Sleep. We all do it. Every day, more or less for 8 hours, sometimes more and often quite less. A recent study has shown that those who sleep less than 6 hours a day are at an increased risk of stroke, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, memory loss, cardiac arrest, … the list goes on.
Sleep then is vitally important in our lives. It is believed that during sleep, the consolidation of new memories occurs and the brain cleans itself of new toxins. Indeed, it has been recognised that there is a potential connection between sleep and the formation of plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s and other brain degenerative conditions. Sleep seems to have a ‘washing’ effect on the brain, clearing out debris and other junk that has built up.
There are lots of tips for a great night’s sleep, not least in relation to reducing exposure to electronic stimulants before bed (I recommend purchasing a pair of special glasses that block out the blue light). The I-phone has an in-built feature in its latest operating systems that allows for the blue light to dim after certain hours and the background to become warmer. My other favourite tip is to attend a sound bath and feel the deep rejuvenating effects of such a wonderful experience.
Moreover, the ability to receive the benefits of sleep in our daily lives is right at our finger tips, there and now. Naps, or ‘power naps’, as I like to call them. That’s right, otherwise known in Spanish as siestas, they are really a wonderful opportunity to recharge your batteries, and kick-start your day again, all in the meagre time of 30 minutes or less.
Recent studies have shown that very short naps enhance memory processing, whilst a Nasa study, looking at the effects of long-haul flights upon pilots, reported that “naps can maintain or improve subsequent performance, physiological alertness, and mood” and that a “26-minute nap improves performance in pilots by 34% and alertness by 54%”.
The benefits of sleep are being recognised in the corporate world too, where leading corporations and institutions, such as PWC, Lloyds, Unilever and others, have taken part in a special “Sleep to Perform” programme, where participants learn to master their sleeping habits by being sent to a ‘sleep school’. The idea is that by improving sleep, we boost that part of the brain responsible for cognitive learning, creative and critical thinking, and focus (i.e. the prefontal cortex). Ultimately, we are improving our working capabilities and performance.
It is ironic then that so much is made of executives working extremely long hours, being ‘high performers’, when in reality, the effects of sleep deprivation may result in reduced performance and poor decision-making. If only more people could reach for the ‘nap pod’ at 4PM or those times in the day when we feel most sleepy, instead of relying upon caffeine and sugar to keep us alive and functioning at a cost to our adrenals and endocrine systems.
The work-place would be transformed with offices making space for pods, with bodies sprawled throughout the building carefully tucked away in their little sleeping bay, all managed to the 30-minute-mark perfection. I can really see it already! Let’s face it, in my experience most issues in the office can wait just a little bit, and for increased work productivity after a good afternoon’s nap, who’s to say that such a trade-off is just wishful thinking.
Perhaps this is a mindset one cannot imagine, but in the age when most large organisations provide canteens and relaxation facilities, the provision of sleep pods seems a natural extension of this. Arianna Huffington, creator of the Huffington Post, did exactly that. Whilst people took a little while to warm to the idea, now the pods in her New York offices are booked out solidly.
But who needs a pod, naps can be taken anywhere – in a meeting room, in a park or on a bench. As long as you can close your eyes and let yourself go. Whilst actual sleeping may be a tall order for some, it does not really matter – what’s actually important is that you close your eyes and switch off from the outside world. Falling asleep is one thing, but finding that place on the verge of sleep, in-between consciousness and the beginnings of the first cycles of sleep, is just as effective.
Sleep guru, Nick Littlehales, recommends taking a controlled recovery period (or CRP), by taking some time to emerge from rest and be aware of your surroundings. Get some natural daylight if possible, or Nick even suggests having a coffee such as a short, sharp expresso prior to napping, as the effects of the caffeine start to take effect at the end of the nap… not so great if you are like me, sensitive to caffeine, where a coffee after midday is a no-no, if I want to actually achieve a good night’s sleep. Sorry Nick, this recommendation is a bit of an own goal….
So there you have it. The secret is all in the palm of your hand. Napping. Go for it next time you can and feel the difference. It might make for some culture change if you take some time out in front of your colleagues, but organisations are constantly changing, and before you know it, that pod routine may become the new workplace thing. I for one, will be lovin’ it.