I am, unfortunately not the kind of woman you’d typically see at Saks Fifth Avenue at 1 P.M. on a Thursday. And yet, that’s precisely where I found myself yesterday, except instead of shopping, I was atop a yoga mat in the Wellery department on the second floor surrounded by everyone from hardcore career women in pantsuits to ladies who lunch to men in athleisure. We were there to hear SoulCycle senior master instructor Stacey Griffith’s tips on how to optimize your health through napping. And, as someone who is, admittedly, not very healthy but sure does love to sleep, the idea that I might up my wellness quotient simply by scoring some midday shut-eye was extremely appealing to me.
What I didn’t realize going into the class was that we wouldn’t just be hearing tips about how to nap, we’d also be doing it. Sleeping in the middle of the afternoon in a department store with a bunch of strangers is, conceptually, pretty weird. But like I said, I love sleep and I rarely get enough of it, so I kicked off my shoes, pulled on my silk Saks eye mask, and got ready for some snoozin’.
Discover how Griffith taught me to be a better napper below.
Use aromatherapy to your advantage
Griffith’s first tip for easy napping is lavender oil, which she gave us each a small rollerball vial of. She advises rubbing a small amount on each wrist, taking a big breath out, then breathing in while smelling the lavender on each wrist. Lavender, she says, is calming and will facilitate an easy transition into sleep. And the more you employ it as a pre-nap tonic, the more your brain will associate the scent with relaxation.
Let go of the day
What many people find difficult about napping is distancing themselves from the stress of the day without feeling racked with guilt over taking a break. “Everything is going to be there when you get back,” Griffith told the class, many of whom (myself included) seemed to be having a hard time loosening the kung-fu grip they had on their phones. She explained that napping has a stigma attached to it that is associated with laziness, which is pretty unfair, given that sleep is a basic human need that enables us to function. Oh, and famous nappers include the likes of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Margaret Thatcher. So should you choose to make napping a part of your routine, you’ll be in good company.
Drown noise with breath
After absolving us of our nap guilt, Griffith told us to lie down, insert our ear plugs, and close our eyes. Immediately, I noticed the music filtering in from the rest of the store and the traffic noises floating up from the street outside. Griffith’s advice for sleeping in less-than-quiet places is to make those external sounds part of your breathing rhythm, and soon, they will fall away. While I don’t think I ever fell entirely asleep during the exercise, at one point, I did find that I stopped noticing the twang of whatever top 40 song was playing in the distance. This was very welcome respite.
Photo: c/o SoulCycle
While I didn’t achieve the level of sleep liftoff that the snoring man next to me somehow did, I did briefly enter that space in between sleep and consciousness where all the best dreams and revelations originate. By the time our group alarm rang (Griffith swears by a tone called Ripple, which I can confirm is rousing without being grating), I felt surprisingly refreshed. I had managed to, however briefly, push the various stressors in my life out of my mind, and it felt intoxicatingly good. Some other participants had such a hard time waking from their slumber that Griffith had to gently shake them awake.
However, others copped to having a hard time shutting down that pesky inner voice that’s always somehow reminding you of yet another thing to fret about. If this is you, Griffith has two tips: First, steer clear of your phone for at least an hour before bed. I know, I know. But studies, like this one published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, show that using a phone after lights-out leads to increased insomnia, later wake-up times, and fatigue. From personal experience, it also means that an 11:30 P.M. bedtime often suddenly looks more like 12:15 A.M.
Griffith’s second tip for sleeping while stressed is to force yourself to step away from anything and everything that’s going on inside your head. When a negative or distracting thought crops up, push it down and make it part of your breath. “You have to mentally unplug your brain from your life,” she told the class. “Otherwise, your brain cannot function properly in your life.”
While she’s first and foremost an exercise guru, Griffith calls napping her “secret weapon,” and says she can do it pretty much anywhere. “The benefits of it outweigh not doing it,” she explains. “[But] the napping has to fit into your schedule, so you have to create the time zone for the nap. You really only need about 20 minutes.” In fact, Griffith cautions against napping for more than that amount of time, because if you do, you’ll enter a REM cycle. If you do sleep for more than 25 minutes, you should sleep for at least 90, which will allow you to complete the cycle.
After rousing us from our naps, Griffith informed us that the rest of our days would likely be filled with increased energy and productivity. “I don’t know what your plans are for the next six hours, but I hope those people are ready,” she laughed.
As I write this, it’s been about three hours since I left the workshop. While I’m still battling the same lingering cold I’ve had all month and did suck down my habitual afternoon cup of coffee earlier, I can confirm that I returned to work feeling happy, energized, and ready to take on the rest of the day, a high that just might be worth the awkwardness of strapping on my Saks eye mask in the conference room tomorrow during lunch time.