How to Power Nap

How much do you sleep? Is that enough to keep you energized all through the day? If you’re like most people the answer is “probably not,” even if you take a good multivitamin/mineral/phytonutrient supplement. That’s why today I’ll be discussing the much taunted, much mocked, and much made fun of to the point of toomucherry yet ultimately effective technique known as “Power Napping”. (Insert whooshing sound.)

Honestly, although it is often mocked, the power nap is one of the best tools for busy people who have to rely on clarity of thought in order to be the most effective at what they do. This includes business executives, counselors, programmers, managers, coordinators, mathematicians, and of course, writers, among others. Basically if most of your work involves thinking and wiggling your fingers on a keyboard, blackboard, or waving a writing utensil over a notepad then this most likely applies to you.

What are the advantages of power naps?

A power nap can make the difference between a good idea and a great idea. It can make the difference between being enthusiastic and radiating enthusiasm. It can enhance relationships, both personal and professional, by allowing you to better concentrate on a person or group of people, their message, and enhances your ability to properly act upon the newly received information. Truly, the power nap is one of the most important skills to master as either a student or professional.

Now, what exactly is a power nap?

A power nap is a short nap, usually between 10 and 30 minutes long, taken in the middle of the day in order to reinvigorate you for the next part of the day. Power naps are not like regular sleep, so you won’t be groggy after taking one. While you might have “dreams”, power naps are more akin to meditation, where thoughts are allowed to move from the sub-conscious mind to the conscious mind and back again without you concentrating on them. (I’ll discuss how to do this a bit later.)

Where do people take power naps?

Power naps can be taken just about any place where you can fully and honestly relax: a couch, a car, a bed, and even the floor. The key here is that it must be somewhere mentally comfortable: that is, you must be able to relax completely, just as you would on your own bed. Physical comfort is also important, but without the mental comfort, the power nap looses its effect. This is why somewhere private, such as a car or a private office, is pivotal to the successful power nap.

Now, you may be asking yourself why you even need to learn how to nap. After all, isn’t napping something we learned how to do in pre-school?

While this is true, the sad fact is that after leaving primary school, most of us are forced to endure the unnatural act of staying awake from one full sleep cycle to another with no rest in between. The problem is that most of us already don’t get enough sleep – in fact, while most of us associate “full sleep cycle” with “eight hours” the sad reality is that most of us don’t get that copious amount – so attempting to keep this pattern up is detrimental for both mental acuity and, in the long run, physical health.

Again, power napping isn’t really sleeping; it’s more like meditation. Of course, in the process you will sleep, but the point of this nap is to allow your mind to unload some of the baggage already cluttering up your mind and refreshes you. Remember this as you begin your nap.

Ok, so how do you power nap?

To start, find a location where you can nap uninterruptedly for at least 10 minutes, or for the duration of your power nap. Turn off the lights (if possible or desired) and, if you wish, put on something relaxing (or boring) to listen to. (Keep on reading for my suggestions regarding sound and lights.) You may also wish to put some kind of an alarm on. Remember to give yourself at least a minute to come out of the nap process.

Note: One important thing to remember is that the longer you rest, the deeper you’ll slip into your sleep, and the more likely it is you’ll be groggy when you wake up. This may cause more harm than good, so if you are to err, err on the side of too little sleep, not too much. Remember: At least 10 minutes, but no more than 30. My power naps are usually between 10 and 20 minutes long, depending on how tired I am and where I’m napping. If I don’t have at least 10 minutes then I’ll eschew napping completely and instead go out for a brisk, 10 minute walk where I can relax and not focus on any particular thought. This is a form of walking meditation.

Sound and Lights

Audio: If you’ve had an especially turbulent day, or if you suffer from tinnitus, it may be helpful to have some sort of noise in the background which you can both lock on to and ignore at the same time. That’s because if you had such a day, then relaxing your mind may take too long, or be nearly impossible, unless there is some sound there to center yourself with. This can be done with both music and spoken text.

