You're busy. You may work 10 hour-shifts. You may be in the middle of hand-to-hand combat with 2 or more human beings that don't even measure up to the height of your waist (kids, man). You may be trying coordinating school drop-offs and pick-ups, time for the gym, time to fix breakfast, lunch, and dinner, time to go out with your significant other, and maybe some time to catch up with friends and extended family from time to time.
Let's face it: by the time the lunch hour comes, you may already be running on fumes.
I know how it feels. I once went 1-on-3 with my 3 kids for 11 hours every Tuesday (at the time, ages five and under). Coordinating nap schedules, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, morning snacks, afternoon snacks, taking kids to school, picking kids up from school, cleaning the morning dishes, cleaning the lunch dishes, cleaning the dinner dishes, cleaning the snack dishes, changing diapers, reminding them for the 9th time to wash their hands after they eat/use the bathroom/put sand in their mouths.
My normal routine then was to feed the kids lunch at midday and then steal a “Power Nap” of 15, 20, even 30-minutes in length. While the rest was always welcome, as any sleep-deprived parent will tell you, it never felt like quite enough. That feeling changed for me, forever, when I randomly came across some research in the field of sleep.
While digging through my usual list of research-related reading materials on matters of health and human performance, I came across two separate items that, when combined, dramatically alter my sleep quality, energy level, and focus in the afternoon and evening.
ITEM #1: Binaural Beats
No, this isn’t a new set of headphones made by Dr. Dre. Rather, this is an audio technology that has been studied for nearly 100-years and is now used to induce varying states of consciousness-namely either a super-relaxed or a focused state of cognition.
Without going super anatomy and physiology on you all, I’ll try to explain binaural beats. Essentially, if a person is wearing headphones and a tone comes through the right headphone at a certain level (measured in Hertz, commonly abbreviated “Hz”) while the left headphone produces a tone at a different Hz-level, the listener will perceive the presence of a third tone, known as an auditory illusion, that is the difference between the tone coming in the right ear and the left ear.
This is where it gets even cooler. A binaural beat will cause activation in the brain of what’s called the reticular formation, which will send a signal up to the thalamus. What this means in terms of actual brain function is that we can create different tone frequencies in your ears that will stimulate your brain into varying states of consciousness, sleep, and alertness.
Think about this for a minute. It sounds crazy but is experientially true for us all. For example: when you hear a song from your 8th-grade dances, you feel a certain set of emotions arise. Similarly, how many of us have tried listening to classical music or the sound of ocean waves as we attempted to bring our minds and bodies into a state of greater relaxation?
Binaural beats are the performance-enhancing answer to improving our cognition, our ability to relax, and our ability to focus and perform. There are now several binaural beats “apps” for Android and iPhone users. Dr. J and I have used the Banzai Labs Brainwave app. The “Power Nap” program is one of our favorites: a 20-minute session (the session can be customized to go longer or shorter durations, though sessions 30 minutes or longer can create “sleep inertia”, that groggy feeling you feel after napping too long). The "Power Nap" setting has three tone stages that first put you in a relaxed state and finish up by gently waking you up in an alert and energized. They’ve also got programs to help you wake up in the morning, get into a deeper state of sleep at night, increase focus, meditate, reduce stress, and increase pre-exercise energy. It’s been the best $4.99 we’ve spent in recent memory. Here's the link if you want to check it out for yourself.
ITEM #2: Coffee Naps
I also came across some work by Research Fellow Cheri Mah of the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) Human Performance Center. Cheri is also a sports advisor for Standford University and has worked with professional athletes in MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL, and has a particular focus on how sleep affects recovery from training and athletic competition. It was Cheri's research that introduced me to the concept of a Coffee Nap. Here's how it works:
You have a set of receptors in your brain that can be acted on by both caffeine and a molecule called Adenosine. Adenosine is what’s called a neuromodulator. Adenosine accumulates in these brain receptors throughout the day and when it reaches a critical mass of connections in brain receptors you start to feel drowsy and tired. When caffeine attaches to these receptors, it blocks the ability of Adenosine to attach to the receptor, creating a more alert state in your brain. We also know that sleep clears Adenosine from these receptors.
So here’s how you can use caffeine in combination with a nap to supercharge your afternoon:
Drink, quickly, 8-12 oz. of coffee then immediately lay down for your nap.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. Don’t worry if you don’t fall all the way asleep, even in a semi-sleep state, Adenosine is being cleared from those receptors in your brain.
In 20 minutes, the caffeine you consumed will have passed through your GI system and entered into your brain. With Adenosine cleared from those brain receptors, the coffee you drank will have an even greater effect in making you feel more alert.
ENTER: The Super-Power Nap
If you haven’t put 2 and 2 together yet, let me bring it home for you. When you combine the Binaural Beats Power Nap program with the Coffee Nap Protocol, you are set up to win at life and (for those who are) parenting.
So there you have it. Naps and Coffee. Once the tattered and haggard adult, you can now supercharge yourself to make over your day.
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Blog: Sleep to Perform by Dr. Tim Cummings
YouTube: Just Breathe
Dr. Tim Cummings is a strength coach, physical therapist, writer, speaker, and, along with his wife, Jess, the founder of Restore/Thrive. Tim splits his time between helping athletes, parents, and coaches fix acute and long-standing orthopedic injuries and programming post-rehab training programs for individuals looking to get back to their active lifestyles after an injury. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2004, and his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Southwest Baptist University in 2010. He was certified as a Titleist Performance Institute Certified Trainer in 2011. He was certified as an IMPACT Concussion Management Provider in 2012 he was the first physical therapist in Kansas City to earn recognition as a MovNat certified trainer in 2014. He was the first physical therapist in Kansas City designated as The Ready State Certified Practitioner in 2015. He earned the Power Athlete Block One Coach certification in 2020. Tim’s background as an athlete includes a history of competitive baseball, basketball, cross-country running, and performance weightlifting. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife Jess and their three children, Aiden, Evelyn, and Connor, their Cavachon puppy Coco, weightlifting, golfing, obstacle course racing, competitive eating, and wrestling with his kids.