Imagine sleeping 20 hours a day. JORDAN WHITT

We've talked about sleep the last time around, but its miniature counterpart has been just as conveniently neglected. See, before modernity utterly ruined our shut-eye habits, homo sapiens napped. Otherwise known as the biphasic (two-phased) sleep, the practice is far from cultural or geographical.

Even sleep-hater Edison loved naps. Acclaimed power-nappers include Einstein, who birthed the theory of relativity in a nap. Winston Churchill advocated that non-negotiable napping was the key to success in his battle strategies.

This short recuperation that we are genetically and biologically hardwired to take has now woefully dwindled into a post-lunch coma that we ignore altogether. Instead, we attempt to defeat the lull by counterproductively consuming coffee or energy drinks. And the repercussions aren’t minor.

The afternoon siestas once routine to southern Europe are now progressively disappearing, along with the robust cardiovascular health of its citizens. The disowning of naps palpably led to a rise in mortality risk by well over 60 percent.

So it’s not a matter of should you nap, because the answer is clearly yes. The question is how should you nap? Since we have not mastered sleep switching between each half of the brain the way dolphins do, here are some ways you can hit a quick snooze if you don’t WFH.

Cat nap, geddit?? LAUREN KAY

Make it a trend

Tell everyone about this amazing new restorative therapy (technically not a lie) you are currently undergoing that significantly boosts your health, only requiring 20 minutes of silent meditation (might not work with sleep apnoea) every afternoon, eyes closed.

Decorate strategically

Get a fitting tablecloth for your desk. Install a desk hammock underneath (desk should be of sizeable dimensions). Occasionally accidentally knock stationery off desk.

Negotiate

Discuss medical leave privileges with your boss to work out a new term to use it, divided by minutes, on naps. This should bring you to half-hour naps every workday …if you manage not to fall sick the entire year.

Consider a career change

If all else fails, quit your job and work for Google where you will be guaranteed office nap pods. Together with NASA and Nike, these companies take advantage of this highly accessible and proven method to boost employee productivity and profitability.

In the fast-paced, first-world professional world, the employee who’s most on the ball, responding to emails past midnight and in the office before nine, is glorified. It has almost become a boast to say that you’ve been too busy to sleep. We all know someone who mentions his or her lack of sleep with pride. Along with ‘sleep is for the weak’, there persists a stubborn yet baseless business culture that adheres to the futility of sleep.

The phenomenon of encouraging insufficient sleep is strange, given how much attention corporations pay towards other areas of employee health, safety and conduct. Somehow we’re stuck on the notion that time spent on task equates to efficiency of task. Regrettably, this is not just a misguided blunder, but a costly one too.

The price of bad sleep

A net annual capital loss of SGD18 million, a result of collective declined productivity rate, is found in companies where employees don’t get enough sleep. These employees are not just less productive, they are also less creative, less motivated and prone to making unethical decisions. On a managerial level, this makes them less charismatic and more abusive. On a national scale, inadequate sleep robs countries of more than two percent of their GDP—roughly the entire cost of its military and almost as much as its investment in education. Just let that sink in.

Sure, there exists a sleep elite, a group that is adept at getting six hours of sleep with minimal impairment. Members of this group carry a sub-variant of the BHLHE41 or Dec2 gene that allows them to sleep no longer than this duration even in the absence of alarms. Don’t be deluded into thinking you could be one of them because this anomaly is so rare that you stand a higher chance of being struck by lightning. Expressed as a percentage of the population, the rounded whole number would be zero.

So for the rest of us mortals, here are three things that could help improve sleep quality.

MYTH: Melatonin or alcohol can help me sleep

Want to actually sleep? Maybe skip the nightcap.
Maybe skip the nightcap. UNSPLASH

You probably know Melatonin as a hormone responsible for your dozing off, but sleep is not a block of time when you are knocked unconscious. Human beings, and all living things, live in constant oscillation. You have a circadian rhythm, an internal clock which coordinates according to external social and environmental factors (running at 24 hours and 11 minutes, according to an extensive cave adventure by the godfather of modern sleep medicine, Nathaniel Kleitman, and his science buddy Bruce Richardson). You are simultaneously on another beat working at 90-minute cycles. The ultradian rhythm is what maintains the equilibrium of rest and fatigue.

RECOMMENDATION: Avoid it

Besides melatonin, "quick fixes" like a nightcap may shorten the amount of time taken to fall asleep, but its presence in the bloodstream can disrupt the second half of the sleep cycle and the important information consolidation process that takes place during REM sleep. Meaning you get sleep, but not deep, restorative sleep. Alcohol also impairs breathing in sleep, affecting the brain’s breathing centre by masking the effect of low oxygen levels in the bloodstream, which leads to sleep apnoea. So while sleep is one way of energy renewal, the other essential things we do while awake also play a big role in the quality of our sleep. Nutrition, hydration, movement, relationships. Melatonin and the likes are merely the signal to sleep and not what effectualises it.

MYTH: I know when I'm sleep-deprived and can reset it

What you look like sleep-deprived, but less cute.
What you look like sleep-deprived, but less cute. UNSPLASH

The thing about chronic (yes, chronic) sleep deficiency over years, or simply months, is that deteriorated alertness, energy and general capacity become the norm to the individual. Even while reading this, you might feel perfectly all right. But what if we told you that based on epidemiological studies of average sleep time, you are living in a sublime compromise in your mental and physical states? If you were to compare it to alcohol, which we all know can severely impede our mind, being awake for 17 hours (usually between 7am and midnight), makes your cognitive impairment no different from one who is legally drunk.

