The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Matthew Edlund, M.D. Headshot

A Different Way to Rest: The UnNap Nap

Posted: Updated:

PROBLEM: Even though rest is how your body rebuilds, people feel they don't have time to do it.

But we really need rest -- much of the population is sleep deprived. It's even more severely rest deprived, which fouls up mood, performance and your health.

If you do too much at once, you'll feel overwhelmed.

If you do the same thing too much over and over, you'll get exhausted.

Remember, take breaks of you'll make mistakes! But they have to be the right kinds of breaks.

SOLUTION: Paradoxical relaxation technique -- the UnNap Nap

Why not nap? Because about half of Fortune 500 corporations will fire you or reprimand you if you take naps on the job; and UnNap naps can be done in a very short time -- one to three minutes, though you can certainly do them longer.

Where You Do It: Anywhere

When: Anytime

What: It's all about paying attention to muscle tension -- that's it

Why is it called paradoxical relaxation? Because you rest and relax by not relaxing -- that's the paradox.

HOW To Do the UnNap Nap

Sit in a comfortable place (First try this when you're not at work.)

Start with any muscle in the head, tiny or large, which feels tighter than the one next to it.

Can't find one? If you're looking at a screen all day, the middle of your eyebrow should be tighter than the side; others find that some spot on their neck is always a bit tight.

Put you hand over your closed eyes (if asked at work, you can say you have a little headache).

With your other hand point at the muscle that's a bit more tense than the one next to it, then put your hand back.

Now, focus ALL your attention on that muscle. Feel it. Sense it. Map it in your mind.

DON'T relax it. DON'T tense it. Just FEEL it. Sense it. Know it.

You can also visualize the muscle. Muscles work like a set of teeth in a comb -- when they're tense, they bunch up; when relaxed, they pull away.

Sense that muscle and its tension for 30 seconds.

Now, open your eyes and pull away your hand.

Does that muscle feel relaxed? What about The REST of your body?

Here's the paradox: with all your attention placed on one spot, the rest of the body relaxes. People often feel the rest of their muscles "dissolve."

Now, sense the other muscles on your face or head. Choose one that feels more tense than one adjacent. For the next 15 seconds, just sense that single, tenser muscle. Give it your complete attention.

EXTENDING the UnNap Nap

To make the UnNap Nap as close to a nap as possible, mentally go up and down the body, feeling muscles that are just a bit more tense than the one next door. After a while, you'll find them all over the place -- especially if you work at a desk.

Mentally survey your muscles, going from head to toe. When you find a muscle that feels more tense than the one next to it, just sense that tension for 15 seconds, then go on to the next.

When you feel fully relaxed, check your level of attention. You should feel relaxed and FOCUSED.

USES of the UnNap Nap

  1. To relax anywhere, anytime -- with practice it can be done in 15 seconds, sometimes less
  2. Allows you to concentrate quickly
  3. Can relieve stress almost anywhere, anytime
  4. Can be used to help you nap or fall asleep when you have the time and opportunity
  5. Helps teach you one small facet of active rest -- the many different techniques to power you up when you're exhausted, or calm you when you're stressed.
  6. Can help you relax and distress in the middle of an exam -- academic, medical, whatever.

Rest rebuilds and revives the body. Active rest helps you direct that rebuild to go the way you want. All of which can make you more productive, relaxed, concentrated - and often looking and feeling younger, too.

The UnNap Nap is just one of many active rest techniques, most of which are even easier to do.