It’s early afternoon and the yawning begins. That’s when many of us reach for an energy drink or another cup of coffee, both containing caffeine—the most-used drug in the world.
What if instead we actually accepted what our bodies are telling us? We’re tired and we need rest. It’s that simple.
Research shows that when we’re tired we get into more disagreements, not just because we’re less patient, but also because we are less able to read other people. And caffeine doesn’t help.
The solution is a nap. Don’t laugh. Power napping could be the best way to increase creativity, enhance decision-making, promote better understanding, and improve overall productivity.
Unfortunately, many of us have a mindset that napping is slacker behavior. Many napping misconceptions exist, including:
- We associate afternoon drowsiness to having eaten too much at lunch. Blaming your “post-lunch dip” on the meal is silly. If the mid-day meal makes you drowsy, then why doesn’t breakfast? You’re tired because you’ve been awake for seven or more hours and your biology calls out for rest.
- We have a biological need for rest that is just as strong as our need for food and water. Productivity suffers when we’re tired because there is less blood flowing to areas of the brain that are critical to thinking. Our long-term memory also suffers.
- Many believe that if you take a nap you will wake up feeling groggy, or it will disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle. This is true if you sleep too deeply, but power napping requires waking before descending into a deep sleep.
- The biggest reason we frown on the idea of napping is the pervasive belief that hours on the job is equal to hours of productivity. While this may be true on the factory floor, most of us do jobs that require quality thinking, which is directly tied not to our time in the office, but our overall energy level.
David Dinges, a professor and sleep scientist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says a short nap can help maintain your energy level and, the older you are, the less time you need for a nap to be beneficial. Twenty minutes can provide an enormous boost to our mental acuity.
The best time to take a catnap is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. according to MayoClinic.com. This is when your energy slump is most likely to occur and the nap is far enough away from your nighttime slumber to interfere.
Sleep researcher Sara Mednick in her book Take a Nap! Change Your Life says twenty to thirty minute naps have been proven 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
- Less the frequency of migraines and ulcers
- Promote weight loss
- Minimize the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, an cancer risk
Companies like Google, Cisco, P&G, AOL and others able napping on the job by providing Energy Nap Pods in their offices. These futuristic capsules furnished with reclining leather couches that tilt so your feet are higher than your heart to improve circulation, and designed with dimmed lights and ambient sounds to lull you to sleep. Twenty minutes later, a gentle vibration wakes you feeling refreshed.
Other companies outsource napping to local spas where employees can recharge in private rooms. Sometimes simply providing a quiet and private space is all that is necessary for one to take a break.
If it’s simply impossible for you to take a nap at work, there are still ways you can improve your productivity during the day without resorting to caffeine. Most importantly, take a break from what you’re doing to refocus and recharge.
You can also keep your most creative and important tasks for the morning hours and leave more mundane tasks during the early afternoon. It’s also important to stand up from your desk every so often and walk around. Exercise, take a walking meeting, and get outside for some natural light and fresh air.
Each of these will help you be more productive in the afternoon even if you can’t get in a nap.
But if there’s any way you can incorporate getting a quick nap as an alternative to a quick jolt of caffeine at mid-day, you may find it will make you much more productive in the long run.