by Michael Corsilles~Sometimes I tell myself, “If I didn’t have to sleep, I’d be way more productive!” I’m sure I’m not alone with this thought. Here’s the thing: most of us really know in the back of our minds that the lack of sleep actually contributes to more burnout and worse productivity, yet we often sacrifice sleep on a regular basis.
My easy remedy to burnout is to get back to a regular sleep routine, and that can include an afternoon nap. Millions of people all over the world take a nap during the day, so why not join them? I try to get a quick nap in if I find the time. Unfortunately, in our constant on-the-go society with long work hours and high burnout rate, most of us don’t have the luxury of time. We find ourselves eating at the desk, working through lunch, and end up pushing through that afternoon fatigue with more sugar and caffeine.
We can probably agree that most of our society is stressed and in desperate need of more time and sleep. The thing is, if you want to do better at your job whether you’re a homemaker or a rocket scientist, you’ll do much better if you are well rested. Research has found time and again that high performers, regardless of what field of study, focus better with periods of energy recovery whether that’s through power naps or the good old-fashioned method of 8 hours of sleep. Regarding the power of naps, the research journal Sleep found that a nap in the afternoon actually restores wakefulness while enhancing memory and learning. If you think about it, it’s really a no-brainer: more sleep equates to better rest, which leads to better performance. Based on these findings, I’d make napping a requirement!
So what constitutes a good nap? A great way to optimize performance and recover from burnout is the power nap. Research has narrowed the ideal length of time for a power nap to 10 minutes. A 2006 study in the journal Sleep found that napping for as short as 10 minutes resulted in improved mental alertness, energy and productivity. Naps more than 30 min, however, threw off the sleep cycle, causing more daytime grogginess, and could even possibly lead to other long-term heart problems.
What about nighttime sleep? If you’re up burning the midnight oil regularly, this will throw off your melatonin. This sleep hormone normally rises in the evening to allow us to sleep. This is why people sometimes supplement with melatonin at bedtime. If you have problems falling asleep or staying asleep, I have my patients try these essential sleep routines first:
- Stop sensory overload: Avoid all electronic use in the bedroom at least 1 hour before bed. This includes laptops, tablets, cell phones and especially TVs. Remember, the bedroom is for sleep (well, mostly sleep if you don’t count the other extracurricular night time activity between two people). If you use technology at bedtime as part of your nightly routine, you’re slowly setting yourself up for sleep issues. The brain will associate the bedroom with mind stimulation, not sleep. These electronics actually emit blue light waves that stimulate your brain. Blue light is normally emitted by the sun, which will make you more alert.
- Don’t count sheep: If you have racing thoughts while you try to sleep, concentrate on something mundane that you do regularly. For example, map your commute home in your mind. Unless you’re a shepherd, counting sheep is not your norm. In other words, don’t stimulate new memory pathways. Think of something routine and boring until your mind drifts to sleep.
There can be a number of other health issues contributing to sleep problems, so please consult with your health care provider to rule these out such as sleep apnea or even hormonal imbalances. Your provider can discuss other treatment options like melatonin, herbal remedies or sleep medications.
If you force yourself to stay up late to finish that last minute project, please keep in mind that you do yourself a disservice because it only leads to poor productivity and more mistakes. If you want to be a top performer, regardless of what field you are in, try taking a power nap to recharge your batteries and see how much better you’ll feel. If you find that when you nap, you’re out for more than an hour, your body is telling you that you are in desperate need of recharging. This typically means you should try to get your 8 hours of sleep at night. So set a timer at work for a 10 minute power nap. Most of the world takes an “afternoon siesta,” so why not try it?