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How To Design The Perfect Nap

How To Design The Perfect Nap
Nap

Most people enjoy a good nap now and then, but are you really utilizing their full power?

A correctly performed nap can give you a great boost in energy, focus, and concentration, but a poorly executed nap can leave you groggy and more tired than when you started.

Several cultures around the world use a “siesta” in the afternoon to stay productive, and many workers in the U.S. have reported success avoiding afternoon drowsiness with a nap. Some people (myself included) have even excelled on nothing but six well times naps per day, during polyphasic sleep.

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Taking six naps per day has given me a chance to design the perfect nap. Here’s how:


Get the timing right

The single most important aspect of a nap is making it the right length, and it requires a little background explanation to understand why.

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It turns out that dreaming is the most important part of sleep. Test subjects who were deprived of dreams (meaning they were woken up when they started to dream, but otherwise allowed to sleep as much as they wanted) performed on tests as if they had not slept at all. Furthermore, the longer they were deprived of dreams, the more frequently their brains attempted to start dreaming. Mice who were deprived of dreams for more than a few weeks died!

You may have noticed this on your own if you ever took a quick nap, and vividly remembered your dreams afterwards. When exhausted, you will tend to dream more.

So what does this all mean? It means that your goal during a nap is to enter the REM sleep phase quickly (this is where most dreaming occurs), and to wake up as soon as the REM sleep phase is over. If you sleep past the REM phase you’ll enter deeper phases of sleep and it will be really difficult to get up!

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The only reason this is difficult is that everyone sleeps differently. For most people, their optimal nap time (where they can wake up just as they finish REM) is between 15 and 30 minutes, but you’ll have to test to find yours precisely.

What makes it more difficult is that you have to take into account how long it takes you to fall asleep. When you are first perfecting your naps, it could take quite a while to fall asleep, so I’d suggest starting with a 30-35 minute nap, and working your way down.

Don’t be surprised if after a 30 minute nap you are exhausted. You may have gone right through REM into a deeper sleep phase. It will feel like being woken up in the middle of the night, and during these times I’ve had trouble with even the most basic tasks like keeping my balance or forming sentences.

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Each day, try a different length of nap, reducing the time by 3-5 minutes, and record your energy levels. As you learn to fall asleep quicker, and close in on your optimal time, you’ll notice a remarkable thing: it’s possible to wake up from a nap totally refreshed and alert!

This is the sweet spot you are searching for. Next week, I’ll delve further into optimal light and sound conditions for power napping, and show you a little trick I use to fall asleep anywhere (airports, desks, couches, etc).

Brian Armstrong is an entrepreneur who sleeps 2-3 hours per day using polyphasic napping. He became financially free running his own business at the age of 23, and today seeks to help others quit the 9-to-5 corporate world to start their own business. For more great tips visit his blog.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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