It’s hard to be productive when you’re not at your best. And, let’s be honest, it’s hard to be at your best when you’re tired. I don’t know about you, but I hate being tired. Unfortunately, far too many entrepreneurs are too tired, too often. There is plenty of research that supports the conclusion that most humans, especially entrepreneurs, aren’t getting enough sleep.
Part of that is because at some point in our evolutionary history, we decided we would sleep for a set period of time, and then be awake the rest of the time. The idea is that it makes the most sense to be up while the sun is shining since for much of human history, that was the only light we had to work by. That isn’t the way most mammals sleep, and it’s not necessarily the best way for humans to do it either.
According to The National Sleep Foundation:
More than 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans. Young children and elderly persons nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures.
How do we know that’s true? Well, if you’ve ever completely lost all ability to focus or the desire to do much of anything an hour or so after lunch, you understand. You’re also not alone.
The good news is, there’s a solution: take a nap.
I’m not kidding. Power napping is a superpower, almost literally. Harvard Medical School reported in 2009 that a mid-day nap is the more effective than sleeping more at night, and even caffeine at getting past that mid-afternoon feeling of drowsiness.
“The 20- to 30-minute nap may be the ideal pick-me-up,” the study says. “Even just napping for a few minutes has benefits. Longer naps can lead to sleep inertia–the post-sleep grogginess that can be difficult to shake off.”
A lot of you are thinking I’m crazy for suggesting that 20 minutes is enough of a nap. Try it. And, before you say you already have and it didn’t work, try this:
Set an Alarm
Here’s how I do it. I use my Apple Watch and set a timer for three minutes. Then, when it goes off, I start it over. When that one goes off, I do the same thing one more time, for a total of nine minutes. I know some of you are thinking, how can anyone even fall asleep in nine minutes. In that case, you can set an alarm for 20 or 30 minutes, and simply close your eyes.
Anything longer than that and you start to enter the deeper phases of sleep. Trying to wake up during those phases can leave you feeling especially groggy and worse than before you shut your eyes.
The key to a good nap is to eliminate all of the things that might prevent you from falling asleep in the first place. There’s there are two things here.
The first is that if you’re having trouble falling asleep, it’s often because you’re having a hard time clearing your mind of all the things you’re trying to do. I strongly recommend that before you try to take a nap, have a piece of paper and a pen, and write down whatever thoughts you have, or to-dos you want to remember. As you’re trying to fall asleep, as things come up, write those down as well.
Second, even if you don’t work at a big fancy tech company with “nap pods,” you can still fit a nap into your daily routine. Especially while most of us are working from home. That said, I don’t necessarily recommend crawling into bed if you only plan to nap for 15 to 20 minutes. I do recommend you either shut your office door to give yourself uninterrupted time, or move to another location (like the couch, for example).
Timing is Everything
Finally, you should time your nap at the point when you’re most sleepy. It isn’t hard to fall asleep when you can barely keep your eyes open. Don’t fight it. Instead, give yourself permission for a 15-20 minute nap. Then, give yourself 10 minutes before you dive back into anything.
Also, it’s best to avoid naps after 4 p.m., so you don’t disrupt your normal sleep schedule. Naps shouldn’t replace getting seven or eight hours of sleep, so time your nap early enough that it gives you more energy to get through the rest of your day without disrupting your sleep at night.