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Professional athletes are known for their pre-game rituals. In the NBA, LeBron James tosses chalk in the air (allegedly a nod to fellow legend Michael Jordan), while Kevin Garnett would slap his chest to the crowd and then hit his head on the basket support, and Dwyane Wade would do three pull-ups on the rim. While many rituals are as unique as the players themselves, a widely embraced practice for pro ballers is the pre-game nap. LeBron James, Derrick Rose and the late Kobe Bryant were all serial nappers, and that’s no coincidence: Research has shown that rest of that kind boosts performance, including perceptional awareness. NBA commissioner Adam Silver once went as far as to say, “Everyone in the league office knows not to call players at 3:00 p.m.”
Despite this, “sleeping on the job” still sports a negative lifestyle connotation. In the startup world especially, where entrepreneurs make no secret of burning the candle at both ends, a daytime snooze seems antithetical to the deeply-engrained hustle culture, but a nap during office hours can be very effective in boosting overall health, including fighting the all-too-common burnout phenomenon. As reported by Harvard Business Review, studies suggest that up to 61% of U.S. professionals feel like they’re burning out at any given moment, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fatigue costs American businesses up to $218 billion annually in reduced productivity and worker absence due to related health issues.
Here’s a closer look at the best way to take a midday sleep break to supercharge productivity.
When it comes to rest, we face a bit of a paradox. According to research, the best times for our bodies and minds to recover are often when we’re least likely to. (You know the feeling: being wiped out but your mind is racing and sleep doesn’t come easy.) The best way to address this conflict is to arm yourself with a plan of attack: In the same way that you map out a workday, be strategic about rest time.
Set a timer
If you’ve ever dozed off for a couple of hours yet awakened feeling groggy and unmotivated, you know that there really can be too much of a good thing. Experts recommend setting a timer to hit the duration sweet spot. For a power nap, 20 to 30 minutes is the ideal timeframe. If the day is particularly hectic, even 10 minutes can help short-circuit stress. As an advocate of automation, I recommend using a calendar app to “pencil” in this time — just one more way to take the load off your memory.
Rest early in the day
A midday nap is a perfect way to supplement the sleep you’re getting (or not) at night. It shouldn’t, however, disturb evening slumber. That’s why experts recommend taking a nap earlier in the day.
Of course, we all have different schedules. For a morning person, 2:00 p.m. might be midday, but for a night owl, it might be closer to 5:00. As Dr. Sara Mednick, a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Irvine, told The Guardian, naps ideally fit neatly into our circadian rhythm (the 24-hour cycle of our bodies). The time when energy dips — body temperature decreases, cognitive processes are not as strong and you find yourself grabbing a cup of coffee — is a good time for a nap.
Sure, some prolific people have gotten by on scant sleep. Margaret Thatcher famously slept less than five hours a night, along with Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson and Marie Curie. For Thomas Edison, the sweet spot was around five hours. (Then again, maybe they would have been even more successful had they made the time for more shuteye. We’ll never know.) But if the vast majority of sleep experts and health experts broadly have anything to say about it, these are success rarities, and you should aim for seven-and-a-half to eight hours per night.
Nick Littlehales is an elite sports sleep coach who’s worked with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the British cycling team, and told The Guardian that we ought to aim for seven-and-a-half hours in each 24-hour cycle, divvied up between night and daytime shuteye. So, if you sleep just six hours one night, allow yourself a longer daytime snooze. If you manage to get seven hours, plan for a quick power nap. Flexibility is key.
Make the time
When it comes to squeezing in a nap, a common refrain I hear is, “Where can I find the time?” At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I would have said the same. My days were like endless sprints on a hamster wheel, and stopping to nap would have been unthinkable… until I embraced an automation-first mindset.
Starting small, I began automating repetitive tasks like processing receipts, billing and email filtering. Later, I began to map out days into discrete workflows, and kept looking for opportunities to automate, from assigning tasks to scheduling meetings. I also encouraged my employees to do the same, and whether in confirming customer details or sending individualized follow-up emails, it turned out that there were tools and apps out there to make a variety of processes more efficient. Pretty soon, all of our systems were functioning better, and I found myself with a surplus of time (and mental energy) for more meaningful tasks, including much-needed rest. An automation-first mindset got me there.
As a business owner, one of the hardest and most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that to do more and have more impact, we sometimes have to do less. That seems contradictory on its face, but being proactive about making time to do nothing at all except shutting your eyes for 20 to 30 minutes can ultimately help you become more productive, and far happier and healthier, to boot.