The Challenge: Lack of a good night’s sleep drastically lowers productivity
The Science: Proper practices when you wake up, at mid-day, and before bed provide more energy
The Solution: Minimize sleep inertia, use naps wisely, and try yogic breathing for the best results!
Thomas Edison, America’s greatest inventor, famously called sleep ‘a criminal waste of time’. His idea made sense at the time. With the advent of the electric light bulb, for the first time, humans were able to spend more time awake and ‘productive’ instead of having to hit the hay as soon as night fell. But fast-forward 100 years, and the notion that sleep is wasted downtime is starting to look increasingly outdated.
Not only does poor sleep seriously effect your health, but studies show it can also have negative effects on cognitive ability, creative thinking, memory retention, and work performance. In short, if you’re not getting the right amount of quality sleep, your daytime productivity is going to suffer badly. In this article, we’ll take a look at three simple but highly effective ways to hack your sleep and thereby maximize your productivity at the same time.
#1 Good Morning! Now, Ditch the Snooze Button
If you’re not a natural morning person, or you’re a heavy sleeper, the chances are, you probably consider your snooze button a friend. That extra nine minutes in bed can seem like a lifeline. But habitual snoozing is a slippery slope. One snooze can easily lead to 2 or 3, and before you know it, you’ve been hitting the snooze button for 45 minutes. The problem here, however, is that whilst you might think you’re getting a lie-in, in reality, you might be jeopardizing your energy levels for the entire day. This is because of a phenomenon that recent research describes as sleep inertia – that groggy, ‘got out of the wrong side of the bed’ feeling we’ve all known too well. Sleep inertia is caused by waking suddenly from a state of deep sleep, instead of gradually transitioning from a lighter stage of sleep into wakefulness — and the results are catastrophic for workplace productivity.
Addressing sleep inertia and its undesirable effects is, however, fairly simple. If your alarm wakes you when you’re in deep sleep, the best thing to do is get up and face the day. If you keep hitting snooze, you’re likely to end up feeling worse because your body clock doesn’t know whether it’s in deep sleep, light sleep, or it’s time to get up. This produces disrupted, restless sleep and increases the likelihood of experiencing sleep inertia (the effects of which can last for several hours after waking).
#2 Daytime Sluggishness? Caffeine + Napping = The Ultimate Power-Up!
While it may seem counterintuitive at first glance, combining a cup of coffee with a nap is actually one of the most effective ways of boosting your energy during the day. In a recent study at Hiroshima University, designed to determine the most effective means of relieving daytime fatigue, researchers discovered that the combination of both a small caffeine fix and a quick siesta provided a greater boost in energy than either one on its own.
But…wait a minute, I hear you say. Doesn’t coffee keep you awake?
Sure, caffeine is indeed a stimulant, but the hack here lies in the fact that it generally takes around 20 minutes for its effects to kick in. So, in order to successfully pull off a coffee nap, here’s what you need to do: (1) quickly down a cup of Joe, then immediately (2) seek solace in an environment suitable for a short snooze — your bed, a quiet meeting room if you’re at work or perhaps even your car.
Set your alarm for around 20 minutes, then just close your eyes. Try recruiting a pair of foam earplugs and an eye mask to really take advantage of this strategy. Then, when your alarm goes off, you’ll not only be rested from the quick nap, but you’ll have an extra surge of caffeine-laced energy to power through for the rest of the day! It may sound a bit ludicrous, but give it a try — the science certainly supports it.
#3 Tossing and Turning in Bed? Try This Simple Breathing Technique to Fall Asleep in 60 Seconds!
Even after a long, exhausting day, it can sometimes be difficult to relax to the point where we feel tired Research suggests that this is due largely in part to the actions of our autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS, which plays an essential role in regulating the internal environment of the body, including temperature, blood sugar, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels, also controls our stress and relaxation responses, there’s regulating shifts in our blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. So, then, when we’re either stressed, energized, or still fired up following a hard day’s work, our ANS continues signaling to our body to remain in action mode.
The key to winding down, therefore, lies in persuading your body to overcome the ANS’s stimulatory signals and enter a state of relaxation. Scientists have now recognized that one of the most effective methods for enacting this physiologic transition involves techniques that have been in use for thousands of years — namely, yogic breathing. In addition to granting easier access to relaxed, pre-sleep states of being, practices like alternate nostril breathing, Sudarshan Kriya, and Vipassana have also been shown to lower both blood pressure, heart rate, and startle response.
The good news is you don’t need to be a yogic master or devoted monk to benefit from guided breathing. As detailed by author Emma Seppala in The Happiness Track, a simple, nightly practice like alternate nostril breathing sufficiently counters our body’s overactive stress signaling and is simple enough to be practiced anywhere. Here’s how she describes the technique, step by step:
- Place the index and middle finger of the right hand between the eyebrows, the thumb on the right nostril, and the ring finger and pinky on the left nostril. The left hand rests on your lap, palm facing up.
- Take a deep breath in and, closing the right nostril with your thumb, breathe out through the left nostril.
- Then, take a deep breath in through the left nostril, close the left nostril with your ring finger and pinky at the end of the inhale, and exhale through the right nostril.
- Take a deep breath in through the right nostril and, closing the right nostril with the thumb, exhale on the left side. Then start over.
Excerpted from “The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success.” Copyright © by Emma Seppala. Reprinted by permission of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
And that’s it. So next time you’re wired and can’t get to sleep, be sure to give alternate-nostril breathing a try.