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Last Updated on September 2, 2021

How a Power Nap Can Boost Your Energy And Productivity

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How a Power Nap Can Boost Your Energy And Productivity

Modern life is hectic. With the constant demands on us—busy schedules, and outside (or inside) pressure to do more, achieve more, and push ourselves harder—it’s unsurprising that more and more of us find it difficult to switch off. And yet, sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our energy, productivity, and well-being. But the act of losing seven to nine hours of our days to lay down and rest can seem like too big of an ask.

I’m here to change your mind about that. Trust me, I understand the pressure! I used to prioritize my work over my life and ended up being thoroughly burned out, neglecting my most basic needs like rest and mindfulness.

As those things began to suffer, everything else began to suffer, too. My mood, my work, and my ability to focus all diminished because I simply wasn’t taking enough care of myself and my brain. I knew it was time to change and start putting my brain first. Never again would I neglect my self-care.

The Building Blocks of Brain Health

In my roles as a neuroscientist, coach, professor, former psychiatrist, as well as my work as an author, speaker, and executive advisor, the same thing comes up over and over again. If you don’t give your brain the basic tools it needs, doing anything else becomes exceedingly difficult.

If I was to say there was a side-effect-free way of boosting your productivity by 50%, improve your mood to the extent that it matches the impact of an antidepressant for treatment of mild to moderate depression, and create the optimal conditions for your brain to thrive, you’d want to know what that drug was called.

It’s really very simple: braincare.[1]

Our brain impacts our energy, sleep, focus, immune system, and so much more. You might think that braincare is something you can put off until later in your life. But increasing evidence shows that cognitive decline begins in our 30s and 40s and that the signs of Alzheimer’s are often visible 25 years before symptoms appear.[2]

So really, the sooner you can start prioritizing your braincare, the better.

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My top list of priorities essential for optimum brain function are:

You’ll notice that rest is at the top of that list, but you need all of them to work together to function at your best. For now, though, let’s focus on sleep.

Why Is Sleep Important?

During the night, you might feel as though you’re doing nothing. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot going on. There’s a system called the glymphatic system that, while you’re sleeping, cleans the cerebrospinal fluid. This helps to remove neurotoxins like the amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain that can lead to diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.[3]

Poor sleep can also result in fatigue and make it more difficult to manage one’s emotions. We’ve all caught ourselves getting snappy with our colleagues and loved ones after less than optimum sleep.

The quality and quantity of our sleep also affect immunity. It does this through the regulation of immunological markers and their cells, having a direct influence on immunity maintenance and immunological response. Circadian rhythm alterations, associated with stress, for example, can compromise the quality of sleep and, by proxy, the immune system.[4]

Sleep is also the time when the things we’ve learned or experienced through the day are committed to memory—visual and emotional things during REM sleep and more wordy things, such as lists of facts, during slow-wave sleep.[5]

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

We all need seven to nine hours of deep sleep every day.[6] This is a nightly requirement for 98% of human brains. All those politicians and entrepreneurs boasting about only needing a couple of hours a night? Well, they’re just making the rest of us feel bad, and they are not doing their brains and mental well-being any favors either.

In all likelihood, you’re not in that 1 to 2%. So, it’s time to let that idea go and admit to yourself that you do feel better when you’ve had enough sleep.

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Getting enough sleep protects our mental and physical health, as well as our quality of life and safety. In fact, studies reveal that even partial sleep deprivation can have huge impacts on a wide range of cognitive functions, how alert we feel, and our mood even in high-performing people.[7] It’s a practice that is hardwired into our DNA. Our circadian rhythm works with our body’s natural cycles of rest and wakefulness, and sleep provides a vital time for many essential processes to take place.

Having Good Sleep Hygiene

So, I hope it’s now a bit clearer on just how important sleep is. It’s vital for your mood, your day-to-day brain function, your immune system, and to protect you from cognitive decline in the future—and getting enough needs to be a top priority.

This is where naps can be really useful. I know that children, pets, needing the loo, snoring partners, and all sorts of factors can disturb your sleep through the night. So, a well-deserved power nap can be a great way to top up.

