Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: Sleep (page 1 of 3)

Making to-do lists before bed can help you fall asleep (and solve problems)

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest reports on a new study that finds that making lists before bed can “help you fall asleep more quickly.”

Before they tried to sleep, half of the participants spent five minutes “writing about everything you have to remember to do tomorrow and over the next few days”. The others spent the same time writing about any activities they’d completed that day and over the previous few days.

The key finding is that the participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep more quickly. They took about 15 minutes to fall asleep, on average, compared with 25 minutes for those in the “jobs already done” condition. Moreover, among those in the to-do list group, the more thorough and specific their list, the more quickly they fell asleep, which would seem to support a kind of off-loading explanation. Another interpretation is that busier people, who had more to write about, tended to fall asleep more quickly. But this is undermined by the fact that among the jobs-done group, those who wrote in more detail tended to take longer to fall asleep.

I write in REST about the creative benefits of stopping work in mid-sentence. It makes it easier to resume work the next day, and it gives your creative subconscious a chance to work on problems while your conscious self does other things. (John Cleese talks about discovering this when he was first writing comedy; Linus Pauling developed a whole method for solving problems around intentionally thinking about problems before bed.)

And when I’m deep in writing, I will spend a couple minutes before bed making a list of the things to write about the next morning. I’ve never tried to figure out if there’s a correlation between list-making and how well I sleep, but when I’m writing I rarely have trouble falling asleep. So maybe that’s an unintended benefit.

Anyway, while this is an early study, it suggests yet another reason to make brief lists before bed: not only will to help you solve problems faster (and even make progress while you sleep), it’ll help you sleep better.
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Learning to nap

Writer, cyclist and “occasional triathlete” AC Shilton talks about a month-long experiment learning how to nap:

I keep farmer’s hours, getting up at 5:30 to squeeze in a workout and feed my horse. While I love having a few ping-free hours before the content mill that is journalism churns to life, 0-dark-30 wakeup times result in drowsy afternoons. Around 2 p.m., after my sandwich has been devoured, I often find myself glassy-eyed and refreshing Twitter ad nauseam. Worse, by the end of the workday, I tend to be overtaken by sloth and skip out on the gym or cut my interval session short….

A nap seemed like it might be the solution to my post-lunch lethargy and workout wussiness. And since I work from home, there was nothing stopping me. I waste a good 30 minutes a day (probably more if we’re being honest) rabbit hole-ing through the Internet, so why not repurpose those squandered minutes into a few gasps of actual rest?

The article is especially good if you’re on of those people who is convinced that they can’t nap, or that you don’t have time for it.

Excerpt from naps chapter of REST

Michael Hyatt (his Leader Box featured REST as one of its two titles this month) has launched a new magazine, and features an excerpt from REST in the first issue.

The excerpt opens with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, which my wife and I made during a trip to London in 2015. I’d heard that the War Rooms were cool, but as I recall we went there more or less on a whim (or at least it wasn’t a super-high priority); but it turned out to be a pretty revelatory visit.

The exhibits describe the ups and downs of his political career; his indefatigable energy defending Britain and the empire; his eloquence and skill as a writer; his daily life during the war; and his mix of political opportunism, realpolitik, and idealism. But one aspect of his working life gets only a brief mention, at the end of the tour: his habit of taking daily naps.

Churchill himself regarded his midday naps as essential for maintaining his mental balance, renewing his energy, and reviving his spirits. He had gotten into the habit of napping during World War I, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and even during the Blitz, Churchill would retire to his private room in the War Rooms after lunch, undress, and sleep for an hour or two. Unless German bombs were falling, he would then head to 10 Downing Street for a bath, change into fresh clothes, and return to work. Churchill’s valet, Frank Sawyers, later recalled, “It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.”

It was also the visit that got me to pay some attention to Churchill’s love of painting. There are a couple panels devoted to his painting, but they were enough to make me track down his book Painting as a Pastime.

