The problem is, not only parents of young children, but now also the rest of society is sleep-deprived. Almost all of us are awake for longer hours than a century ago, due to the opportunities afforded by electricity. Add to that the impact of an increasingly global economy, the advent of the internet and modern telecommunications and we discover that since the 1980s many people have an increasing sleep deficit.
Think of the last afternoon you sat at your desk, struggling to focus and wishing for matchsticks to prop open your drooping eyelids. You felt guilty – you knew you weren’t being productive. ‘I must get to bed earlier’ you might have muttered as you dragged yourself off for yet another injection of caffeine.
Peaks and dips in energy are natural – ultradian rhythms of about 90 – 120 minutes. For most of the day we don’t really notice them, but early-to-mid-afternoon, if we’re carrying a sleep deficit anyway, it can lead to the scenario above.
Problem is, if we keep artificially pushing through the lows we put our body into flight or fight.
Do this for long enough and you’ll have a health crisis of some kind – either mental or physical.
So Why Do I Suggest We Let Tired People Nap On The Job?
Power naps are an incredibly simple and cost-effective productivity tool if we’re losing focus and feeling weary. That’s what kept Winston Churchill operating at full steam through all those tough war years. When fatigued he’d pop upstairs (when he was working at Downing Street) and hop into bed for about 20 minutes. He also had a special nap chair near his office. Other famous names who applied the same habit: Margaret Thatcher, John F. Kennedy, Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Eleanor Roosevelt, Brahms, John D. Rockefeller, Dali, Robert Louis Stevenson and Albert Einstein.
And there’s another benefit.
Have you noticed that the best ideas never come when you’re sitting at your desk?
How often is a brilliant idea or the solution to a problem sitting in your mind when you wake in the morning? Imagine tapping into that resource through the day. Often it is when we nap that fresh ideas, new insights, and solutions rise to the surface of our mind. According to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies naps enable our brain activity to remain high throughout the day. If we fail to take a nap, our brain activity declines.
Einstein knew this. He was very deliberate in his use of power naps, using them to solve problems. He would relax in a comfortable chair or on a sofa, his head propped on his hand whilst holding a handful of ball bearings. When the hand relaxed enough to drop the ball bearings he would wake up and quickly write down whatever was in his mind.
Many of his most brilliant ideas came to him in this alpha state or twilight zone. He relied on the noise of the falling ball bearings to wake him; to have slept longer would have taken him into deep sleep.
‘But I work in a corporate environment and can’t take a nap’, you might be saying.
Try asking, or think laterally. Maybe a lunch-time nap under a tree in summer, as I did as a teenage librarian recovering from glandular fever. Or lie down in the sickbay during your lunch break: my trick when expecting my first baby and still working. What about your car?
If employers will get higher productivity and fewer mistakes, why wouldn’t we support such behaviour?
Nike, Google, NASA and Huffington Post are just four of an increasing number of corporations who now provide quiet rooms which their employees can use for napping, meditation or just to take a short break. Other companies make it ‘ok’ for staff to leave their desks to refresh and revitalise.
And now, I’m off for a ‘creative moment’. Happy napping!
You can find more of my articles on the NZ Herald every week here.