I’ll go into the best kinds of naps later on. First, though, let’s talk about how to make sure you’re getting the best quality sleep. Your daily routines, especially before bedtime, can significantly impact your sleep. They can either promote healthy sleep or contribute to sleeplessness.

Tips for a Healthy Sleep Routine

If you have difficulty sleeping or want to improve your sleep either through the night or with power naps, try following these healthy sleeping habits.

When you wake up from sleep or a power nap:

  • Use a clock, not a phone as your alarm.
  • Don’t snooze (even though I know it’s so tempting!).
  • Drink some water straight away to rehydrate.
  • Open the curtains to let some natural light in.
  • Have a stretch.

Before going to sleep or having a power nap:

  • Make sure your diet includes these essential nutrients for better sleep.
  • Avoid screens.
  • Do some calming yoga.
  • Meditate.
  • Take a few minutes to reflect and journal.
  • Practice visualizations.

Create the Right Environment for Sleep and Naps

Creating the right environment is also important if you want to develop good sleep hygiene. Here are some things you can do:

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  • Use earplugs and a sleep mask.
  • Maintain a cool, stable temperature.
  • Turn off phone notifications.
  • Create a peaceful, calm space.

Also, be sure to keep a consistent sleep schedule and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations. Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep, too.

It is worth noting that if you have a persistent sleep problem such as insomnia, there may be some other underlying issues, so please speak to your doctor.

The Benefits of Power Naps

As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang so eloquently puts it in his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,

“If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”

Power naps—or any naps really—are simply small, sometimes quite strategic sleeps taken as and when we feel we want them. In my experience, people fall into two camps: those who regularly nap, and those who never nap.

Benefits of power naps include improvements in cognitive function, alertness, and productivity.[8] Naps are also widely believed to increase creativity, and some of the biggest companies in the world, such as Google and Uber, have dedicated nap spaces in their offices for this exact reason.

Several studies have also shown that naps improve performance in areas such as reaction time, logical reasoning, and symbol recognition, help with emotion regulation, and tolerance to frustration, and support your ability to learn and retain information.[9][10][11][12]

How Long Is a Power Nap?

There are a few different length naps you could try depending on what you need (and how much time you have).

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I like to think of them like this:

  • 20-minute nap = a power boost
  • 30-minute nap = improves learning and memory
  • 60-minute nap = improves learning memory, helps form new connections in the brain, and helps creativity

So, if napping isn’t something you would normally do, you might want to consider swapping your afternoon pick-me-up with a nap instead to improve your energy and performance during the afternoon.

Make a Sleep Routine

I can’t emphasise enough how important sleep is for your health, well-being, and focus. I’m not sure about you, but I can’t get a good sleep or even a nap without going through some kind of routine to prepare myself for sleep.

Of course, everyone’s routine will be different. But here are some things that you might want to consider.

  • Stretching
  • Deep breathing
  • Setting out your clothes for the following day
  • Meditating
  • Showering or having a magnesium bath
  • Reading
  • Reviewing your day and setting goals
  • Using a relaxing pillow spray

Each step of your routine should help you to feel a sense of achievement and allow you to feel prepared and ready for sleep. Creating a routine could help you be more proactive when you wake up and achieve more in the day ahead.

More About Power Naps

Featured photo credit: Adrian Swancar via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Tara Swart

Neuroscientist, medical doctor, executive advisor, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, and author of best-seller ‘The Source’.

How a Power Nap Can Boost Your Energy And Productivity

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Published on December 1, 2021

How To Stay Motivated For Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes

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How To Stay Motivated For Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes

What makes up a healthy lifestyle? If striving to live a healthy lifestyle is a top priority, motivation is vital to making healthy lifestyle changes, but it may not be enough.

It’s 9:30 pm. Everything is ready for a 5 am wake-up call to hit the gym. The excitement and motivation are high, and waking up when it’s still dark seems like a piece of cake. Until the alarm goes off, then all the planning and motivation suddenly feels like a thing of the past. The second buzzer strikes, and there is no movement to get up and follow through on the plan. Staying underneath the warm blankets and laying comfortable in bed is more pleasurable than baring the cold and slothing through another 45 minutes on an elliptical. Sounds familiar?

