Introduction: Flash Nap

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…
How I use a flashing bicycle light to make a nap more refreshing.
Like other forms of meditation, don't expect it to work for you on the first try.

Here I am taking a ten minute nap in a closet.

I've got a red LED bicycle flasher resting on my right eye.
It's flashing at about 6.5 times a second.
I'm wearing my jackhammer headphones to block out distracting noises and so people won't expect me to answer them if they talk to me.

The flasher is acting as a simple "mind machine" a.k.a. "light and sound machine", which are devices that help a person control their brainwave activity.
Biofeedback and meditation are other methods of achieving the similar results. Once you've reached a very relaxed state, the body and brain can do some of their recovery functions faster than sleep.

A typical mindmachine is a device with goggles containing flashing lights and headphones that play a throbbing sound. They exploit a phenomenon called "entrainment". The brain's electrical activity seen on an EEG(electroencephalograph) is pretty noisy and fuzzy, but there are discernable periodic fluctuations "brainwaves". If the flashing frequency is near the brainwave frequency, the brainwave will speed up or slow down to match the frequency of the flashing. Then when you speed up or slow down the flashing, the brainwave will also tend to speed up or slow down to match.

A crackpot friend of mine had a bunch of these things. They're fun to play with and you see nifty visual patterns and colors that aren't in the lights . At some point I "got it" and had a session that was like a really great nap but better. So I bought my own machine.
When I was too tired or anxious to get anything done, I'd sneak off to a closet and do a session.
Then my device broke when I needed a supernap. So I looked around for something that flashed in the same way. I had a bunch of different bike flashers and tried putting them on my eyes to see if anything happened. One of them in particular worked well. When I put it on my right eye and looked into the static I could see patterns. I already knew what it felt like, so it was easy to get there. It doesn't change frequency, but it's slower than my brain when I need to use it, so it's sort of like training wheels for meditation.

When I started doing this I was working pretty hard and getting burned out. I tried a bunch of stuff, some of which worked for me. One such thing was Melatonin. To find out how I use Melatonin to improve my sleep, see the next step.

Step 1: Melatonin and Sleep Management

Some people use Melatonin as a sleeping pill. I use it to synchronize my body clock to be awake during the day. This method works for me, your mileage may vary.
Melatonin, sunlight, and a few other things give your body signals as to what time of day it is.

When I'm feeling jetlagged I'll take half of one of these Melatonin tablets at 9:30pm local time. About 20 minutes later I'll feel really sleepy and sleep-deprived. Usually I stay up later and try to get to sleep by midnight. The next morning I'll wake up just before 8am feeling pretty good. This system only seems to work if I get some exposure to sunlight during the day and some exercise.

You don't have to get on an airplane to get jetlagged.
When you cheat the sandman by burning the midnight oil, you're doing two things: staying up late and exposing yourself to artificial light. Your body reads these signals and shifts its sleep schedule forward to match the new "day". So the next day you get up early for work and you feel lousy. You've got two problems. You're sleep-deprived, and your body clock is messed up with jetlag.
Jetlag is much worse than mere sleep-deprivation because your body is trying really hard to shut down while you'd rather be awake. Your body's systems can even get out of sync with each other, so no matter how much sleep you get or when, you still don't feel rested.

While building a company I was at work at 8am every day for five years.
I stayed up til midnight or later every night. I'd take a halfhour nap at lunch and a couple of flash naps in a closet during the day.
In the mornings I'll still feel a bit sleep-deprived because I was indeed sleep-deprived, but I wasn't jetlagged.

The first time I tried Melatonin I had a lot of dreams and woke up around 4am with lots of energy.
My friends report similar experiences. After that I would just wake up around 7:30 feeling pretty good.