Learn why you should sleep at work, how to do it and whether you should ask your boss if it’s cool or not.
Folks, let’s be honest for a second. There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who can nap and those who can’t. Or rather, those who just sleep and could never nap for just 20 min. True or false?
Sorry to break it to you, but you’re WRONG! Everyone can nap without sleeping for 4 hours and today I’ll teach you how.
“I wish I could take power naps. I have never figured out how to nap for less than 2 hours”
Almost every conversation about power naps I have with friends starts like this. And the thing is I used to be very similar. Naps are for babies, I used to think.
I think the first time I actually tried to use power naps to my advantage, was back in high school. I came home for lunch, sat down to read a newspaper and then doze off. Obviously for a few times I came late to school in the afternoon, but I quickly realized that I just need to set a timer when going to sleep.
That way you can reap the benefits of sleeping and still get on time to where you need to be!
Since then I’ve been using the power nap as a tool in my toolbelt for myself and for my clients.
See, power naps not only help you feel refreshed, but also help you increase your learning capacity.
In this article for example, we can see a clear correlation between learning and napping.
“Students who napped (green column) did markedly better in memorizing tests than their no-nap counterparts. “
Another interesting graph is this one, from the 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss, where you see that you should learn for about 40–50 minutes and then do a rest period, where you engage in different activities.
To this I’d add a power nap in every 5th session. I felt like it helps me immensely with energy and learning.
The science behind the power nap
So what exactly happens in a power nap and why is it beneficial for you?
Let’s look at all the benefits that a power nap includes:
Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day.Scheduled napping has also been prescribed for those who are affected by narcolepsy. Napping has psychological benefits. A nap can be a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot of benefits that could also help us work more efficiently and more productive!
Essentially power naps are short bursts of energy you can build if you just close your eyes for a set amount of time (either in form of sleep or just relaxation). The reason why you’re so focused in the morning (and let’s ignore your morning groggyness for a moment, we’ll fix that later) is because your mind is empty and full of energy. A power nap gives you the same amount of state, without having to sleep for 8 hours IF you do it correctly.
How to Nap
There is obviously a technique behind the power nap. As with so many other skills you need to practice in order to perfect it. Think about it, when you first started playing basketball or piano, your body wasn’t used to the movements and the rhythm so you were all over. Napping like any other skill, is a technique you can learn.
A lot of strength and conditioning coaches will tell you the key to building strength and skill in fitness is to learn and control the active state and the relaxed state.
Pavel Tstatsouline talks in this podcast about Judd Biasotto who was known to sleep in between competition lifts. So he would sleep for 20–30 minutes and then get up, quickly do a world record and go back to sleep.
He mastered the relaxation state.
A power nap is very similar, as in there are tons of things going on around you through the day, but those 10–30mins. you’re completely relaxed without having a 3 or 4 hour dreamfest.
So how do you actually nap and where and for how long?
Slow down there, partner! Let’s look at the different lengths of power napping first.
This brings you a short burst of energy and alertness, the fact that you’re not really sleeping but relaxing helps your body and brain to collect thoughts and get ready for the next part of your day
Sometimes this is enough to fall asleep and reach REM (Rapid Eye Movement) state. It’s more refreshing and if you can get some sleep you’ll feel greater than with the 10 min. nap.
Sometimes 20 min. is just not enough, and if you have the time opt for a 30min. nap, most of the time you’ll fall asleep and feel well rested after it.
Danger zone! Although a nap of 60 to 120 min. can be quite relaxing it’s quite difficult to plan this right. I would advise against this when you’re working in a normal office environment and would keep these for the weekends.
10 min. — 20 min.
The golden area! Anything in between these two zones will be golden, and are highly dependent on how fast you can relax and fall asleep.
How to decide how long you should nap for
I’d suggest starting with napping on the weekends, before going out for dinner or an event. Why? Mainly because you don’t have a specific time and place where you absolutely need to be, in case you oversleep and also: It helps immensely when you’re staying up late.
Start with 10 min. by setting your timer on your phone or computer and then lay down or use something like an Ostrich pillow (I’m a big fan of actually lying down in a chair or a bed, if possible).