Motivation Is Fleeting

Why is motivation so high during times of excitement but dwindles as the excitement wears off? Because motivation is a fleeting feeling and a short-lived intention, not a permanent solution to staying in action and maintaining sustainable health. We need the motivation to get us started and keep doing the vital things to live a life of joy and happiness, but it requires a deeper approach to keep us in action in the long run. I only realized this with my motivation and the countless clients I have worked with over the last 20 years.

After the excitement of what you want to accomplish or acquire wears off, other elements must come into play to encourage you to keep going no matter what. Otherwise, two main factors—life challenges and fear—will stop you dead in your tracks.

Life is full, so when challenged, it is easier to succumb to one excuse after another instead of leaning in and reminding yourself why it is crucial to keep going. The first step to keeping the excitement and motivation high is to get clear on what you want. What brings you joy? And what will not only motivate you but also give you the discipline to follow through regardless of life’s ups and downs or setbacks?

Fear Is a Primal Instinct

Fear is a primal instinct that not only keeps us alive in times of danger but can also motivate us to take action. There are many types of fear: fear of success, failure, the unknown, disease, rejection, ridicule, and the list goes on. On the flip side, fear also has the power to paralyze and prevent forward movement. It is natural to return to our comfort zones during distress or when scared and unsure of the next move.

The mind can have a firm pull over our decision, but it is essential to examine whether the fear is real or a false event that appears real and remove any doubt from the equation. Using fear as a motivator can positively affect, but only if you decide to change the outcome. Take a moment to reframe how you want the result to be, then plan possible solutions for the outcome.

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Here are 10 strategies to stay motivated that I’ve used to encourage forward progress, especially after the excitement wears off or when faced with challenges and crippling fear.

1. The Circle of Life Exercise

Joshua Rosenthal, founder and teacher at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, developed this life-changing exercise, called the circle of life, based on his concept of primary and secondary foods. The 12 Primary “foods” or areas that make up our lives are Spirituality, Joy, Social Life, Relationships, Home Environment, Home Cooking, Physical Activity, Health, Education, Career, Finances, and Creativity. Secondary “foods” are the physical foods on your plate.[1]

    The circle helps you identify each area out of harmony and which offers the most joy right now. If any of the areas are out of balance, the foods you eat could be directly affected by the imbalance. There is a greater chance to make healthier choices or stay committed to a healthier routine when you feel good about the primary foods in your life.

    For example, say you have a bad day at work. Instead of your preplanned gym routine to work off a bit of steam, your friends invite you for drinks. You politely accept, thinking it is a better alternative. One drink turns to two, and now you are ordering a burger and fries, thinking it will make you feel better. Unfortunately, the feeling is short-lived, and you end up feeling remorse and frustration having veered away from your original plan.

    Another example is the lack of preparation for the week. There is a much greater chance for take-out and convenience foods if you haven’t gone grocery shopping or planned your meals. When this primary “food,” Home Cooking, is out of balance, turning to foods that offer less nutritional value derail your home-cooked efforts. If your goal is to lose weight and there is no preparation or advanced planning, excuses take over, and motivation for making healthy choices goes down.

    Go through the exercise and identify which areas bring you joy and which could use an upgrade to bring you back in harmony. Note that life will always have its share of ups and downs, but the important lesson is to learn, grow, and rewrite the old story. You are the author of your health.

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    2. Focus on Adding Health

    Our diet culture bombards us with messages of deprivation, saying that removing one food group after another is the “best” and “only” way to lose weight and be healthy. And we have been conditioned to think that the slightest indulgence will ruin our long-term efforts.

    Instead of focusing on deprivation and guilt, focus on cleaner selections and adding health. For every indulgence, add something that offers the highest nutritional benefit, like cut-up fruit or veggies for your next snack. If you sit all day, walk or run around your block or crank up the music and dance in your living room. Had a tough day? Phone a good friend and talk it out or take 10 minutes to breathe or hit the gym.

    When you continue to add health, it is less about deprivation and more about selection. The foods you thought were forbidden and the amounts you were consuming, over time, with consistent effort, become foods and quantities you no longer desire. Your body is nourished and turns to foods and activities that offer a greater sense of joy and satisfaction.

