, and then lay down for a nap to let your subconscious do the rest.
If you don’t nap, you may actually be wasting more time than if you did.
Every Difficult Task Should Include 20 Minutes For Napping
The sleep researchers running all these tests think the reason nappers perform better than non-nappers is because the dreams you have while taking a nap help to make connections in your subconscious brain to information you learned in your conscious state.
And, they’ve found, the sooner you take a nap after learning something new or difficult, the more your memory will benefit.
The science is complex and interesting, but the takeaway is simple: When you learn something new, you should schedule 30 minutes afterwards to lay down for a nap to help lock the information in.
- If you’re a student, this might mean arranging your schedule so you can nap after class.
- If your job involves learning, it could mean clearing your schedule just after taking in new information.
- If you’re an artist, consider laying down after your most intense periods of creativity.
Memory is a funny thing, and yours probably isn’t as good as you think it is. But a simple, 30-minute nap will improve it dramatically and help you do your most important work better and faster.
How To Smart Nap Like A Pro
Over the course of my 30-day napping challenge, I struggled a lot. The first few days I couldn’t even find time to lay down. And when I did, I almost never fell asleep before the timer went off.
But I kept experimenting with different napping tactics and, by the end of my challenge, I could fall asleep in a matter of seconds. It was pretty incredible! Here’s what I do when I need to lay down for a nap:
- Find a quiet space. Some people can fall asleep anywhere, but I need a quiet space. Spend some time making a list of quiet locations you’re near on a daily basis. That way, when it’s time to nap, you know right where to go rather than stress about finding a good spot. During the summer, I had a lot of luck outdoors at nearby parks.
- Always carry a sleeping mask. Napping ninjas don’t need these, but they’re like training wheels for beginners. I carry a pair in my laptop bag and, anywhere I am, I can slip them on and disappear into dreamland for 20 minutes.
- Breathe smoothly and calmly. Naps are great for de-stressing, too. Your body needs to be in a calm, relaxed state to fall asleep. This may be easier said than done if you’re trying to nap at a stressful job. Focusing on breathing slowly and smoothly would help put my mind in the right state to start the next tip…
- Clear your mind. Unless you’re a zen buddhist monk, this is the hardest thing to do. Your brain is always working, and turning it off in the middle of the day can be really difficult. Especially when you’re a bit ADHD like me, and can’t stop pondering ridiculous things every moment you’re not actively engaged. But I found a fun tactic that works well. Whenever a thought starts to occupy my mind, I’ll pretend it’s drawn on a pad of paper and then use my mind to crumple the paper up and throw it away. If it comes back, I just do it again. This is the only thing I focus on while trying to go to sleep. It’s kind of like playing Pong or that dumb iPhone game, Fruit Ninja, in your mind. It doubles as ADHD entertainment.
- Don’t worry about falling asleep. The worst thing you can do is stress out about not falling asleep. Luckily, you don’t need to. I found I benefited tremendously from the ritual of laying down and closing my eyes even when I didn’t fall asleep. Eventually, your body gets used to napping and this is no longer a problem.
Good luck in your new, nap-filled future where you’re smarter, faster, and better every day.
Yours in nap-taking,