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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 October 7, 2021

Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

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Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

Immunity truly does encapsulate the entire physiology of a person.

When you target your immunity by eating a variety of immune boosting foods, then you really can improve your entire body, both physically and mentally.

The immune system of a human being involves all aspects of one’s physiology and one’s daily experience. Eating certain foods can boost your health in a variety of ways. Below I outline several foods that will get you back on track if you’re feeling under the weather.

In order to even broach the topic of foods good for one’s immune system, it’s important to consider all aspects of the human body and experience.

What I mean by the human experience is one’s day to day mood, energy levels, and many other factors that signify how one engages with themselves and the world around them.

Before indulging in these foods below, I suggest striving for consistency with diet, activity levels, rest, and incorporating the practice of meditation or spending time in nature as part of your daily routine as well.

If you’re ready to feel better, not just when you’re under the weather but all the time incorporate these foods in your diet regularly.

Be sure to stock up on these foods if you’re in need of a boost.

1. Water is a Wise Choice

Yes I know I’m starting things seemingly simple, but one of my most popular YouTube videos discusses the importance of water!

When I ask people how much water they drink a day, the majority of time the answer begins with ‘not enough’.

So if you know you don’t drink enough water, why continue this pattern of behavior?

Now if you’re one that does hit that 5+ and more (pending activity levels) 8oz glasses a day – good for you! Water is life, and that’s where I’ll leave it.

2. Eggs — The Most Complete Protein

Widely regarded as the universally most complete nutritional protein source, eggs are packed with Omega-3 Fatty Acids and 9 essential amino acids.

Egg whites are rich in Vitamins D/E/K, B2, B5, B6, B12, and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.

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Meanwhile, egg yolks pack the calories and fats along with cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and lecithin.

It’s important to note that the average medium egg contains 76 calories, 7.5g protein, 5.1g fat, 1.4g sat fat – so consider this while integrating this near perfect super food in your next dish!

3. Raw Spinach Supports Immunity

This leafy green is a personal favorite of mine due to its versatility and great taste!

Spinach is loaded with vitamin C which helps fight cold, flu, and reinforce the immune system.

It’s also quite high in antioxidants and beta-carotene, which supports our immune system in fighting infection and viruses.

When enjoying this plentiful plant, do so raw. Its nutrients are best absorbed when the vegetable is raw; consider adding spinach as a fresh salad, rather than to a cooked dish, to reap the most immune system rewards.

4. Turmerics Benefit on T-Cells

Gaining popularity for its delicious taste, this powerful spice is also gaining notoriety for its anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin (which also creates the vibrant orange-yellow color).

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology notes that curcumin activates the production of T-cells, which are of the primary cells fighting on behalf of your systems immunity. [1]

5. Garlic is Really Good for You

This popular food not only tastes great but packs quite a punch.

Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which boasts a variety of medicinal properties. Garlic is also not very calorie dense; 1 ounce yields about 42 calories with 1.8g protein and 9g carbs.

Garlic also boasts Vitamin C, B6, Fiber, and Manganese.

The properties mentioned above helps maintain healthy bones, prevent diabetes and epileptic seizures, regulate thyroid, combat osteoporosis, reduce inflammation, boost metabolism, improve cognitive function, and regulate glucose metabolism!

So, forget about garlic breath–eat this food in abundance!

6. Wild Salmon is Wonderful

A personal favorite of mine, wild Alaskan salmon is one of those super foods that covers all your nutrient bases!

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Salmon can be cooked a variety of delicious ways, and yields some of the highest immune system boosting benefits.

Salmon contains fish oil Omega-3’s, which protect against developing heart disease and heart attack. Oils contained within such fish are quite unique in that they have Omega-3 fatty acids that are not present in any other food.

Also consider that wild salmon contains (per 4oz) 128% Vitamin D, 95% Vitamin B12, 94% tryptophan, 62% selenium, 53% protein, 53% omega 3’s, 45% Vitamin B3, 37% phosphorus, 32% Vitamin B6, 19% choline, 14% potassium, and 8%(157) calories.

This is one of those super foods that you could stand to have in your diet several times per week. Beyond the incredible taste, its nutritional benefits make it well worth seeking out.

7. Essential Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Many home cooks consider this an essential ingredient in preparing dinner. But it’s also quite good for you!

Extra virgin olive oil is widely regarded as being a healthy addition to any kitchen, with modest amounts of Vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids.

Per 100g of olive oil you can expect 14% saturated fat, 73% Monounsaturated fat, 10% Omega-6, 1% Omega-3, 72%, and 75% Vitamin K.

It also boasts an impressive antioxidant profile. This includes the anti-inflammatory oleocanthal, as well as oleuropein, a substance that protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation.

