I have a confession: I am a napping fiend. A siesta freak. An afternoon respite junkie.
Over the past several years, nearly a day hasn't gone by that I haven't curled up in a pile of drool after lunch and pushed the reboot button on my body.
Two reasons, really.
First, in my podcast interview with Nick Littlehales “The Man Behind The Advanced Sleep Hacking Tactics Used By The World’s Most Elite Athletes.” and also in Nick's new book “Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps… and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind“, you learn that a nap – even a quick 10 minute dose of shuteye or quiet meditation – “counts” as an actual sleep cycle. This is important, because in both the podcast and the book, Nick highlights how the most elite athletes in the world who he works with are assigned a goal of completing 31-35 sleep “cycles” each week, no matter how many hours of sleep or how many cycles of sleep they achieve during any given night of the week.
Yes, this means if you are short on sleep because, you've slept, say, five hours in one night, and you've tracked your sleep cycles to determine that you achieved three sleep cycles during those five hours of sleep, then you can toss in a nap the next day, jack that up to four sleep cycles, throw in one extra sleep cycle on the weekend, and you'll be all “caught up”. So napping is a great way to squeeze in extra sleep cycles so that you can achieve the desired quota of 31-35 sleep cycles per week.
In addition, I've found napping to be a wonderful way to split my day into two hyperproductive sessions, rather than just one single hyperproductive morning, a concept I outline in my recent new book on my daily routines. What does this mean, exactly? It means that by throwing a 10-60 minute post-lunch or afternoon nap into the day, I can wake up from that nap with a similar amount of productivity and creativeness as I experience each morning when I first wake up, allowing me to dive into a difficult article, creative writing, business problem solving or other tasks my brain normally be too fatigued in the afternoon to tackle. In other words, an afternoon nap keeps me from falling into a robot-like, responsive, all-I-can-do-is-reply-to-emails mode in the second part of the day.
So now that you know the two most important reasons to nap that I've personally discovered, I'm now going to give you my seven crucial steps to napping like a champ – tips that have evolved quite a bit since my original post a few years ago in the article The Last Resource You’ll Ever Need To Get Better Sleep, Eliminate Insomnia, Beat Jet Lag and Master The Nap (which is still worth a read). Even if you've never been able to nap well before, you'll find that these tips will soon have you, too, waking up in a giant pile of your own afternoon drool. Enjoy.
Step 1: Blast Yourself With Morning Blue Light
The first step to optimizing your nap (and in fact, to optimizing your nighttime sleep too) begins long before you actually nap. This is because the morning, in whatever time zone in which you happen to awake, you must jumpstart your circadian rhythm by sending a strong signal to your body that daytime is officially occurring.
So how do you accomplish this?
Food, movement and light are your body's primary circadian cues. So, in addition to not skipping breakfast (or at least having something as simple as coffee or tea), and engaging in light morning movement, one of the best things you can do is to blast yourself with any of the following:
-15-30 minutes of natural sunlight – details at Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Cycles (And Four Ways To Hack Your Sleep Cycles).
-25 minutes of in-eye light therapy – details at The “Re-Timer” Effect: How To Re-Time Your Circadian Rhythms If You Wake Up Too Early Or Stay Up Too Late.
-12 minutes of in-ear light therapy – details at The Ultimate Guide To Using Light To Biohack Your Circadian Rhythms, Sleep Better & Beat Jet Lag Forever.
And yes, if you're one of those biohack-y overachievers, you can go for a walk in the sunshine with your bright light glasses and in-ear phototherapy device. Throw in an elevation training mask and you'll be just like this dude.
Step 2: Time Your Nap
The next effective napping tip is based on your hormonal fluctuation and circadian rhythm during the day. It turns out that your cortisol is going to experience a natural “dip” approximately five to seven hours after you wake.
Incidentally, based on the half-life of caffeine in most people, this is also the time range at about which your morning cup (or cups – you know who you are) of coffee are beginning to wear off, assuming you've resisted the urge to hit the coffee pot in the mid-morning.
So, let's say that you wake at 6am.
Based on this principle, you should settle down for a nap at either 11am or 1pm. Does this mean you're absolutely screwed if you can't pull off a nap until 3pm in the afternoon? No.
