Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Power of Napping

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I have maintained a negative view of napping, unless you are under 8 years old. Then it’s a good thing, especially when it gives the parents a chance to enjoy some peace and quiet. I didn’t really have any evidence, except how I felt. Not very scientific.

My views on naps stemmed from my own inability to nap. I have certainly tried to nap, especially after having those magic sleep-deprivers known as children. I tried. I failed. When I didn’t it seemed almost luck. Obviously, this meant napping was unnecessary and stupid.

But I wasn’t set in my ways. When I stumbled across the subject of napping while reading Brain Rules my interest piqued. This was something I was categorically denying.

It’s hard to continue rejecting an idea after reading a quote like this:

a 26-minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 34 percent.

To clarify, this is cognitive performance. That’s the type of performance I’m most interested in. Additionally the benefit lasted for several hours. This has been a huge problem for me, going back as far as I can remember. After about 7-8 hours of thinking, fatigue really creeps in.

Time to change

The first step was determining how to integrate this into my daily life. I don’t have a typical mid-day “slump” in which I get sleepy. After lunch I devote myself to manager time, mostly because I struggle to do anything more productive (in the sense of producing something).

I believe any time something new is to be tried, it should be planned and evaluated. I should have clearly defined expectations and also an idea on measuring the results. Measuring is very difficult, though. I’m feeling like I’m still guessing about it.

Up next is consistent trial and analysis. Fortunately this is easier. My typical schedule is working from 5:30am until around 2pm. Now I have blocked off 2:15 to 2:45pm each day for a nap. I think this type of consistency is important to accurately measure the results. The main question is to simply ask: Is my time after 3:00pm better? It has been.

This goes against everything that I am!

I prepared over the weekend for this, and fortunately my daughter got so sick neither my wife or I slept. This should have been prime napping preparation. I laid down, grabbed my Kindle and started to read waiting for some vague feeling of sleepiness to take hold. It didn’t. I didn’t nap.

I feel I wasted an opportunity and almost gave up on napping before I even started. Monday was the real test, and I felt I wanted to try it again but knew I needed to change my approach. I resisted the urge to bring my Kindle, laid down and closed my eyes. I did bring my phone, to listen to some birds chirping and the sounds of a river.

Shockingly, I fell asleep. I even fell asleep pretty quickly, but I had no concept of time. I woke at 2:45pm, with my daughter staring at me in perfect silence. Success!

And it felt good. But different.

I expected the nap to slice my day up. Perhaps like having two days in one, doubling my money. It doesn’t. It’s still the same day and the lumbering mental slowness is still present when I wake. But then my day changes.

The real difference came when I started to think about the tasks that I had laid out, whether to do the next day or just a wish list. As I ran through that list, a feeling of intense motivation crept over me and I found an item I must work on. This feeling persisted, and so far each day I’ve eagerly tackled more tasks.

I can’t wake up and start working. I can wake up and start thinking about what is important to me and what I want to get done. Eventually I’ll hit one that inspires me, and the nap has recharged me enough to tackle it.

This is giving me an extra 2 hours of near-prime mental energy each day, and that’s definitely worth the 30 minutes required to get it.

And the downsides…

I worried about how this would affect my schedule. I’m very structured and want to be in bed by 9:30pm and asleep by 10. Napping could disrupt this, which could throw me off for days. I’m a fragile sleeper.

So far it hasn’t. At 9pm I start to feel the pull towards bed, and at 9:30 I’m still ready to sleep. If this continues, I have a solid habit that I’ll be maintaining.

The real downside will be if I start working with people who aren’t on the East Coast or start working in a real office. I can’t imagine being successful in negotiating a napping pod, but I’ll definitely try.