8. Natural Greek Yogurt Has Many Benefits

When I talk about natural Greek yogurt, I mean the type that is not flavored in any way. Those added sugars won’t help boost immunity.

Many people have convoluted the immunity and health benefits of natural yogurt with the all too popular sugary treats that flood grocery stores. But it’s the plain stuff that’s the best to include in your diet.

Natural Greek yogurt not only goes great with many dishes, but it contains vast amounts of protein which will leave you feeling satisfied.

The reason why I’ve specified ‘Greek yogurt’ is because one cup of plain, low-fat conventional yogurt typically has 5 to 10 grams of protein, where Greek yogurt averages about 13 to 20 grams of protein.

Greek yogurt also contains essential probiotics (live microorganisms). These are bacteria microbes that help improve digestive function, the immune system, and overall gut health.

Add natural Greek yogurt to your diet, whether as a breakfast food, a substitute for sour cream, or as an addition to a healthy smoothie.

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9. Ginseng Tea — Chock Full of Ginsenosides

Ginseng tea’s primary health benefits are due to the naturally occurring chemicals called ginsenosides present in the root.

One of ginseng’s most widely understood benefits include it’s rich anti-cancer properties. [2]

Studies also indicate that people who drink ginseng tea have a lower risk of developing cancer.

Ginseng tea can also help relieve menstrual cramps, lower blood pressure, and improve brain function; and it has also been shown to help with sexual (erectile) dysfunction in men.

10. Green Tea Fights Aging

Just as powerful as ginseng tea, this extremely popular tea is rich in polyphenols that have effects like reducing inflammation and aiding in the fight against cancer.

Green tea is in fact 30% polyphenols, including large amounts of a catechin called EGCG. Catechins are natural antioxidants that aid in the prevention of cell damage and provide several other benefits.

EGCG, and substances like it can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, helping protect cells and molecules from damage.

Free radicals such as these are commonly known to play a role in aging and all sorts of other diseases.

This wonderful also tea contains small quantities of minerals that are important for overall health, so it may be worth picking up some green tea when visiting your next local tea shop.

11. Dark Chocolate — The Delicious Superfood

Don’t get too excited with this one – everything in moderation, of course!

And I’m not just referring to any chocolate — I’m talking specifically about dark chocolate and cacoa nibs, which are both immune system boosting super foods.

We’ve already covered free radicals in this article, and dark chocolate is one of those wonderful super foods that helps fight against such free radicals.

It does this with its high antioxidant profile which is believed to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from their damage.

Dark chocolate’s antioxidants include vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – helpful plant compounds. Much like other immune boosting foods on this list dark chocolate will also help balance cholesterol, blood pressure, and improve heart health, and cognitive function.

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You now have a healthy excuse to eat some dark chocolate; but, go for the lowest sugar and highest cocoa content varieties you can find to reap the most rewards.

12. Frozen Blueberries for All!

Personally I love adding frozen blueberries to smoothies; however, sometimes I’ll pop over to the freezer just to grab a small handful as a treat!

Frozen blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, which come from compounds called anthocyanins; these give blueberries their purple hue.

One really neat fact about the ice crystals that form when the berries are frozen is that they disrupt the structure of the plant tissue and make anthocyanins even more available – how cool is that? Talk about hacking blueberries!

Even if not frozen, blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits. They have been known to boost memory, cardiovascular system, and eyesight. The fruit also encourages a process called authophagy, or ‘cell clean-up’.

Berries in general (raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries) are extremely high on the ORAC scale. This means they contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals.

Frozen blueberries in particular may aid in defending colds and flu, as they are high in pterostilbene.

Next time you visit your local grocery store, consider how ideal blueberries are for your immune system and general health.

13. Raw Honey — A Natural Antioxidant

Saving the sweetest for last!

Pure natural raw honey follows the rest of this super food list with its antioxidant profile, however it also contains antibacterial and anti fungal properties.

Raw honey contains antioxidants called phenolic compounds, and certain types contain just as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables.

Raw honey can help the body kill-off unwanted bacteria and fungus as it naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, which is a strong antiseptic. Raw honey also contains phytonutrients, commonly found in plants, which provides both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Aside from these wonderful benefits, raw honey can also aid with digestive issues, however this typically varies person to person.

Indulge in Better Health

But also, don’t forget to rest! When considering one’s overall health, it’s important to not only incorporate these immune boosting foods, but also to ensure adequate sleep, and take efforts to reduce stress.

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Eating these immunity boosting foods will enable you to take back control of your health and prevent illness… all while satisfying your cravings!

Featured photo credit: Joanna Kosinska via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Journal of Immunology: Curcumin
[2] NCBI: Ginseng for Fatigue

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