Sleep your way to success

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,”

Said the sign above my station at one of my first jobs here in New Zealand. We were doing 12-17 hour days – even the bosses. We thought we were invincible, a notch above everyone else because we worked harder and longer.

But not better. It wasn’t until I left that job and looked at it retrospectively that I realised how truly unproductive we were.

We were destroying ourselves for no reason.

I recently had the chance to observe a workplace where there were well-rested employees, doing shifts of 4-5 hours per day, 5 days a week. The cost of wages was slightly higher than it was at my previous place of employment, even though there were more staff. But creativity and innovation ran rampant. It was amazing.

A recent study has defined a clear trend showing how mid-day naps can boost memory recall, responsiveness, and creativity more efficiently than a cup of coffee. A 10-20 minute nap should work better in reviving the senses than a cup of coffee. Around the 30 minute mark, subjects reported feeling sleep inertia – which is that groggy feeling you get after waking up some times.

Sara Mednick, a sleep scientist at the University of California, says that 60 minute naps have a positive affect on cognitive functions.

“While we’re asleep,” she says, “the brain cycles through a pattern lasting about 90 to 120 minutes. These stages include non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) (which is associated with dreaming). During NREM sleep we enter into slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest kind. Slow-wave sleep helps us remember facts, places, and faces, which is why the 60 minute nap helps us in this regard.”

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Napping is taken pretty seriously in some circles. AOL and Yext allow employees a mid-day nap break, and while they may not be at the top of the Fortune 500, they are still large players in their field. In fact io9 reports that napping in itself has been broken down into four broad types.

  • Planned napping: Also known as preemptive napping, it involves taking a nap before you get sleepy. It’s a good thing to do if you know you’re going to have a late night.
  • Emergency napping: This is exactly as it sounds — taking a nap when you’re so sleepy that you can’t properly engage in your current activity. This is the kind of nap that’s advisable to take when you get sleepy behind the wheel or while operating dangerous machinery.
  • Habitual napping: This is the practice of taking a nap at the same time every day.
  • Appetitive napping: The act of napping strictly for enjoyment.

If you’re rich you could buy a Calmspace sleeping suite, which is programmed to let you sleep between 10-20 minutes in a sleep-conducive environment. Or if you’re Google rich you could invest in napping pods like they had in The Internship.

I decided to practice planned napping at work. I switched breakfast to 10:15, which was previously my coffee break. I switched lunch to 2pm, also another coffee break, and my lunch time has now become my nap time.

I’ve been able to fit in almost two days worth of work in one day doing that. I spend the same amount of time at my desk, but the afternoons are just as productive as my mornings.

Mashable has been trialling a social experiment where participants trial a mid-day 20 minute sleep for a week and post how they feel on twitter using the hashtag #labrat. Get amongst it people!

Cover Image Source: OhGizmo
Caffeine vs Napping Source: Sara Mednick’s TEDxYCRSalon talk

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