"Armed with a paintbox, one cannot be bored"

That, in turn, made its way into my discussion of “deep play” in the book.

I just wish I’d taken more pictures of the War Rooms while I was there, but given that you see everything from behind big plexiglas sheets, most of the space wouldn’t have photographed very well anyway. Instead, here’s another picture of Big Ben.

Big Ben and Parliament

There are also pieces on the value of sabbaticals, the importance of hobbies (hello deep play!), and drivers of overwork. All worth a read.

Nap cafes in Korea

So apparently nap cafes are now a thing in Korea.

Mr. Healing, a “healing” cafe franchise, has opened 47 branches in just two years. Three more are set to open by early May.

“The customers vary from people who come alone to couples, friends, families, travellers — simply anyone who needs a break in their life,” said Park Hye-sun, manager of Mr. Healing in Myeong-dong, central Seoul.

The coffee store devotes half of its 115-square-meter space to a healing room. Customers who purchase beverages can nestle in big massage chairs and relax for up to 50 minutes.

Within Korea, it’s part of something called the “fast healing” movement (which sounds largely like a marketing term), but it’s getting exported. According to the Hindustan Times, Koreans are on the leading edge of a cultural trend across Asia (as they so often are), and in Tokyo and London there are pop-up nap cafes (one was cosponsored by food giant Nestlé and bedding company Caspar).

Even Korean movie theaters are getting into the business:

CGV, Korea’s biggest cinema chain, has also jumped on the bandwagon. In March, the chain began offering a siesta service. During lunchtime, customers can lay on a fully reclining chair in its premium theaters listening to the sounds of nature, with a cup of tea and blanket.

Happy National Napping Day!


Since today is National Napping Day, I thought I would highlight this recent article by Christopher Lindholst in Corporate Wellness Magazine:

As companies review and adjust their budgets for the year currently underway, there’s a line item many may be overlooking: naps. Sleeping on the job was an activity companies frowned on in the past; it could even be a firing offense. But, as scientific evidence showing how beneficial short rest periods are for productivity and learning becomes more widely known company leaders are rethinking their sleep policies.

Today, many world-renowned enterprises — including Google, Mercedes Financial and AXA have onsite napping pods. They know that short rest periods during the workday can sharpens employees’ minds, help prevent chronic disease and enhance learning retention. Napping facilities also help employees beat the “afternoon crash” so many office workers experience.

The fact that high-tech companies and other industry leaders are budgeting for naps gives the workplace short-rest concept a distinctly modern cast. But, the fact is, napping has always been a secret weapon of high-achieving leaders, including Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, all of whom made a daily nap part of their workday regimen, according to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.

Research shows that a recharging nap can also enhance creativity as well as sharpen leadership skills. And Pang notes that many famously creative people scheduled short rest periods into their daily routine, including writers J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Jonathan Franzen, Thomas Mann and Stephen King. Once derided as the habit of slackers, naps are actually a favorite tactic of workaholics.

So take a nap!

“We’re still stuck in this perception of sleep as a luxury”

The BBC has a piece about “How to nap successfully at work.” For a short piece, it ranges pretty widely, talking about the various national approaches to napping at work, and providing some useful specific advice about the practice.

The one thing it seems to me that’s not really mentioned but deserves more attention is the power of making napping a collective phenomenon: when it’s something that everyone in an office does (or is allowed to do), that creates an environment and set of expectations that allows people to rest better.

“why so liberal and impartial a benefactor as sleep, should meet with so few historians”

I’m working on a short ebook on my early morning practice and how it illustrates the way I combine work and rest, and (via Roger Ekirch’s classic work on biphasic sleep in early modern England) came across Samuel Johnson’s 1732 Adventurer Essay No. 39, “On Sleep.” Johnson wonders “why so liberal and impartial a benefactor as sleep, should meet with so few historians or panegyrists:”

Writers are so totally absorbed by the business of the day, as never to turn their attention to that power, whose officious hand so seasonably suspends the burden of life; and without whose interposition man would not be able to endure the fatigue of labour, however rewarded, or the struggle with opposition, however successful.

