“EnergyPod activated. Enjoy your MetroNap,” said a soft voice from the speaker. As the chair’s leg rest rose, I settled back to the relaxing sounds of waves and synthesizer melodies and closed my eyes beneath the dome-like shield.
I almost forgot that I was in downtown Minneapolis — and in the middle of a workday.
A place to power nap is becoming an office wellness amenity, as employers begin to see sleeping on the job as a way to boost productivity, not a sign of laziness.
As part of a recent renovation, Fifth Street Towers added two MetroNaps EnergyPods (chairs designed for workplace napping) to their tenant amenity center. The pods gently wake you with soft light and vibrations after 20 minutes.
“They’re rarely empty,” said Reed Christianson, a principal with Transwestern, the building’s leasing team.
Power naps — whether at your desk or in a fancy pod — are just one of the most popular sleep hacks that local experts suggest. This week, our Snooze Goal is to try at least one of these suggestions, and hack our way to better sleep. Your sleep diary will give you clues about which hacks might be best suited to your natural sleep schedule and lifestyle.
30-day Sleep challenge
Over the course of four weeks, make sleep a high priority, discover your natural sleep cycles and try small adjustments that local experts say can make a big difference in how well rested we are. Each week we’ll introduce a specific challenge, set snooze goals and provide information about the science of sleep.
Join the challenge
Here are four ways to boost sleep and be better rested:
Power nap: This works best for folks who want to stay up a little later and get an energy boost without relying on caffeine.
Humans are “natural nappers” who typically feel a lull in the afternoon, said Dr. Michael Howell, a sleep medicine doctor and associate neurology professor at the University of Minnesota. Taking a 10- to 20-minute nap or a longer 90-minute snooze can make for a more productive afternoon and evening, he said.
A nap isn’t necessarily a good idea for someone who struggles to fall asleep at bedtime, he said. But for the rest of us, even those who think they are incapable of napping, it’s worth a try.
“Napping takes practice,” said Howell. “Recognize that most people when they start napping, aren’t any good at it.”
First, identify when your natural napping time is.
“If you go to bed at 10 and wake up at 6, what’s the midpoint of that? It’s about 2 a.m. That means that your natural naptime is 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Exactly 12 hours apart,” Howell said.
Another way to find your ideal naptime, he suggested, is to minimize stimulants like coffee and energy drinks, and “listen to what your brain is telling you in the afternoon.”
Once you have the timing down, seek out a place that’s comfortable, cool and quiet.
We sleep in 90-minute cycles, passing through different stages — drifting off, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. If you don’t have time to nap for a full 90 minutes, it’s better to try a shorter 10- to 20-minute power nap, Howell said. That’s because trying to wake from a deep sleep can leave you groggier than when you began.
To nap, he suggests you sit down, close your eyes, and drop your head. Don’t use a blanket for a short nap, because your body’s drop in temperature during sleep will help you wake up naturally.
“If you can fall asleep, great, but if not, don’t worry about it. Just keep plugging away at it like you’re practicing the piano or trying to hit a golf ball,” Howell said.
Therapy light: This hack is for those who struggle through groggy mornings, especially natural night owls who have to wake up early, said Howell.
“Focus on doing the right thing in the morning to pay it forward to yourself, so it’s easier to fall asleep tomorrow night,” Howell said.
He suggests spending about a half-hour in front of a 10,000-lux lamp soon after rising. It provides your body with artificial sunlight, which helps you wake up and shifts your circadian rhythm earlier. (Real sunlight works, too, of course, but it tends to be in short supply at this time of year.)
For more extreme night owls (those who have trouble getting to sleep at night and would sleep in by four to six hours on the weekend), he recommends combining the morning light with a very small dose (one milligram) of melatonin in the evening.
“You can take melatonin not just to help fall asleep but actually to help wake up in the morning. You’re pulling your circadian rhythm earlier,” he said. “That’s what you’re doing. Don’t think of it as a sleeping pill.
“Let’s say you are a person who would like to sleep in until noon, but have to wake up at 7. So you’re using the lightbox at 7. The other thing you can do is take melatonin at 7 at night. That’s 12 hours apart. The lightbox is giving you your sunrise and the melatonin is giving you your sunset.”
Meditation: This can make it easier to wind down and quiet your brain at bedtime. But it also can help boost sleep quality, which is why both Twin Cities wellness coach Amy Mattila and M Health Fairview pulmonologist and sleep expert Dr. Conrad Iber recommend it.
“Meditation can help you to start to tell the nervous system it’s time to relax and to unwind,” said Mattila.
You can practice on your own, or using a meditation app like Calm or Headspace. Iber also suggested searching for sleep meditations on YouTube and listening to the audio only.
Meditation during the day can also help with sleep. A recent Dutch study found that two weeks of listening to short audio meditations (spending 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes after work) improved both quality and quantity of sleep.
The researchers focused on four specific mindfulness exercises that aid in sleep:
• Focusing attention on the breath.
• Doing a body scan, where you focus attention on different parts of the body.
• Mindfully focusing on an everyday task such as brushing your teeth or drinking tea.
• A loving kindness practice, in which you send feelings of compassion to yourself and others.
Gratitude affirmations: This hack is for sleepers who have trouble calming their mind, either when trying to fall asleep at bedtime or when they awake in the middle of the night, said Sleep Health Specialists’ Sarah Moe.
“Right before bed, say out loud, audibly, three things that you hope to accomplish the next day, and three things that you are grateful for,” said Moe. “When you hear those things, it not only releases some worry for the next day, but also the gratitude portion releases a relaxing and calming hormone that helps initiate sleep.”
Oh, and if you try this one in the middle of the night, it’s OK to whisper, she said.