The secret of sleep power napping

A 30 minute sleep power nap works for pilots and footballers – and you too, says sleep coach Nick Littlehales.

A 30 minute sleep power nap works for pilots and footballers - and you too, says sleep coach Nick Littlehales.

A study by the University of Düsseldorf has shown that even very short naps enhance memory processing, while a Nasa study, looking at their effects on pilots on long flights, reported: “Naps can maintain or improve subsequent performance, physiological and subjective alertness, and mood.”

One of the authors of that report, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US, has said that “a 26 minute nap improves performance in pilots by 34% and alertness by 54%”.

Naps are of critical importance to pilots flying long-haul – they fit one in while the co-pilot takes over, later reaping the benefits of improved alertness. They are a significant performance enhancer for athletes, too, and they can have the same benefits for anyone. A 30-minute nap is the most practical.

If you want to try it yourself, have a coffee beforehand – espresso is a good, quick fix – so that it takes effect towards the end of your nap, or controlled recovery period (CRP). Don’t sip your coffee too slowly, as you might find it’s already taking effect as you begin your CRP, and be aware of the amount of caffeine you have already consumed.

When Nick Littlehales was working with Manchester United in the late 90s, the club introduced double training sessions pre season for the first time, and he suggested creating an environment for the players in which they could relax and have a CRP between sessions to improve their recovery.

Both Alex Ferguson and head physiotherapist Rob Swire supported the idea so they allocated a suitable room for up to 12 players at a time, put in some single sleeper loungers and coached the players on how to use the room.

It was all very basic – no whale noises or essential oils – but it did the job.

It was a key step towards where we are today with sleep recovery, and the players took full advantage with an open mind to day-time sleeping.

The truth is that we can nap anywhere.

The best way is to find a spot where you can make yourself comfortable at some point during the afternoon period – an unused office or meeting room, a quiet corner in the communal kitchen, the sofa in the staff room or even in the park or on a bench, when the weather permits.

Then close your eyes and just let go.

Easier said than done, you might think. Some people will be able to do this and fall asleep promptly. Others, those who steadfastly claim they simply “can’t nap”, won’t be able to fall asleep. But this is one of the revelatory aspects: 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.

After a nap, take five minutes to become aware of your surroundings and hydrate. Daylight lamps on your desk or getting out into natural daylight will reduce any inertia quickly, so that you will enjoy all the benefits of a CRP, just like those pilots who took the 26 minute Nasa naps.

Prince William says keeping a stiff upper lip can damage health

Prince William says keeping a stiff upper lip can damage health

Prince William says keeping a stiff upper lip can damage health

The British “stiff upper lip” should not be allowed to endanger mental health, the Duke of Cambridge has said.

He said he wanted his children to grow up able to express their feelings.

Prince William has also teamed up with pop star Lady Gaga – in a video call they spoke about the importance of people talking about their struggles.

It comes after Prince Harry revealed he sought help after nearly 20 years “not thinking” about the death of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

‘Tipping point’

Prince William’s comments on the “stiff upper lip” came in an interview – alongside Prince Harry – with a magazine produced by the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm), which is dedicated to preventing male suicide.

Prince Harry ‘in total chaos’ over mother Diana’s death
‘Like Prince Harry, I blocked out my mum’s death’

Prince William talked about his “tipping point”, which was his exposure to suicide – the biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK – through his work as an air ambulance pilot.

He told Calm that while there might be a time and a place for the “stiff upper lip”, it should not be at the expense of people’s health.

The future king and his brother are using the intense interest they generate to focus attention on a cause they are increasingly passionate about, BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said.

Lady Gaga call

Prince William spoke to Lady Gaga, as part of the Heads Together #oktosay campaign to encourage people to speak out about their mental health challenges.

The pair discussed how speaking freely on mental health problems can help shatter the stigma around them.
Media captionWatch Prince William and Lady Gaga’s video call from their homes in London and Los Angeles

Lady Gaga said the series of films produced by the charity told “beautiful stories”.

It reminded Lady Gaga how much her mental health changing changed her life.

There’s a lot of shame attached to mental illness, you feel like something’s wrong with you. In my life I go ‘look at all these beautiful, wonderful things that I have, I should be so happy’.

But you can’t help it if in the morning when you wake up you are so tired, so sad, so full of anxiety and the shakes that you can barely think.

She said discussing her mental health “was like saying, this is a part of me, and that’s ok”.

Sign-up to get news from the BBC in your inbox, each weekday morning

The duke has also said it was important for role models to open up about their mental health – including grime artist Stormzy.

“The recent interview by Stormzy about his depression was incredibly powerful and will help young men feel that it’s a sign of strength to talk about and look after your mind as well as your body,” he said.

‘Close to breakdown’

Prince William said he and the Duchess of Cambridge wanted their children – George and Charlotte – to grow up able to talk about their emotions and feelings.

Prince Harry has acknowledged that he did not do that.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Monday, he said it had not been until his late 20s that he had processed the grief of losing his mother when he was 12 in 1997.

Before reaching that point, he had endured two years of “total chaos” and come close to a “complete breakdown”, he said.
Media captionPrince Harry opened up to the Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon over a cup of tea at Kensington Palace

Prime Minister Theresa May praised the princes speaking out about mental health issues.

The bravery of those in public positions who speak out about their experiences helps smash the stigma around mental health and will help thousands of people to realise they are not alone.

Mental health charity Mind described Prince Harry’s interview as a “true turning point”.

The two princes, along with the Duchess of Cambridge, are promoting the Heads Together mental health campaign, the London Marathon’s charity of the year.