After you managed to get a 10 min. nap in, try a 20 min. one the next time. Again set your timer on your phone or computer and just focus on your breathing. If your mind keeps racing, I’ll show you an additional trick below!
Me personally, I’m a big fan of naps between 10 and 30 min., but it is highly dependent on the situation you’re in. Pressed for time? Do a 10 min. nap. Want to relax a bit? Try 30 min.
For me, the best time that works is around 20 min.
So play around and experiment.
But I can’t just sleep for 20 min?!
This is the most common excuse I hear people saying. What did we say before? It takes a practice to establish this skill, so get working.
Set your timer
I’d even say setting up a timer is the most important thing you can do when napping. Obviously if you don’t set a timer when napping, you’ll just sleep. My body behaves the same way. That’s why you need to use the timer. And as soon as it rings, you have to get up (most difficult part, I know). You’ll feel bad for 30 seconds but afterwards, it’ll feel like you just got up and are full of energy.
Another interesting trick I’ve heard about, is to hold something like your keys in your hands and basically sleep until you drop them from your hands. You’ll only let your keys go when you’re asleep. Now, what sounds like a cartoon is actually true, but I found it to be very difficult in the beginning, because you’re too focused on the key instead of just trying to relax. Also: I’ve heard of people who just drop the keys, wake up and then go back to sleep. Again, not ideal for an office situation!
How to turn your nap into a Power Boost Nap or “How to Outnap the competition”
Now a nap is already a pretty good way to give you additional energy and alertness throughout the day. But what can really kickstart your afternoon is a Power Boost Nap. You’re using two great forces caffeine and rest to give your body exactly the boost it needs.
Now I’m not a big coffee drinker myself, but this hack can work wonders. If you’re planning to do a 20 min. nap, drink an espresso about 30 min. before and you’ll get a Power Boost Nap effect.
If coffee is not an option, try it with tea.
Why coffee or tea?
Simple: The caffeine in the coffee or tea kicks in 30 min. after you consume the beverage, giving you just enough time to lay down for a nap.
It works almost every time to the dot, but of course, we all have different bodies and different reactions. Some people feel it after 35 min. and some never, because they drink so much coffee.
Where to take a nap?
Obviously sleeping at your desk might throw some people off and if sleeping under the desk isn’t an option, you might have to get creative.
At the company that I work at, we have something like a relax room, where it’s dark and you can lay down on a relaxing chair and doze off for some time. Another great example of this is at the University of Zurich, there was also a relax/sleeping room where you could tell the receptionist when he or she should wake you up, to continue with your learning process.
Not everyone has that luxury, so we need to get creative.
Here are three locations you could try for a post-lunch nap:
1. Your car
A lot of people I know go to work by car, this car sits around for 8 hours before you go back home after 5 or 6. Why not use it for a power nap? It’s quiet, mostly dark and gives you the perfect seat for a cool 20 min. sleep.
2. The gym
I’m a big believer in going to the gym during your lunch break: It gives you energy and resets your stress level. For 30 to 45 minutes you can go crazy and calm down after a good workout. If you’re in a normal gym (not the ultra, super cheap ones), you’ll find a sauna area or even a relaxing area. Use that area after the workout to lay down for 20 minutes. If you don’t feel like working out, or have an off day, you can still use the gym facilities, put everything into a locker and get comfortable in the relax zone of the gym.
3. Your home
If you have a long commute and a long way to get to home and to work, obviously this won’t work. But if it’s around 30 minutes, it might as well work for you to quickly sleep at home, after eating lunch.
Oh and don’t forget to set your timer!
What if I don’t have these options to nap?
In that case, you’ll have to go with plan B (always have a plan B, I learnt that from Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan). Plan B is essentially: Talk to your boss.
I get it, it’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. What if he/she gets angry? What if he/she fires me? What if I get refused?
Think about it this way: Asking can’t hurt and you won’t get fired for it, if you approach it in a smart way.
So let’s plan on how you would ask your boss for permission to nap at work.
It’s always a great idea to approach these kinds of topics in a bilateral or similar, mainly because bosses are busy.
- Use a project meeting or a personal discussion to bring up the topic.
