03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Want To Be Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? Be A Better Napper Than A 2-Year-Old

I was a year old when I stopped napping. They say I wouldn't sleep because I didn't want to miss anything. Truth is I didn't trust the adults to handle things without me. My parents had just turned 22 -- can you blame me for being a little vigilant? My sister was born when I was 18 months old. I wore out my mother, father and extended family during the day. They tried bribing me and scaring me. Nothing worked and I lost the ability to nap.

I couldn't sleep on an airplane or in a car, unless I was sick or coming home from competing in a horse show and this pattern only hardened into an anti-napping stance as I grew up. I went through a period of chronic fatigue in my 30s so severe I was only able to work two to three hours a day. I couldn't read, I couldn't even indulge in my biggest guilty pleasure -- the television. I was too tired to do anything but stare at the ceiling. I turned everywhere for help, western medicine, energy healing, Chinese medicine -- anything to get some zing back into my life because my biggest problem was that I couldn't think straight, being that tired. And of course, I turned to my best source of wisdom, Tibetan Lama, Gelek Rimpoche.

"What do I do? What meditation practices? What retreats? Where do I go? I'll do any practice, just tell me."

"Every day, three times a day, lie down, close your eyes and for 10 minutes do nothing."

"Nothing? Can I listen to teachings?"

"No. Nothing."

"Can I write down ideas?"

"No. Nothing. Just lie there and do nothing. Set an alarm if you have to."

It took a minute for the penny to drop that Rimpoche was simply telling me to take naps.

After 30 years of being an active non-napper I had no idea how to begin, but Rimpoche had a method --and even this stubborn old dog could learn a new trick. A little research showed me I had to learn to nap if I wanted to run with all pistons firing. Lack of sleep is a serious IQ buster and research through Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital also proved we all have two distinct sleep periods -- one long one, and one short one that comes 12 hours after the mid-point of the long one. For example, if you sleep from midnight to 8:00 am, then 4:00 pm is your nap time. And if you get less than six hours of sleep, a nap is essential.

The Nap Transmission

It took a solid year of practice, but now I can nap at will -- almost anywhere -- and even time myself without setting an alarm. Here's how to do it:

  • You don't have to lie down. You just need to close your eyes and unplug for a few minutes.
  • Let your mind settle at the heart level, and begin to lightly notice the air from your breath passing through that area.
  • No matter how strong the urge don't get up, don't write anything down, don't look at the clock. Set an alarm if you have to.
  • If you have never napped, then begin with 10 minutes three times a day, eventually working towards one 20-minute daily nap (that took me a year)
  • How to know when 20 minutes is up: I've figured out two ways. One is watching for the third deep involuntary breath, the other is looking for the beginning of the first dream.

Try it. You won't believe how much better you feel at the end of every day.

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