I hear you, Johnson. I hear you!

After discussing the role of sleep in the lives of peasants, princes, and poets, he then connects restorative sleep to virtue and hard work:

Sleep, therefore, as the chief of all earthly blessings, is justly appropriated to industry and temperance; the refreshing rest, and the peaceful night, are the portion only of him who lies down weary with honest labour, and free from the fumes of indigested luxury; it is the just doom of laziness and gluttony, to be inactive without ease, and drowsy without tranquillity.

Once again, we see a connection between depth of work and value of rest: just as I argue in my book, Johnson is arguing that we should see the quality of rest and work as connected, each reinforcing and supporting the other.

Another thing to look for when I’m in London: Nick Littlehales’ new book on sleep

Nick Littlehales, a sleep coach who’s worked with many world-class athletes and is a fellow Penguin Life author (I can’t tell you how cool it is to be able to put myself in that category), has a new book, Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps… and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind. The Guardian has an excerpt on the secret of power napping.

One of the most important secrets of power naps (or Controlled Recovery Periods, as he calls them), is that you don’t really need to sleep in order to get benefits. There are people who resist naps on the grounds that “they simply ‘can’t nap.’ But,” it turns, out, “it doesn’t matter:”

What’s important is that you use this period to close your eyes and disconnect from the world for a short while. Falling asleep is great, but so is catching that place on the verge of sleep, when you’re not quite awake but not quite asleep either. It’s tapping into that point of the day when you’re not really thinking about anything at all, when your mind is a blank.

This is what scientists call hypnagogia, and it’s a state that some creatives, most notably Salvador Dali, actively used to tap their creative subconscious. But, Littlehales reveals, even if you never have Surrealist visions of melting clocks, bring in that state does you good.

Churchill’s naps

I’ve mentioned Churchill’s naps (and the napping habits of leaders, and people who want to be leaders) in several posts, but his history of napping is worth a post.

Churchill got into the habit of napping when he was First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I. His military counterpart, the elderly First Sea Lord John Fisher, was up and working between four and five in the morning, and by the afternoon “the formidable energy of the morning gradually declined, and with the shades of night the old Admiral’s giant strength was often visibly exhausted.” Churchill admired and was fascinated by Fisher, though their relationship was often difficult: both men regarded themselves as strategic geniuses, and their dynamic illustrated “one of Churchill’s strengths,” as Oxford historian Roy Jenkins put it: “although he wanted to dominate those around him, he wanted to do it over first- and not second-rate people.”

But it’s revealing that whatever their conflicts, Churchill recalled that he “altered my [daily] routine somewhat to fit in with that of the First Sea Lord.” Previously he had gotten up at seven in the morning; he now pushed that back to eight, “and I slept again, if possible, for an hour after luncheon.” Churchill found that long nap after lunch had the effect of allowing him “to work continuously till one or two in the morning without feeling in any way fatigued,” and he and Fisher now “constituted an almost unsleeping watch throughout the day and night.”

Even after resigning as First Lord after the Gallipoli disaster in 1915, and during his “years in the wilderness” in the 1930s when he was excluded from public service, Churchill kept up the habit of napping. Churchill didn’t just take a snooze at his desk. He retired to his private room, undressed and crawled into his single bed. After an hour or two, he arose.

During the war, Churchill had a room in the War Rooms set aside to sleep if they were under attack. If not, he headed to Number 10 Downing Street for a bath, and changed into fresh clothes. This may seem fussy, but his valet Frank Sawyers observed,

The effect of this complete break is usually to make two working days out of one– and he literally does twice the amount of work of the average person and exerts himself for twice the length of the conventional eight-hour day. [As a result…] It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.