But you'll likely find it far easier to doze off if you hit that five to seven hour after waking time range, and furthermore, through personal experimentation, I've found that due to a bit of post-lunch sleepiness and movement of blood flow to the gut, the post-lunch period closer to seven hours after waking tends to work best.
Step 3: Choose The Right Pre-Nap Nutrients
Let's face it…if you dump a bunch of sleepytime supplements like melatonin, ph-GABA, or other common nighttime nutrients down your gullet, you're going to either wake up from your nap with the entire afternoon gone, or you're going to be groggy for the whole second half of your day.
So if you're going to use any sleep supplements before you nap, I recommend using the ones I've found to relax you without actually causing you to wake up drowsy. From my experience, the best three are:
-One to two packets of Reishi mushroom extract
-Three to four capsules of Inner Peace
If you really struggle shutting off your brain or falling asleep during your nap, you can combine any and all of the above. I have personally done that with zero deleterious, excessively drowsy effects, especially for any naps lasting longer than twenty minutes.
Step 4: Choose Your Surface Wisely
For some reason, my body simply falls asleep faster when I sleep on a different surface than I'm accustomed to sleeping on for my normal full night of sleep. While my usual nighttime sleep hacking surface is a potent one-two combo of the Chilipad and my Essentia mattress, for my afternoon nap, I swear by either of these options:
Option 1) A simple acupressure mat (you can lay on this for your entire nap, or, if preferred, just lay on it for 5-10 minutes, then roll of it and take a nap on your bed or couch)
Option 2) A Biomat. This is a spendier option, as it's a Japanese-made sleep and therapy surface that is a combination of infrared therapy and negative ion generating crystals (yep, I know that sounds far out and woo, but it friggin' works), but both my kids and I own one, and it's like snuggling up next to a giant warm bear every afternoon for your nap. In my opinion, the Biomat too firm for an entire night of sleep, but perfect for an afternoon nap.
Whichever option you choose, sprinkle a few drops lavender oil on your sleep surface just prior to settling down for your nap. This calming oil will lower salivary cortisol and relax your entire body (you can also just smear a dab on your upper lip). Rose and bergamot essential oils also work quite well.
Step 5: Biohack Your Brain With Sound
If you're anything like me, by the time your afternoon nap time rolls around, you have what seems like a million random thoughts bouncing around your brain, and it can be difficult to actually quiet your mind to allow you to grab that extra sleep cycle.
To conquer this conundrum, I've found the use of specific sound generating phone apps to be quite useful, especially when paired with an extremely good set of noise blocking headphones (I use these Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones) The two best apps I've found are:
- Sleepstream, which seems to work best for longer naps (45+ minutes), especially when placed in “Sleep mode” with the background noise setting on the app in “Sleepstream noise” mode, and also works very well on airplanes and in cars.
- Brain.fm, which works better for naps less than 45 minutes, and for naps as short as 10 minutes, and also works best when you're stressed and need to “distract” your brain. For this app, I prefer to download the tracks I like and use them in offline mode so that my phone can be left in airplane mode.
So what's the primary difference between these two apps? In short, Brain.fm uses artificial intelligence and a 3d audio recording process to produce realistic 3D sounds that are engineered 100% digitally and “lull” your brain into what I can best describe as a state of mild hypnosis. Meanwhile, Sleepstream relies upon something called binaural beats (a concept I first introduce here) to switch your brain from fast, stressful beta brain waves to a more relaxing brain wave frequency, such as alpha waves or delta waves.
By the way, when I put on my noise blocking headphones, I can get the headphones even tighter, and limit all light from reaching my eyes, by using a giant Sleepmaster wraparound sleep mask over the headphones once I put them on – essentially making my entire cranium “dead to the world” for my afternoon nap (God forbid my home should catch on fire while I'm slumbering, because I'd have absolutely no clue).
