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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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Last Updated on January 18, 2022

How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

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How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

Does your digestive system seem off lately? Or has it been like that for a while? Have you been experiencing feelings of stress or burnout? If the answer to both these questions is yes, it could be the stress that’s driving your digestive system out of whack. You might also be wondering how you can improve your digestion.

Studies show that your stress levels can wreak havoc on both your mind and body.[1] One of the biggest ways that stress can impair your body’s condition is by disrupting the performance of your digestive system, resulting in a variety of adverse health consequences.

How Stress Affects Digestion

Some of the most common digestive issues caused by stress include heartburn, acid reflux, ulcer, diarrhea, and indigestion. Stress can also indirectly trigger the development of irritable bowel syndrome by affecting your immune system.

Researchers have also shown that individuals already suffering from IBS tend to have frequent flare-ups of systems when they are under considerable stress.[2] Conditions such as IBS and other gastrointestinal tract diseases are considered stress-sensitive disorders. Effective treatment usually entails the patient learning to cope with and manage their stress levels.[3]

A scientific review also discovered that there could be a strong correlation between high levels of stress and eating disorders, such as overeating and obesity.[4] When an individual is experiencing stress, their adrenal glands release cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. This hormone is known to increase appetite, leading to overeating and other related eating disorders. People with high cortisol levels are more likely to consume foods with high fat and/or sugar content, resulting in more digestive issues and weight gain.

Effectively reducing your stress levels can help reduce inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract and lower the sensitivity of your gut. Moreover, lower stress levels contribute to easing any gastrointestinal distress you may be experiencing, while at the same time optimizing nutritional uptake.

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If you find that your stress levels are high affecting your digestion, here are some tips that can help heal your gut.

1. Increase Your Level of Physical Activity

One way to boost your digestion and, at the same time, lower your stress levels is by engaging in moderate physical activity regularly. Physical activity helps increase blood flow to the different parts of your digestive system, which makes it easier for food to move along the digestive tract while improving the efficiency of the digestive muscles.

This movement of food along the digestive tract is known as peristalsis. Common signs that your peristalsis is not working optimally include constant constipation and diarrhea, and in some extreme situations, motility disorder.

Movement and exercise are also important in triggering the release of endorphins, which help relieve tension and are considered natural pain relievers. Endorphins are also quite effective at boosting one’s sleep quality, which is essential in combatting high levels of stress.

Physical activities that are known to improve digestion include regular running, walking, and biking. Yoga poses that focus on improving posture and alignment are also helpful in easing and eradicating gastrointestinal distress and act as a potent stress reliever.

2. Consider Foods That Are Natural Stress Relievers

Scientists have also discovered that some foods naturally contain mood-boosting properties. Consuming such foods can help relieve your stress symptoms while still providing your body with critical nutrients for optimal health.

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Almonds, for instance, contain high levels of magnesium, a mineral that has been proven to help manage cortisol levels in the body. Almonds also contain high levels of vitamin B, which, together with magnesium, help in increasing the production of serotonin, a powerful mood stabilizer and feel-good hormone.

Moreover, low levels of serotonin in the body have been linked to the development of irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, and duodenal ulcers, as well as episodes of bloating, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.[5]

Dark chocolate is another type of snack that can help boost your digestion and bring down your stress levels. It is considered a highly efficient mood booster, but it also has a direct impact on your body’s digestive system. For starters, dark chocolate has a high concentration of flavonoids, a major antioxidant agent.

This chocolate also has high fiber content, mainly because of the cocoa used in production. When the gut bacteria ferment the antioxidants and fiber contained in the dark chocolate, anti-inflammatory compounds are released.[6] These compounds are not only essential in fighting inflammation within your digestive system, but they also play a crucial role in improving cardiovascular function and combatting inflammation-related disorders throughout your body.

Cocoa has also been shown to trigger the production of more healthy microbes in the colon, a further boost to your digestive system. It is also highly recommended to eat foods that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics. These compounds are critical in the production of good gut bacteria.

The abundance of good bacteria in the gut is essential for proper digestion of food and controlling inflammation within your digestive system and other parts of the body. Examples of foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, and natto.[7] Fruits and vegetables rich in prebiotics include the likes of onions, asparagus, garlic, and bananas. Consider making these gut-boosting foods part of your regular diet for enhanced digestive performance.

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3. Try Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics can also help improve your digestion. If you find that you don’t like probiotic foods or find them difficult to obtain, try a probiotic supplement instead. Research has shown probiotics to have remarkable effects on digestion, stress levels, immunity, and much more.[8]

Look for a probiotic that uses time-release tablets as these are more likely to deliver the probiotic bacteria safely past your stomach acid. Most probiotics in capsules are damaged or destroyed before they reach your intestines.

4. Avoid Foods That Can Impair Digestion

Just as there are good foods that can help improve digestion and simultaneously provide stress relief, there are foods that can wreak havoc on your digestive system.

Remember, when you are experiencing high levels of stress, your appetite increases, and you are more inclined to consume foods with a lot of (added) sugar and fats. Both these things are known to increase inflammation in people’s digestive systems, resulting in a variety of GI issues like constant bloating, diarrhea, and excessive gas.

Other major food culprits that can disrupt your digestive function include processed bread, white chocolate, coffee, and highly acidic foods.

5. Identify and Avoid Your Stress Triggers

An examination into what triggers your high-stress levels can help you identify these factors, and allow you to mitigate their impact on your physical and mental well-being.

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that helps you uncover the source of your negative thinking as well as the triggers that cause your stress levels to elevate. CBT has been shown to reduce stress in individuals with IBS. Consequently, these individuals suffered fewer IBS symptoms. This demonstrates the effectiveness of therapy in minimizing stress, which then directly boosts the digestive health of the individual.[9]

Meditation and mindfulness are also powerful techniques that can help you ease your stress levels. Studies have also shown that these practices can also help ease inflammation across the body, including along your gastrointestinal tract. Meditating as well as doing some breathing exercises before eating can help relax you, which in turn allows your digestive system to function optimally.

6. Quit Smoking and Excessive Consumption of Alcohol

Our stress coping techniques can also significantly impair our digestive function. If you are using cigarettes and/or alcohol to cope with your stress, you are inadvertently introducing a host of dangerous chemicals that will affect your digestive health.

Smoking and alcohol consumption have been linked to a variety of GI diseases including heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcers, gallstones, pancreatitis, liver diseases, and Crohn’s disease.[10] It’s imperative that you look for healthier stress coping mechanisms, such as meditation and exercise to avoid exposing your digestive system to dangerous compounds.

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering how to improve your digestion, the first thing you should know is that your stress levels actively impact how well your digestive system functions. Addressing your stress triggers, through exercise, therapy, and physical activity will help bring down your stress levels and allow your body’s digestive system to function optimally.

Moreover, consume foods that are good for your digestion, including foods rich in magnesium, vitamin B, serotonin, fiber, and antioxidants. Lastly, avoid stress coping mechanisms that put your digestive system in jeopardy, like smoking or excessive consumption of alcohol.

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More Tips on How to Improve Digestion

Featured photo credit: Eugene Chystiakov via unsplash.com

Reference

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