“Awww, do you need a nap?” We’ve all heard this said to a grumpy toddler at some point and time. Partially it comes from knowing that rest for them is good but also because it gives us some peace and quiet from their most recent tirade. What I wonder though is why “growing up” means that naps no longer carry their core benefits? Perhaps it’s the fact the name itself has such a juvenile and demeaning connotation of weakness. It’s time this changed.
When researching the definition of “nap” this misconception continues. Synonyms include doze, catnap, drowse, drop off, nod off, and snooze, all of which also carry the negative connotations of unproductivity and weakness. For some reason we have, as a society, decided that if a person is not powering through all needs for rest and rejuvenation they are lazy therefore unreliable. This, using the old term brought new, is malarkey.
Further research brings to the fore the concept of the “power nap” or Stage 2 nap which lasts 20 minutes or less and ends before the sleeper enters slow wave sleep. The concept and execution have demonstrated improvements in alertness, motor skills, and awareness after completing the shortened rest period. It is important to recognize the value diminishes significantly when the person at rest extends the period past 20 minutes as then they enter a deeper sleep cycle and encounter sleep inertia when they wake. There is a supplementary concept to the Stage 2 approach with the addition of caffeine prior to the rest period. Caffeine takes approximately 30 minutes to kick into full effect and when coupled with a time limited 20 minutes Stage 2 rest the benefits can and have proven to be substantial. While this is not something I personally do on a regular occurrence, I have experienced the combined effect myself when I have combined these two.
Back to the nap-shaming though. Here becomes the core question. If you indicate you’re going to take a “coffee break” or just “clear your head” why wouldn’t you do it in the most effective manner possible? How would you react if a colleague said, “I’m going to take a break” then went over to the corner, grabbed a chair, put their feet up, and dozed off for 20 minutes? On job sites where physical labor is common you’ll see this happen far more frequently than ever in an office space, and yet I’ll argue the mental exhaustion and stress from many information based environments is equally as taxing.
Is it all in the name? If “napping” had a fancier, more “click-baity” name such as “Stage 2 Rest Cycling” or “Short Duration Mental Refresh” would it be more palatable? I’m thinking it’s something far more basic than that. No matter what you call a nap, it comes down to accepting the fact that for a human to work at their optimal state regardless of what they are doing they need to be well-rested. The body when exhausted draws in it’s reserves and prevents us from overextending ourselves if possible. Why would we not want people to be at their best whenever possible, especially if the solution could be as simple as 20 minutes rest.
I know many people who say, “I can’t nap…I can’t fall asleep in 20 minutes.” Let’s clarify that myth now. For effective S2R (Stage 2 Rest…yes I just made up a new name) you only need about 10 minutes of actual rest time. If you allocate 20 minutes of time, close your eyes, and doze off for 10 minutes, it may take you 10 minutes just to get to that state. Even then the period of inactivity reaps its benefits. The lack of external stimulus can be calming, giving yourself an opportunity to clear your mind and provide a new perspective on problems and challenges. “But what if I can’t fall asleep?” Remember you’re not trying to “fall asleep” as per say. You’re giving your mind and body a chance to downshift to neutral for lack of a better analogy. You can’t force yourself to enter this state…you can only provide yourself the opportunity and environment to do so.
My S2R process has evolved over a number of years but in a nutshell here’s how it works: when I find myself losing focus, overstressed, or basically needing a break I tell the Amazon Echo sitting on my desk to set a timer for 20 minutes. I lean back, put my feet up, and close my eyes. That’s it. No fancy prep, no special teas or concoctions (though I do love a good tea), no mantras or background white noise needed. It’s taken quite a while to teach my body and mind that when I take these simple steps it’s time for everybody to take a break. Sometimes I slip quickly into S2R, other times I spend the entire 20 minutes awake and aware with my mind wandering. In either case, the worst thing that has happened is I’ve spent 20 minutes giving myself some time for me. The best case the alarm sounds, my eyes open, and I feel refreshed and ready to go back to work.
There is no disputing the factual evidence that S2R (napping) has benefits. There is also no doubt we don’t provide ourselves the opportunities to reap these benefits because of the perceptual stigma around the name itself. So next time you feel like you need a nap and are afraid you’re going to get some grief, just tell them your’re testing a new productivity strategy called S2R. I know it means nothing different than taking a nap, but does that really matter? Now go and get some rest so you can be productive.