Step 6: Be Adaptable When You Travel
Many months of the year, I'm traveling for 10-20 days of the month, which means I'm often napping in hotel rooms, airplanes, airport lounges, etc.. In these travel scenarios, I've found a few skills need to be learned and modifications need to be implemented to be able to nap efficiently, specifically:
-Learn to sleep while sitting up. Although I'm normally a side sleeper, that's just not a position that can be pulled off in many airplane seats, car seats, etc. To allow myself to sleep in a seated position, I've found this Memory Foam Neck Pillow to be one of the best, and I'm now also experimenting with a Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow “lateral support pillow”.
-Use noise blocking headphones. I don't know why it took me so long to bite the bullet and invest in a very good set of noise blocking headphones but they've absolutely transformed my ability to sleep through distractions like the loud “dings” and announcements on airplanes, music playing on car radios, people chatting on buses, etc.
-Minimize potential of disruptions. Plan ahead to allow yourself to nap without getting disrupted by hanging the “Do Not Disturb” sign from the hotel doorknob, trying to select a window seat on an airplane or bus, choosing a gate at the airport where no flights are waiting to be boarded, etc. A solid sixty minute nap can easily turn into a mere five minutes of interrupted shut-eye when hotel housekeeping pounds on the door, your seatmate taps you on the shoulder so they can go pee, or a fellow traveler rolls over your hand or foot with a suitcase – all annoying nap disruptions I've experienced many a time.
Step 7: Reboot The Body Upon Waking
If you've followed the previous six steps, then you'll be well on your way to mastering the nap. But to be as productive as possible, it's important that you not simply wake and stumble back to your desk in a post-nap stupor. Instead, I recommend “restarting” lymph fluid and blood flow after your nap, and have found myself to be far more alert in the afternoon when I use this strategy.
So how do I do it?
I begin by with cold water face splashing or quick cold shower in the bathroom, then simply choose any of the following:
-A 5-10 minute walk in the sunshine or fresh outdoor air
-100-200 jumping jacks
-5 minutes rebounding on a mini-trampoline (here's an article I wrote on this strategy)
You get the idea. You don't need to leap out of bed and do a Crossfit WOD, but do something that gets your body and brain primed before launching back into your afternoon tasks.
So that's it. You're now prepared with everything you need to nap like a champ.
Want more tips just like this?
I'm pleased to announced that I've just finished publishing “Ben Greenfield’s Daily Routines: A Practical Handbook To Optimize Your Body, Mind & Spirit“.
Having a daily routine is absolutely crucial to you achieving massive success and “crushing it” in life.
Secretary of state and president, John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac River in the morning, always trying to see how long he could swim without touching the bottom (he got up to 80 minutes before his wife told him to stop).
After putting his kids to bed, President Obama used to go over briefing papers and do paperwork, and then read a book for pleasure for a half hour before turning in.
Author Stephen King wrote every day of the year without exception, beginning work between 8:00 and 8:30 am. He had a glass of water or cup of tea and took a vitamin pill each day, ensuring he was in the same seat and his papers and desk were arranged in the same way every single day. King had a daily writing quota of two thousand words and rarely allowed himself to quit until he reached his goal.
The 31-year-old Harvard dropout and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is well known for almost always wearing a plain gray T-shirt, saying in a 2014 interview that wearing the same shirt helps allow him to make as few decisions as possible.
You get the idea.
As a matter of fact, there really aren't any successful people who do not have some kind of a structured and occasionally elaborate daily routine.
So without further ado, for your entertainment and education, you are now poised to be able to delve into my exact morning, afternoon and evening routines – routines that will enhance your health, your energy, your body, your brain, your sleep and beyond, beginning with the most logical place to begin: the start of the day, then progressing all the way through the afternoon, and then finally culminating with Ben's personal evening routine.
Using the tips within this book, you'll wake like a champion, achieve superhuman levels of productivity, and sleep like a baby, all with plenty of time left over for family, friends, hobbies, social life, and more.
Within the next ten seconds, you can be taking a deep dive into the nitty-gritty details of every single step of my day. This is an instant digital download that you can take with you on your Kindle, tablet, phone, computer or anywhere else. And yes, it even comes with the audio version, read by yours truly:
You can click here to grab it now. Enjoy, leave your comments, questions, and feedback about mastering the nap below, and I'll reply!
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Also published on Medium.