- Mention the last project that you had fun working on, because your productivity was so high.
Now the key element: Don’t just ask whether you can nap at work. Give some kind of a frame or limit. What does that mean?
Suggest one day per month or per week, preferably in the afternoon, when there is not much stress at work for your power nap. How about a friday afternoon between 2 and 2.20? If your productivity or your outcome should go down, you can revert back to the old state. That’s really important, give your boss a clear instruction on how you’re going to approach this, but also give him/her the option to revert back if it doesn’t work. This is key.
Your boss might question your priorities or think that you want to escape work.
This is the situation where you can send him this article and other scientific benefits of napping, that could increase your productivity.
Maybe bring a specific example: “If I had more energy, I could finish project X/task Y/client Z faster”.
If that still doesn’t help, you have to get creative and use a combination of the points mentioned above. Most of the bosses will accept that you nap at work (look at Google, facebook and all the other companies, where it is even encouraged!) and if not it’s up to you to either question your job (because health should be the greatest priority for you) or up to you to get creative.
How to fall asleep in less than sixty seconds
I learned that trick from Dr. Weil. It’s a breathing technique that works almost every time, by slowing down your heart rate.
It’s called 4–7–8 breathing and it goes as follows:
- Exhale completely through your mouth (with a swoosh sound)
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8 seconds
A lot of people I’ve showed this technique to, told me they fell asleep after three breaths. You can use this very same technique at night before going to sleep.
Give it a try!
Why it’s ok to nap multiple times
In the 4-Hour Body Tim Ferriss talks about polyphasic sleep, which is essentially your 8 hour sleep, broken down into smaller bursts of sleep you’d take throughout the day. That way you can reduce your actual sleep time by x hours (depending on which specific step you are in the polyphasic system). Now I’m not a big fan of polyphasic sleep, for two reasons:
- If you’re somewhat social and have other people around you, it’s gonna be super difficult to meet them at regular times, because of your sleeping schedule
- The long-term sustainability and health is still very unclear not a lot of people have done it for long
Sleep is an interesting thing. Scientifically we still don’t know why exactly we need sleep, we just know that we do need it from time to time.
For some it’s 8 hours, for some it’s 6, but fact is everyone needs it, and everyone needs it often. You can’t show me top performers, in any field, who don’t take care of their health and sleep schedule, they just don’t exist.
Now in our daily lives, we’re busy. We want to meet people, stay up late for a series or have to work on a passion project that takes a bit longer than expected in the evening. And that’s fine. If you’re just getting 5 hours of sleep a night, that’s not a problem IF you know how to counteract it.
I showed you how to take a nap throughout the day, so why not use multiple naps to increase productivity even further?
My example routine would look like this:
6am get up and work out or work on passion project
8am go to work
1pm Power Boost Nap
5.30pm leave work
6.30pm power nap
8pm watch some TV
Adjust as needed, but you get the point. You’ll have two low points of energy through out the day, one just after lunch (it’s probably going to be around 1 and 2pm) and two, just after coming home from work at around 6pm.
I sometimes even used the short period of time in the morning to get a power nap, just before work. Mainly because I had to get up so early, either for a workout or to work on a hobby of mine. Try to do a power nap just before going to work at around 8 or 9am.
Conclusion and where to go from here
We quickly had a look at the scientific benefits of napping. They are mainly:
- increased alertness
- increased energy levels afterwards
- better learning
Then I showed you the ideal length for a nap and how to do a Power Boost Nap. As mentioned, in the beginning try a 10 min. nap on the weekend before going out and train your body to get up after a set amount of time. Adjust as needed and find your sweet spot between 10 and 20 min.
For an ideal place to nap in an office environment, you have to get creative:
- use your car
- use the gym
- go home during lunch break
IF there is absolutely no place, you’ll have to talk to your boss and approach him with the easy option of trying it out for one day per week and if it doesn’t work, you can revert back.
Lastly we looked at how you can quickly fall asleep using the 4–7–8 breathing technique and why you should nap multiple times to boost your energy.
As you can see napping has many benefits it’s definitely not that difficult to do and to learn, give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.