    3. Think About Short-Term Wins

    Want to write a book or run a marathon? The result can feel daunting and crippling if you are staring at an empty page or get winded just walking up a flight of stairs. Focus on the short-term wins. Begin with a word dump and a 10-minute walk as a starting point.

    Long-term goals are great to offer a plan and purpose for your life, but they can also feel rigid and make us stressed and overwhelmed thinking of the process it will take to reach it. Instead, focus on a single task or daily goal. Once you accomplish that goal, celebrate it. Ultimately, you will get to the top, and there will be wins and learns along the way.

    4. Commit to Yourself

    Inky Johnson said, “Commitment happens long after the time we’ve said it has passed.” Committing to a healthy lifestyle takes discipline and consistency. Decide you are worth moving and feeling better in your body and be sure to have a plan of action.

    There will be setbacks, and you won’t always feel like going to the gym or reviewing the menu before heading to the restaurant. But each small action step you commit to will have a cumulative effect, and over time, the long-term goal that seemed impossible to reach will begin to feel like second nature.

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    5. Remove Yourself From Autopilot

    If our approach to living a healthy lifestyle is too rigid or requires a lot of deprivation, the excitement won’t last, and you will find yourself constantly starting over again on Monday. Break up with that cycle and begin to bring joy and inspiration into the healthy equation—experiment with a new recipe, take a dance class instead of your regular group exercise class, walk or run a different route. Changing your routine and removing yourself from autopilot will feel like you are starting something new and fresh, which may be just what you need to stay motivated for the long hall.

    6. Schedule in Rest

    Rest alone is more than adding extra sleep time. It is also resting from other areas in your life that cause stress and overwhelm: being on SM, sending emails right before bed, or pushing seven days a week at the gym. Scheduled rest allows you to hit the refresh button, so you return to each task with a great sense of focus and clarity.

    7. Get Support

    Getting motivated can be difficult if you live with a partner who isn’t motivated at all. If this is the case, surround yourself with others who are like-minded or hire a trained wellness professional to hold you accountable. Tell others about your goal. The more you speak about it, the greater your excitement builds, and others will be there to hold you accountable.

    It is easy to give in when something better comes along. But when you tell others your goal or intentions for meeting that goal, the stakes are higher, and you won’t want to let them down.

    8. Set Healthy Boundaries

    Saying “no” is hard, especially if you feel an overwhelming obligation and responsibility for everyone else’s care. Feeling overwhelmed can wreak havoc on your priorities. Only take on what you can control, and be sure to say “no” to things that don’t bring you joy or take more energy from you. Taking care of yourself first isn’t selfish, and it doesn’t mean “me first.” It means “me too.”

    9. Make a “To-Don’t” List

    Yes, you read that correctly. A “to-don’t” list is one you make of tasks you will no longer do to help you stay more focused and clear on the areas that are important to you. These items on the list are things you will now delegate or outsource.

    We often spend too much time on something that could be completed faster by someone who has more experience or enjoys performing. Make your “to-don’t” list and watch the stress subside.

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    10. Reframe Your Negative Thoughts Into Positive Feelings and Actions

    There is a comfort to automatically return to your default behaviors when things are not going right. But what if you reframed the thoughts to create new positive behaviors that offer a different, more optimistic outcome?

    Setbacks are a normal part of the process when we are changing habits and creating a healthy lifestyle. Instead of throwing in the towel, keep it simple and focus on small changes to help you stick with it for the long term, not just the temporary outcome. Reflect on what caused the setback, and plan for a different result the next time life throws you a curveball.

    Final Thoughts

    When excitement and inspiration are at their peak, motivation is enough to get you going. When it begins to wear off, other factors must come into play to offer a permanent solution. Once you evaluate and learn from factors that prevent you from moving forward on things you desire, not only will you be motivated but also committed to the result.

    Have a plan, stay consistent, and the rest will take care of itself—rely on taking action today, not tomorrow, even if it is a tiny step. Remember, yesterday, you said today.

    More Articles About Health Motivation

    Featured photo credit: Christopher Campbell via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Institute for Integrative Nutrition: Circle of Life Exercise

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