This was proven by the School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, which took two groups of healthy adults, intoxicated the first bunch to the legal driving limit, and kept the other bunch awake. The results of the concentration test by the latter were equivalent or worse. And if you think you can take the weekend to pay off your sleep debt, dream on. Assuming you sleep much less than eight hours a day, Stanford University Sleep Research Center shows even after three nights of ‘recovery’ sleep, your performance will not return to the original baseline of those who sleep the regular eight.

RECOMMENDATION: Make it a habit

Not the sleeplessness, the positive wind-down rituals. You know them, the ones prescribed by Doctor Google. No heavy meals hours prior, switching off your phone, breathing exercises, etc. Setting an alarm to sleep is a good one. You have one to wake, so why not? It’s all about discipline. Even if they don’t show immediate results, practice them for at least 21 days (the average span for an action to become a habit). 

MYTH: The optimal sleep window is before midnight to 7AM

Yes, sleep chronotypes are a thing.
Yes, chronotypes are a thing. UNPLASH

This is true. But only for 40 percent of the population. In adults, our preference for sleeping and waking times are based on our chronotype, which is pretty much programmed into our DNA. Unfortunately for the 30 percent of ‘evening types’, common societal practice restricts them from performing to their potential (usually past work hours), and leave them prone to ill health as a result of a forced early waking time and an innate inability to sleep until far later.

The reason for this genetic inequality? In a time before warm, cosy homes came along, this variation would reduce the period of vulnerability in a community of species living together. So while everyone gets ideally eight hours of sleep, the collective group is only in danger for half that duration. If you believe you belong to a special nocturnal group... the remaining 30 percent are just chronotypes who function best between morning and evening.

RECOMMENDATION: Stop trying so hard

While it is good practice to stick to a sleep schedule, don’t lie in bed awake if you simply can’t fall asleep. Don’t allow yourself to be susceptible to attentional bias. Instead, go do something relaxing. Read (but not on devices because you know, blue light). Drink some milk. Daydream even. Picture yourself doing what you enjoy. It’s crucial to avoid exposure to information about sleep to take your focus off trying to sleep and unnecessarily scaring yourself with symptoms you believe you have that you actually don’t.

Every gamer knows the feeling. You're enjoying your favourite game, when all of the sudden: the sun rises, the clock reads 6am, and you realise that you've accidentally played through the night. We've all done it, so don't lie to me and say that you haven't; just accept that we've chosen to walk the Gamer's Path. Curse our squishy, human bodies for needing to shut down for a third of every day! If only we could play Tears of the Kingdom forever.

Well, those diabolical geniuses over at Nintendo were listening—and they've somehow done the impossible yet again. Enter Pokémon Sleep, which is a combination of two totally disparate things: a sleep tracker and a video game. Has Nintendo finally created a title that you can play when you're unconscious? Is 24/7 gaming now a reality?! Surprisingly... yes. In just my short time with the game so far, the mobile app is clearly more than a glorified alarm clock. Pokémon Sleep is the most intriguing experience the popular collect 'em all franchise has created in recent memory. Well, at least since Pokémon Go had me running around outside at night, pointing my phone at trees.

Pokemon Sleep is clearly meant to teach a younger audience how create good sleep habits. The thing is? I can actually see it working.

Here's the gist: like any sleep-tracking app, Pokémon Sleep needs to sit on your bedside, listening to and registering every toss and turn. Based on how well you slumber, different Pokémon will appear in the morning. If you were restless all night, maybe you'll see an exhausted Pikachu but get the recommended amount of deep, well-rested sleep, and your Pokémon Sleep camp will be full of slumbering creatures. Pokémon Sleep also boasts a full Pokédex of adorable entries, all of which describe various Pokémon's favourite ways to sleep.

Don't enjoy the gameplay? Well, Pokémon Sleep is also a fully-functioning sleep tracker, providing insight into not only how many hours you snoozed per night—but how well you slept. Pokémon Sleep splits your sleep quality into three categories: Dozing (you probably have one eye half-open), Snoozing (solid!), and Slumbering (you went full Snorlax, buddy)and at the end of every night, you get a sleep score. (More on that soon.) The game is clearly geared toward teaching a younger audience into creating a good sleep schedule and develop habits. The thing is—I can easily see Pokémon Sleep actually working for kids. The experience is cute, won't demand much of your time, and it features Pokémon. Who wouldn't want that?

I went to bed last night thinking, Pikachu is going to be so mad at me.

There is, of course, some weird mobile-game wonkiness going on in Pokémon Sleep, which might leave you wanting to use a Fitbit like a normal adult. Pokémon Sleep's story revolves around a Snorlax that you're raising and researching while you dream. When you wake up, your sleep report converts to "Drowsy Power," which is a numerical score in the millions. I slept for six hours and earned a sleep score of 60/100. When multiplied by Snorlax's 40,000 strength, it became a Drowsy Power of 2,400,000. (Makes sense!) You can also increase Snorlax's strength with meals, snacks, and countless other little treats that serve as in-game microtransactions—which cost real money. I can't imagine spending a dime on this game just to get a higher score. But who knows! With access to their parents' credit card information, children wield unlimited power.

I'm not sure if Pokémon Sleep will fix my real problem: how late I stay up watching TV and/or doomscrolling. But last night, I went to bed thinking, Pikachu is going to be so mad at me! And he was! It wasn't my intention to upset the little guy! So maybe, just maybePokémon Sleep will fix me.

Originally published on Esquire US

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