So inflexible was this rule that, as his valet recalled, “there was always a bed provided for him in the Houses of Parliament” where he would “get his sleep in before an important debate.”

During the war, Churchill went to great lengths to sleep comfortably when he was traveling. His plane was equipped with a custom-built pressure chamber with a shelf for books and brandy, a telephone, and its own air circulation system to remove cigar smoke. It allowed him to “loll comfortably like an outsized pearl within a gigantic oyster shell,” and gave him the extra oxygen his doctors insisted he have at high altitudes.

Is your brain’s need for stimulation leading to sleep deprivation? You suffer from “Trump Syndrome”!

Science of Us writer Drake Baer lays out the argument that Donald Trump’s, umm, distinctive personality characteristics can be blamed on (or are exacerbated by) sleep deprivation:

Earlier on in the race, Trump trumpeted his sleeping style. “I have a great temperament for success,” he said at an event in Illinois last November. “You know, I’m not a big sleeper, I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.”

But this doesn’t mean that he only needs a couple hours of sleep; rather, Trump “shows all the scary symptoms of sleep deprivation:”

You can see it in his impulsiveness, whether it’s retweeting bogus crime statistics and anti-Semitic images or taking the bait from Hillary in roaring about Alicia Machado. Experimental laboratory research finds that when randomly assigned people are sleep-deprived for just one night, they’re worse at recognizing whether faces look happy or sad, which speaks to a blunting of empathy, a quality that Trump is astoundingly short on. Similarly, one night’s sleep deprivation increased psychosis-like symptoms in healthy adults.

In fact, as Baer notes, in Scientific American Mind Daniel Barron, a Yale University resident physician and neuroscientist (now THERE’S a combination that guarantees a good night’s sleep) reports that he and his colleagues

often joke about whether patients of a particular temperament are suffering from what we called “Trump Syndrome”– a ravenous late-night craving for stimulation that results in a sometimes sporadic, often slender sleep schedule.

Even if you assume that just about everything Trump does reflects, in his view, that he’s successful the way other people are tall or smart, it’s notable that Trump describes sleeping little as part of “a great temperament for success.”

This is notable because it’s an attitude that lots of people share; and while there are a tiny number of people who can function on very little sleep (just as there small numbers of people who can eat anything and not gain weight, or can sleep absolutely anywhere), that’s a genetic endowment that doesn’t seem to be correlated with Success. (It’s also notable that Trump tries to feminize the need for rest, and make it a sign of weakness.)

But as I explain in REST, many leaders recognized the importance of rest, and felt they made better decisions when they were well-rested. Winston Churchill took long naps every afternoon during World War I (when he ran the Admiralty) and World War II (when he ran Great Britain). When he planning the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942, Dwight Eisenhower rented a small cottage outside London, where he and his aide would escape for a day. American presidents are criticized for being slackers whenever they step out of the Oval Office, but downtime is essential for them to recharge and be able to focus during real emergencies.

In contrast, sleep deprivation plays a well-known role in bad decision-making. And that’s not just in laboratory studies, or studies of pilot error or accidents. The Greek-Eurozone negotiations went badly, according to some insiders, because everyone was sleep-deprived. And Baer notes that Bill Clinton has said that “most of the mistakes that he made in his long political career came because he was ‘too tired,’ and he told Jon Stewart that ‘sleep deprivation has a lot to do with some of the edginess of Washington today’.”

As usual, history provides a perfect object lesson in the value of sleep and costs of sleep deprivation. The Nazis were big believers in the use of drugs like meth to deliver superhuman, Aryan-ideal levels of performance among soldiers and pilots, and Hitler was an avid consumer of all kinds of performance-enhancing drugs. Churchill, in contrast, took two-hour naps after lunch, and even during the Blitz, when it was too dangerous to leave the War Rooms and return to Number 10 Downing Street, he would sleep. Which approach won World War II?

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