I was only 22 and coming up to completing my final year at university. The final year is quite tough so I was putting the hours in during the day. I had made good friends and wanting to spend time with them, I would bond with them in the evenings and into the early hours of the morning whilst working hard during the day. I will never forget that year as I worked and played so hard.
Near the end of that year, however, I started to suffer headaches. My productivity was starting to wane and I felt regularly agitated, more than I ever had before. Things eventually came to a head when, due to coursework deadlines, I put in an ‘all-nighter’ and went 36 hours without sleep.
Three days later I had collapsed. I got admitted to hospital and stayed there overnight. I was diagnosed with severe exhaustion and ordered to rest for a week. But the damage had already been done. Not too long after, I started to suffer from eczema and when I started my trainee-accountancy position, I remember typing away on my computer and the skin on my fingers would flake away. Dry skin would deposit onto my keyboard. The itchiness of the condition made it worse. I needed steroid cream to treat it but it would be a full year before my hands stopped looking chapped and crumpled.
I looked at myself and realised that if my body is starting to fall apart now, how am I ever going to cope when I am faced with ‘real responsibility’? My career had just begun and being quite ambitious, I know I’ll face a lot more stress further along in my career.
I struggled by for a few years when I discovered sleep. I’d attend evening accountancy classes and being tired from working during the day, I could barely stay up during the class. But I’d find myself getting up 10mins later, as fresh as a daisy. I started to do this in the long hours I put into the library, when after a few hours I would enjoy a quick nap at my desk.
Years later scientific studies have started to show the benefits of sleep. For many of us, we have coffee to boost our senses if we are feeling tired or jaded. However, once the effects of the caffeine have worn off, we can suffer a ‘crash’ afterwards. In contrast, with sleep, we are not only revitalised, even with a mere 10 mins, but we can improve our memory, enhance our learning capability and also solve problems.*
Napping enabled me to revitalise myself whilst helping me process things a lot faster.
But what of my night sleep?
Well, I have studied many people who have been high achievers and one common denominator for the majority of them was that they were early risers. They got up early and did a lot of their quality work before they even got into the office. A quick and useful read on this is Laura Vanderkam’s ‘What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast’. For me, never having been an early riser, I found it tough at first – 8am was early for me. And slowly but surely, I started to getting up earlier, and now am up at 6am. It means my body has started to feel tired earlier too – usually 10pm is when I start to get ready to go to sleep.
The combination of waking earlier and enjoying a nap during the day has not only made me more productive but feeling much healthier too. You don’t need to burn the midnight oil to get things done. Sleeping when your body needs it, and getting into a good sleep routine can keep you on top of your game and keep you vitalised.
So whilst many of us don’t have issues with our major sleep, having a nap is something that many of us struggle to get to terms with. So to start of with, the question I get asked many times is that ‘I just can’t nap’. If this is the case, ask yourself one question – have you ever fallen asleep in front of the television? For the vast majority of us, this is a resounding yes! Well then, this is a nap. And if you can do it in front of the TV, you just now have to condition yourself to nap at other times. And like anything else that involves change to your body, it requires application and practice.
- Before you sleep anywhere, make sure you have a safe place to do so
- Because it is a nap, you cannot be fully horizontal. (I like to sleep at my desk – leaned back into my chair) Sleeping horizontal is the reserve of your bed where you can enjoy hours of sleep. Napping is only for 15-25 mins.
- Clear your mind of all distractions, otherwise you’ll just find it harder to sleep.
- Do allocate yourself a time of day for having the nap. This way your body can get used to this rest time.
- Make sure you have timed yourself – I put my phone on vibrate and keep it in my pocket.
- When the alarm goes off, wake up. This way you are conditioning yourself not to overdo it.
- Can’t do it the first time? Then practice, practice and practice. Soon you’ll be able to enjoy a nap whenever you feel like it.
As for me, I’ve become notorious for falling asleep whenever I sit in a comfy chair – 5-10 mins is usually enough. I can’t say the eczema has fully gone away – it sometimes comes back when I’m under stress but don’t realise it. So in this way, the eczema has come as a blessing; I have my own barometer telling me when to take it easy.