We’ve all been there. As the clock strikes 2pm, in what seems like a Pavlovian response to the minute hand’s mid afternoon progression, your eyelids get heavy. As the burrito-grande-induced lunch coma sets in, you find it increasingly difficult to focus on the 400-page textbook resting in front of you. Your motivation wanes, and your brain yearns for a refreshing two-hour nap in your plushy bed. But, as a medical student or busy resident, there is no time for that. Your free time is exceedingly precious and feeling drowsy is not the ideal way to spend it.
If you are like most medical students, you will venture to the hospital’s Starbucks for your third coffee of the day, justifying your $3 government-loan-funded beverage as a necessary expense for the daily caffeine infusion you require for medical school survival. Like an addict getting their fix, your internal dialogue always seems to agree that another cup is a good idea. But what if during the time it took to purchase that cup of Joe and return to your library seat there was a way to quickly nap and wake up feeling spectacularly refreshed?
Enter the 12-minute nap
A slight variation to the traditional yoga practice of shivasana, the 12-minute nap is a form of deep relaxation that borders on sleep. You are awake and aware of your surroundings, but you enter such a trance, placing your muscles in a temporary state of reversible paralysis. Dreams creep in and out of your mind, allowing your conscious mind to observe what it actually “feels like” to be asleep. After 10-12 minutes, you will awake feeling surprisingly refreshed, as you would after a long nap, but without the groggy hangover that usually follows.
With some practice you will become an expert, but the basics are quite simple.
Location & Tools:
Find a carpeted floor and place a pillow under your knees. I’ve found that a firm surface works much better than a bed, since your body tends to sink slightly into the middle of the bed, forcing your arms to be less than relaxed. Any quiet room will do. Start a timer for 12 minutes.
This is the key to entering your comatose-like state within 3-4 minutes. Start by taking a very large deep breath through your nose, as deep as you possibly can. Hold it there for a brief second and slowly release the air out of your nose.
As soon as your lungs deflate, sit in silence and do not take your next breath until your body sends you the urge to do so. This is one of the most important steps. With each subsequent breath, you will notice the period between breaths grows and grows.
Starting with your feet, on each slow exhale, envision your toes and toe muscles melting towards the ground and entering a state of total relaxation. With your next exhale do the same thing with your foot muscles. Then calves, thighs, arms, and so on until you reach your forehead.
Within a few minutes you should no longer feel the urge to move your limbs. Your arms and legs may feel numb. There will be long pauses between each breath, as your heart rate has slowed dramatically.
Allow your eyes to slowly drift back into your head. If you find your mind focusing on anything in particular, try staring at the back of your eyelids as if something was written on them, and focus on the small flickers of light you may see amidst the darkness.
After a few days of practice, you will wonder how you survived your afternoon crash without it. Not to mention the hundreds of dollars a year you will save on that third cup of coffee.
Larry Istrail is a medical student and entrepreneur that is passionate about the intersection between medicine, technology, and innovation. He is the co-founder of PhotoCalorie, a photographic food journal that allows you, your friends or your physician to literally see what you’ve been eating. He is also the founder of the Ancestral Weight Loss Registry, a crowdsourced weight loss research service with data from over 50 countries around the world. You can follow him on tumblr.