Can You Nap Constructively?
Done right, naps can be a shrewd response to the trough and a valuable break. Naps, research shows, confer two key benefits: They improve cognitive performance and they boost mental and physical health.
– Daniel Pink, When
My book club is currently reading When by Daniel Pink, which is a fascinating book about timing – when to do things to get the most benefit, based on scientific data.
One of the things that comes out in the book is that the vast majority of us have a natural trough or low period in the afternoon when we are tired and don’t function optimally. One of the best ways to counteract this trough is by taking a break, and he describes a few key ways that are helpful, including napping.
Napping is indeed a very healthy habit to have!
Studies show that napping extends the brain’s capacity to learn and retain information, boosts problem-solving ability, logical reasoning and reaction time, and improves memory, mood and creativity.
Napping also has positive benefits on our overall health, including reducing risk of dying from heart disease, strengthening the immune system, and lowering blood pressure!
There is, however, a short-term disadvantage to napping – what Pink calls “sleep inertia.” Sleep inertia is that sluggishness we can experience when we wake up from our nap, which makes it hard to get back to work or do anything productive.
It turns out that the key is taking brief naps of about 10-20 minutes. These cat naps are the ideal length of time to allow us to reap the benefits of napping without the downside.
I found this all to be fascinating, and it also made me think about Constructive Rest, a lying down practice I recommend to my clients, and pretty much everyone else!
On my website I describe it like this:
Constructive Rest is a simple, yet powerful self-care practice to energize and restore body and mind. It helps you to improve your posture, release tension and calm your nervous system so you can be your most efficient, energetic and productive self.
A key feature of Constructive Rest is that you are consciously directing your thinking and awareness while your body is resting in a very supportive position. Many teachers advise you to keep your eyes open while you do it.
It is a super way to take a break, but it is not supposed to be about falling asleep.
However, I want to put forward the case for what I’m going to call Constructive Napping – a way to combine the benefits of napping and Constructive Rest.
In fact, I confess that this is what I sometimes do!
I lie in the Constructive Rest position (on my back with my head supported so it’s not tipping back, and my knees bent).
I spend a little time thinking constructively (an Alexander Technique skill I teach all my clients), often starting with an awareness of the ground supporting me. After a few minutes I allow myself to doze if I feel sleepy, knowing that I am doing so in a really supportive position for my body. (If my knees are unsupported, as in the picture above, I let them fall in and rest against each other at this point.)
After about 10-15 minutes I wake up (I use an alarm if I’m concerned about the time).
Then, staying in the Constructive Rest position for a few more minutes, I come back to my awareness of myself and the surface below me and do some more constructive thinking before getting up.
I think this might just be the best of both worlds.
And, unlike a regular nap, I know I am not slumping and scrunching while I sleep – rather my body has the chance to open up, breathe, let go and restore my spine to its full length. (Fun fact: lying down in this way for 15-20 minutes allows displaced spinal fluid to be reabsorbed into the disks so that you will literally be taller when you stand up afterwards than you were when you first lay down!)
That’s a real power nap!
A bonus tip from Daniel Pink, for those of you that drink coffee, is to have a cup of coffee before you take your nap. The caffeine takes about 20 minutes to get into your system, so that you get the double benefit of the short nap and a caffeine boost to your energy just as you are getting back to work! He calls this a “nappuccino!” In fact, you could have a Constructive Nappuccino” if you are so inclined!
Alas, I no longer drink caffeinated beverages, so this neat hack won’t work for me. Let me know if you try it!
I’d love to hear from you if you already practice Constructive Rest and whether you ever fall asleep?
Or do you have regular naps?
Does your work situation even allow you to lie down or nap?
And how might you find a way incorporate a nap, Constructive Rest, or Constructive Napping into your day?
Please leave your comment in the space below.
Thanks for this post Imogen. An interesting thing happens often when people take a time out and do the Constructive Res: they realize they were not aware of how tired they actually were. So, just that tuning in and realizing that they are tired and need the rest is a good benefit of this practice. We are a culture of “go-go-go” and it keeps us from tuning in to what we really need a lot of the time.
Great point. You are exactly right, Lauren. I think this is very often then case.
For me, when I was first learning the Technique, I think an additional factor was that I didn’t know how to “relax” without being asleep, so in the beginning it felt impossible not to go to sleep when I was starting to let go of tension.
Thanks Imogen, this is excellent, you are really being creative here.
My neck and back do suffer sometimes when napping in an armchair so your posture looks perfect.
I would never have done it at work but nowadays e.g. on holiday I find my mood and thinking improve. I can finish crosswords.
Enough of the theory lets on with the practical. Nappuccino or Flat out White?
It is a shame that most work culture does not allow for naps, lying down, etc. Maybe the data will start to sway more companies – after all they want to get the most out of their employees. I hope you enjoy your nappuccino!
Thank you for connecting all these dots! I have often falling asleep while practicing Constructive Rest. I’ve long considered a 20-minute nap a brain reboot. Those interludes helped me navigate being a single mom with a long commute to an awful job while also forming and leading a Scouting unit and maintaining a home that needed lots of work.
It’s great to see Daniel Pink’s exploration of data to support the importance of the mid-day nap. If my former bosses had been open to that fact, play might not have burned me out so badly and would have derived even greater benefit from my employment.
Sadly, I think it will be a long time before American work ethic includes actually not grinding down employees. Change comes slowly even when it’s obviously a benefit for the bottom line.
It’s nice to see that data supports what seems instinctively to be true. There are a few companies like Google and HuffPost that have “nap rooms” I’ve heard, but that’s a far cry from the norm in this country for sure. Maybe the tide is gradually starting to turn. I certainly hope so.
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What a great post, I really like the idea of taking a short nap while resting constructively and letting the knees flop against each other – with the alarm set of course 🙂 You wrote that you don’t drink caffeinated beverages anymore: Have you noticed any benefits? I’ve been thinking about quitting that as well, but I find it hard to resign my espresso in the morning.
Hi Sebastian, Thanks for your comment. I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages around 10 years ago to help with migraine prevention. It definitely seemed to helped in that regard. I don’t know if I still need to avoid caffeine for that reason, but as I am used to living with out it, it seems silly to reintroduce. I love my herbal tea!! If you don’t experience any negative effects from the espresso I wouldn’t worry about it. Enjoy!
Hi Imogen, it’s so funny that you posted this, as for the past few weeks I have been listening to your Constructive Rest audio when I go to bed, and have found that it helps me fall asleep faster than I do without it. I thought I was “violating” 🙂 your instructions, as a bed is too soft for proper CR, but now I feel justified! I’ve never been able to do power naps; I can’t seem to fall asleep in the daytime unless I am actually ill. But maybe I could try again…
Thanks so much for “confessing!!” The audio is designed to help you release tension, so it makes sense that it would help you get to sleep. If you don’t feel the need for a nap, I wouldn’t worry about it. But do take breaks, and maybe you could try out a nap occasionally!
Great post Imogen. I have always found it easy to nap and can pretty much guarantee waking after 15-20mins although like you I use an alarm if I know I must be awake for a certain time. I put this habit down to working shifts for many years. Although I haven’t worked shifts for years now I still often find a nap useful. Since learning (and now teaching Alexander technique) I, of course, have books under my head and I also support my lower legs on a chair or the settee. In that way, when I fall asleep I know that my body is benefitting from resting without any strain on any part of me.
Thank you, Bridget. Isn’t it great to find out that the data supports what we are already doing!! Sounds like you have been “constructively” napping for years! 🙂