If you choose music, you’ll probably want to play something relaxing. Stay away from anything with too much of a beat, such as pop music or techno. The beats, while comfortable to listen to when awake, may actually disturb your nap, due to the fact that your mind is trained to lock in on those beats. Instead, you may want to listen to some western classical (preferably Romantic-era music, such as late Beethoven, or Mahler, or Impressionists, such as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, or Eric Satie), some east-Asia inspired meditation music, soft New Age music (like that of Enya or Loreena McKennitt), or even zero-beat ambient (see Bluemars’ Cryosleep).

If instead of music you prefer spoken word, make sure that whatever you choose isn’t too interesting at the time, and that the speaker has a pleasant voice. If you go this route, however, you may also want to consider recordings in another language, one you’re not too familiar with. This way your mind can’t lock in to anything said and what is spoken cannot affect your napping. (One of my favorite things to do is put the spoken word commentaries of films in another language, usually Japanese.) Alternatively, listening to talk radio or CSPAN is usually helpful. After all, where else will you find people using so many words to say so very very little?

Lighting: This is actually a bit of a touchy subject. Most people recommend finding a dark, comfortable place. However, that’s more of a personal issue. If you’re power napping outside by a lake then you obviously can’t turn the sun off. Likewise, you may be in an office where you are unable to control the lighting. On the other hand, you may not mind the light at all, or even prefer it over darkness. Or you may simply be one of those folks who doesn’t care either way. In any case, make sure you know what lighting situation is best for you and find a way to get into that before starting your nap.

Once you’ve found a place, make your self comfortable by lying on your back and relaxing your body. It is important that you lay facing up, even if you’re a side- or stomach-sleeper, since this pose will keep your back in proper alignment and will make it easier for your body to quickly relax. You will want to rest your hands on your stomach or on your side, depending on where you’re sleeping, and position them in such a way as to ensure that your shoulders and arms are completely relaxed.

From this point it’s all in your mind, literally. The temptation here will be to start thinking about something, anything, actively. Don’t! If a thought comes to your mind, that’s fine, let it be there, but don’t focus on it; don’t nurture it. Simply let it come and go.

If you want to expedite this process, move your pupils around a bit in order to simulate REM sleep. (REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, and it’s the state of sleep in which we most often dream.) This may in and of itself become a distraction, so treat this technique carefully.

Focus on your breathing. Not on the act of breathing itself, but instead focus on how your nostrils feel when air moves in and out, or how the air feels when it hits the back of your throat. If you are playing something, focus on the sound of the instruments or voice, but don’t focus on the tune, or what’s being said: it’s not important. Don’t worry if thoughts come to your mind — they’ve been doing that all your life, they’re not going to stop now. Just focus on them. Let them come and pass. If one thought is dominating your mind, let the next thought come: it’ll supersede the current thought. Keep doing that as long as you need. This way, no thought can take root, and your mind will begin to unload information faster. It may seem that your mind is now full and that you’re thinking too much, but remember that you’re not thinking about anything, thoughts are just passing. Your mind is now unloading information, and this is exactly what you want it to do.

In a short time this should almost feel like you’re starting to dream. You may, in fact, do so. That’s fine. It means you’re relaxed and your mind is refreshing itself.

If you have an alarm, once it goes off, simply open your eyes and lay there. Your alarm, should you choose to have one, should not be too intrusive. You don’t want to scare yourself out of your nap. Most cell phones have alarm features which will serve this purpose. Some people can work without an alarm, and that is just fine. In either case, when you wake up, give yourself a minute or two to bring yourself back. Concentrate on your breathing and open your eyes. Feel your body and begin to stretch. sit up slowly and take it all in. Your mind should be clear now, so simply take in whatever you see and here and realize you’re in the “now.” If you were pondering a problem previously, it is very likely you’ll now have an answer. While you were napping, your subconscious mind went to work solving whatever issue needed resolution.

After a minute or two you should be almost totally awake again, more relaxed than before; time to get up and start your day anew. If you can, take a short walk: 2 or 3 minutes will do. This will get your body back in sync with your mind.

And that folks is how you take a power nap. Happy napping.