Monday April 29, 2019
I just woke up from a nap and wrote down a post-nap “9/10 appraisal” of my day, accompanied by glowing notes like “things are pretty good. I think (crazy hectic project) will turn out well.”
This happens more, the more I learn to take productive naps. And today it was so pleasantly shocking, in its own way (I have traveled many moons from the harsh desert climate of those 3/10 days), that I thought I’d once again point out the importance of periodic naps, and share some of my notes.
Here are some of my most common napping-related practices:
Noticing when I’ve “furrowed out”
My body seems to run in cycles from high energy to sleepiness. I have learned to notice when I’ve hit a furrow, or the bottom of a cycle where I’m relatively sleepy. If I wait too long to fall asleep, I might not be able to get there.
When I’m headed toward that furrow, it’s a great time to think about a nap.
Noticing high-anxiety activities
Some of these activities naturally point to the need for a nap. For example:
- Listening to loud music
- Overeating / stress eating
- Getting into Internet arguments
- Making no headway on important to-do items
- A feeling of being slightly agitated or keyed up in an uncomfortable way
- Surfing too much web
Pre-nap Executive Thinking
Being a J personality (judging – executive / organizational), and yet a Pi-dominant personality (Ni in this case; can be too perceptive-focused and ignore the executive work) at the same time, I have found that some structure and organization is usually or even always helpful to me.
It helps me to do some executive thinking before a nap. That is, instead of just taking in information, like “oh yeah, a nap feels like a great idea”; directly address the question of tiredness, what you’ll do about it, and how it will affect your work or other plans.
I find that if I don’t do this, concerns can pile up in the back of my head and make the nap difficult, if not impossible. Or, I may just wake up early and feel agitated.
It helps if I can somehow both justify and rationally explain how the nap will coexist with and support my other tasks, in other words.
This is best done in speech or in writing. Today, I talked it out with my wife casually as we ate lunch.
It’s important to get some thinking done regarding my post-nap work, as well. I don’t usually plan my immediate post-nap sequence in detail ahead of time, but I do like to have a basic written idea (not in my head! Too easy to forget) of what I will need to do in order to get started on my post-nap work.
In other words, I want a handle on my work so that I can more easily pick it up. Otherwise I have to rely on my innate memory, and my mind is great at blanking that stuff out unless I work to trick it somehow.
- I send a message to my wife and let her know I’ll be laying down for a while.
- Lights off
- In my office there’s a skylight, so having something like a hat to place over the peripheral vision helps
- Relaxing music on – Example
- All phone notifications off
- Computer notifications off
- Attention paid to comfort level of body
- Shoes off, maybe socks off
- Items taken out of pockets
- Blanket, hoodie, or both available as needed
- Drool-proof pillow (kidding, just clean the pillow. But man, one of my least favorite parts of having a beard is naptime drool beard)
- Alarm only if absolutely necessary because an alarm can prevent sleep
When laying down, attempting to sleep
Sometimes I’ll read just before sleep, and I have to tell you that Sherlock Holmes books are fantastic for this. :-) Also helpful are biographies and other calming titles, for example Michael Crichton’s Travels is another favorite here, as is The Andromeda Strain, which I find incredibly calming for a thriller.
Putting the book down, I usually try to find a mental image that calms me into a meditative state. I can’t often predict the imagery that will work. Today I imagined my middle son growing into a healthy adult. The mental image of him standing healthy and happy in his athletic clothes and preparing to play some sports on a warm summer day calmed me down and I drifted into sleep for a few seconds. When I woke up I thought, “that’s cool, I like that image, I’m proud of my son” and then I was out.
I do find it common to fall asleep, wake up, and then repeat this a few times before finally falling into deeper sleep. I do my best to persist through it.
Back when I spent a lot of time building models out of paper, imagining the process of building a MiG-21 model out of paper seemed to put me to sleep within a minute or two every time.
When the imagery isn’t working for any reason, I find that focusing on my breathing can help.
After waking up
While I’m still in a drowsy post-nap mode, I try to take a quick glance at a clock to see if more sleep is either needed or appropriate.
Sometimes I’m able to capture the relaxed mode of my brain immediately after a nap and use it to get really good answers to hard questions (“I’m locked up in situation X, what do I do?”), or do silly things like rapping for a few minutes in a way that I’d never be able to repeat outside of such a mode, or cracking funny jokes. Try it sometime—it’s kind of fun.
After a bit of that though, it’s common to feel a need for an executive-type “break out” and a way to take the nap energy forward into a productive day.
During this time I tend to grab my phone and make a quick to-do list. As a productivity hack, my to-do lists never include general descriptions of things (everything must be broken down into max 2-5 minute tasks), so today’s list was:
- Take supplements (100mg caffeine, 200mg L-Theanine, Gingko & Phosphatidylserine). I like to take some caffeine after a nap to capitalize on the productive circumstances. L-Theanine seems to reduce my natural anxiety floor just a little bit. And the G&P, IDK what those do. Oh yeah! They support good memory, or something like that. (Still in the prospective phase with this one)
- Transcribe meeting notes from yellow note pad
- Print out PDF document
- Put a movie I’ve already seen, or a podcast, on in the background
After I’ve written “enough” to get going I’ll know it because one of the tasks feels easily doable and even motivating to think about, or I’ll think an anxiety-inducing thought (if I go into the house right now, so-and-so my wife’s friend might not be there yet) and find myself instantly getting up.
Back at Work
After doing that simple post-wakeup stuff, I inevitably find myself back at the office desk. At these times I try to keep up the executive tempo by filling out my journaling template, and otherwise getting the thoughts out of my head and onto paper, or the computer, etc.
When a Nap Can’t Happen
If the nap simply can’t happen, simply getting into a relaxed position (I prefer to lay down) and listening to energizing music while e.g. doing some light reading or closing the eyes is very helpful. In addition, if I can do some active imagination, this is also helpful. In order to accomplish active imagination in a productive way, I try to imagine a healing area from my memory. One of these is a favorite park I visited as a child. I then let my intuition change my experience and I stay open to various interpretations.
There are so many specific forms of meditation that I hesitate to call such an activity “meditation,” but I find that the resulting feeling of re-balancing is similar.
Phew, I can’t believe how much information that was, yet I just do that all naturally at this point. So keep that in mind—it took me a while to learn, and it may take you some time to get yourself into a comfortable state where you do this kind of therapeutic napping in an improved way.
Good luck with your naps!