In our fast-paced world, the quest for ways to boost mental and physical performance is never-ending. Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a renowned neurophysiologist with a specialisation in lifestyle interventions for the alleviation of mental disorders and sleep issues, sheds light on a simple yet effective strategy: napping. Collaborating with Oak Tree Mobility, Dr Nerina advocates for incorporating naps into our daily routine to enhance our well-being.
Here are the five steps to taking the perfect power nap:
The first question you may have is, “When should I power nap?” The best time to power nap is in the afternoon, at some point between 2 and 4 pm, when you start to feel sleepy or your ability to concentrate on your task is reduced. This is the best time to take a power nap, and any later than this can affect your ability to sleep well at night.
The first step is to get comfortable, but not too comfortable. So, avoid closing the curtains, getting into bed, and pulling the duvet up to your neck. Don’t forget to switch off your phone or put it in silent mode so that you don’t have to worry about being disturbed.
You might want to think about sound and lighting levels. If you have had a particularly busy day and your mind is racing, it could be helpful to have some sort of noise in the background that you can focus on. White noise can be particularly effective for this. If you choose music, choose something relaxing and avoid anything with too much of a beat. You should avoid listening to TV or the news during your naps. You can experiment by dimming the light, but avoid complete darkness.
Set an alarm for 10–20 minutes or ask someone to let you know when this time has passed.
Close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. You will be aware of external sounds, internal sensations, and thoughts, but keep focusing on your breathing and don’t try to block anything out.
While focusing on your breathing, mentally whisper the words “in” as you breathe in and “out” as you breathe out. Feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into relaxation with every breath you take. Focus on how your nostrils feel as the air moves in and out, or how the air feels when it hits the back of your throat. Try to maintain breathing through your nose rather than your mouth.
When the alarm goes off, rouse yourself gently from your nap. Open your eyes slowly and start to move your fingers and toes. After a minute or two, you should be fully conscious, more relaxed, and, at the same time, mentally and physically energised. If you can, take a short walk – 2 or 3 minutes will do – or move around and do some gentle stretches.
You can optimise the results of your power nap by using your own relaxing words or mantra while you nap. For example, some people use the words “calm” or “peace”. Some people also use visualisation during their naps, a trick many top athletes use to enhance their performance. Caffeine naps can also be helpful if you are tired but need to pick up your energy for afternoon tasks or a late night. The way to do this is to have a cup of tea or coffee before you start your nap. Having some caffeine in this way helps you come out of your nap feeling more energised.
Dr Nerina comments, “Ironically, I have found in my work that napping can also be helpful for those who haven’t been sleeping well for a long time and dread going to bed. It makes sense that taking a nap can help them counter the effects of their sleeplessness. Furthermore, an unusual benefit also arises because being able to nap during the day can attune the body to being receptive to letting go of tension and ‘allowing’ rest. Over time, this is a skill that can be applied to going to bed at night and similarly letting go, allowing rest, and then being able to sleep.
However, napping must be done in the right way and at the right time. Overnapping or napping for too long or too late in the day can cause problems. If you nap for too long, you can feel more tired afterwards. This is called sleep inertia. Napping too late in the day can also impact nighttime sleep, making it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.”
So, what exactly is a nap, and is there a right way to nap? Dr Nerina comments, “There are different types of naps, and the one that most of us can benefit from is the power nap. Strictly speaking, power napping is not sleeping, so it can even be done by people who say they can never sleep during the day. Power napping is taking yourself to a state of deep relaxation and allowing the mind and body to relax, let go, and restore.”