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
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.