Is it nap time yet? Polyphasic sleeping for freelancers

Ani DiFranco once sang: “Nobody likes their job / Nobody got enough sleep.” Clearly she didn’t know many freelancers. We all love our jobs, all the time, right? OK, maybe not all the time. But we are able, at least in theory, to get enough sleep.

I love the flexibility that freelancing affords to write into the wee hours when I’m “on”—sans anxiety over unfinished business, looming early morning alarms or co-worker judgement about lunch time power naps. And I know I’m not the only freelancer who feels this way.

“I am here to tell you, the way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is: getting enough sleep.” ᔥ Ariana Huffington

Turns out, we’ve got science on our side: 85 percent of mammals enjoy polyphasic sleep—that is, resting in multiple bursts instead of a single eight-hour block. Records show that humans practiced a form of sporadic sleep until relatively recently in our history. According to historian Roger Ekirch, before the 19th century, people tended to sleep in two four-hour blocks, with a break for prayer, reading or leisure activities in between.

In many places outside the work-crazed United States, nap time still comes first. During my caravan in Africa, many of my fellow campers kept a round-the-clock schedule, sleeping an hour or two at a time over a 24-hour period. And, of course, the Spanish have long since appreciated the virtue of a 20—30 minute siesta after the midday meal.

I don’t think I’ll be converting to a full-on polyphasic sleep regimen any time soon, but I have started thinking of “insomnia” as creative time (or “Hunger Games time,” last night.) I write late, I read late and I sleep late and/or power nap as needed the following day.

The Sleep Foundation points out numerous benefits to power napping: improved job performance, an increase in alertness, even a psychological boost from the “luxury” of napping during the day. The key is to keep naps short, to prevent grogginess, and early in the day, so they don’t affect night time sleep.

Still not convinced? Check out media maven Ariana Huffington’s TED Talk on the virtues of sleep.

Photo by tm-tm

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2 comments on “Is it nap time yet? Polyphasic sleeping for freelancers
  1. I’m a big believer in power naps – especially around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. When my kids were younger, I’d put the seat back in the minivan while they were at dance, soccer, karate or whatever practice, sleep for 30 minutes, and be ready for whatever was on tap for the rest of the day. When I was pregnant with my second and still working at a daily newspaper, I used to eat a quick lunch at my desk and sneak off for a 30 minute nap before going back to work – it was the only way I made it through the day.

  2. Ruth Terry says:

    Wow. You are a trooper! The last office I worked in had a socially strongly encouraged group lunch. I could never understand how folks found playing cards and socializing more refreshing than a quick catnap. Even though I’m very extraverted, when I’m writing sometimes I just need that silence.

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I'm a smart, sassy, globally-mobile freelance writer, content creator, brand journalist and nonprofit storyteller. The world is my office. Email me to find out more.
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