Kate Mulligan - RestSpace


Rest Space London

If you didn’t know already, Team CHAMPS is a huge fan of sleep when it comes to investing in our Mental Wealth. We love hearing from experts and were delighted to sit down and chat with Kate, the co-founder of Rest Space London; a start-up that serves overworked professionals by offering a space to nap, read or work in a convenient, quiet and clean space.

CHAMPS: How did Rest Space come about?

Kate: Rest Space came about when I was working in finance and I was finding it very difficult to find spaces to just get away, to have some quiet and, also, to nap. I love napping and now, I know the benefits of it. But it was a habit that I was doing and I was really struggling to fit it in with working in finance and the type of days that you have. I didn’t find it a problem to get away from my desk. With the work that I did, the projects I did, getting away from my desk for a coffee or taking a break was never a problem. It was the finding a space to rest, that was the problem.

This was around eight years ago, when I first started my career. I started to think that I would get used to it, get into the flow, and thought that it was just kind of early days. But then, eight years later, it was still something that I was thinking about. I was finding I just really needed to nap and was finding that I was thinking “Let me sneak into the toilets, or the conference room, as I really need a nap”.

That’s where Rest Space came about. I wanted to make it as easy for people to get a nap, as it is to get a coffee. I think that is pertinent for me, because coffee is often seen as an alternative, when you are feeling that you need a pick-me-up.

But, although it makes you feel more awake, it doesn’t actually improve any of your cognitive abilities. You still make just as many mistakes when you are on coffee, when you have alertness through coffee. It doesn’t improve your overall mood and wellbeing. You feel more alert, but it’s a bit more of a surface solution. That’s one of the goals I have, to give people the space and the opportunities.

When we were talking to people, we found 76% of people don’t have a place to nap at work, or that the company doesn’t support a napping culture. One of the biggest challenges we have been seeing is just the physical space. Things are changing, a lot more companies are starting to adopt rest spaces.

Another challenge we are seeing, is the stigma around napping. The people who do enjoy napping and who do like to nap, are looking for solutions. They hide it, they don’t talk about it, they don’t bring it forward, because, although they think that majority of people think that napping is good for them, we also find that they think everybody else judges them for it.

There is a lot of stigma associated around having a daytime nap, that it’s seen as lazy and not productive.

On the contrary, it actually makes you more productive. Those are the kind of things that we are addressing. We are addressing the space issue and we are looking to address the stigma issue and educate people more about napping and why it’s great for you.

CHAMPS: I hadn’t really thought about that stigma, to be honest. The phrase that popped into my head was ‘sleeping on the job’. People think that if you’re sleeping on the job, it’s because you’ve done something wrong or, you must have been napping, must have been sleeping. Even the example that caffeine/coffee is such an acceptable anecdote to feeling tired, but actually when you think about it, it’s not helpful.

Kate: One of the interesting things I’ve found through my journey of understanding napping, is that I’ve really started trying to understand sleep, because napping is sleep. It’s just in the day and for a different length of time.

Caffeine greatly affects night-time sleep and most of us feel that dip in the afternoon or evening. That is when we resort to caffeine and that’s some of the worst times to have caffeine – when it’s so close to our night-time sleep that it affects the quality of our sleep.

Although you are able to fall asleep it may affect the quality you have, which then it is a circular cause and effect, so, the next day, you wake up not feeling so refreshed and you drink more caffeine. It kind of feeds into itself.

I absolutely love my coffee, but I’ve been a bit more conscious of how much I am drinking and what times of day I am drinking coffee; having coffee as something I enjoy, instead of it being a necessity, because I have no other alternative here, as I am falling asleep.

CHAMPS: It’s bringing in a more mindful approach. CHAMPS created the ‘MWealth’ strategy on our ‘My Mental Wealth’ programme. The ‘M’ stands for Mindfulness and that’s not just about being all zen and in meditating, but it’s about reaching for that drink and asking yourself, Why do I want caffeine? Why am I craving coffee? What time of day is it? Is it close to my bedtime? It’s being more mindful about how present you are in your day-to-day world, but also there is the ‘T’ in ‘Wealth’ which stands for ‘Tune out’. We felt sleep was such a fundamental part of the whole ‘MWealth’ strategy, because you need that quality of sleep and that’s a big factor.

Kate: I always say that for me, it’s the naps that happen in the evening, after lunchtime and in the afternoon – those are the ones that catch me out the most. Because I started to realise that, when I am getting a craving for coffee, or when I want that chocolate bar, or that sweet sugary snack, it’s time to take a step back and ask why do I actually want that?

Is it because I actually want the chocolate, or, is it because my energy levels are dipping? Is it because I’ve been cognitively overloaded during the day with the work that I have been doing? Actually, have I had a lunch break?

It is about being a bit more aware of why you want that afternoon coffee, or sugary snack. Is it just your body wanting something else and thinking that’s the solution?

CHAMPS: What you just described there, about actually understanding the reason behind your cravings and what you need – for some people, that energy boost or, that rest, doesn’t have to be necessarily about needing that sleep right at that very moment. It could be that I need to go outside and get some fresh air and walk around the street for 10-15 minutes, or that I need to listen to some music or potter around in my garden.

Kate: It’s interesting you mention that, because part of a second motivation around setting up Rest Space was about not being able to get that peace, not being able to get quiet. So, on the days where work has been really demanding, when there has been a lot to learn, a lot of changes have happened, it’s easy to find yourself stuck in that.

I would walk around Canary Wharf for half an hour, just trying to find that space, but everywhere, there were people who were constantly trying to sell you stuff, people were talking, there so much noise and so much distraction, that it was almost impossible to find that space to just sit and just be quiet.

CHAMPS: With the challenges we have at the moment around work and home life due to Covid-19, have you seen any data or, as an expert, what are your observations around how people are coping with their sleeping and napping during the pandemic?

Kate: It’s actually interesting. There is a lot of data around sleep patterns and disruptive events that happen to us. There have been studies on subjects like ‘Sleep after 9/11’ and other disruptive events that have happened. These types of things do affect our sleep – they increase our anxiety. Sometimes, you may not be in tune that your anxiety levels have been increased. It may be so subtle, but you are starting to see the effects on your sleep. We don’t often link it to our anxiety or stress, we think it might be what is happening around us.

It is interesting at the moment that there is an increase in Google searches around sleep and dreaming. People are experiencing more dreams. I have had quite a few more people reaching out, saying things like: “I’m just having crazy dreams”.

I’ve had people who have been too scared to go to bed at night, because of the content of their dreams. It is about people understanding more about the role that stressful situations can play in their sleep. There is one side where people are experiencing more disruptive sleep, because of the anxiety and uncertainty that they face. It is just an uncertain period.

There is a really good theory as to why we dream; it’s called ‘Threat Simulation Theory’. It is that dreams are us playing out possible events, and our responses to those events, so that we can deal with things better. Due to the uncertainty now, that might be what we are experiencing.

On the other hand, we find that people are sleeping more. So, the question there is:

Have we been going through chronic sleep deprivation, because of our lifestyles?

Now we have been given the ability to reclaim our morning commutes and our late-night socialising, it’s actually allowing us to sleep more. One that is really interesting is a health tracker – Evidation Health, in the US, found on average, Americans are now sleeping 20% more than they were.

So, there are two things:

1) We’re finally given the time so that our lifestyles aren’t interrupting our night-time sleep.
2) On the other hand – because of the uncertainty – people are, understandably, experiencing more disruptive sleep.

People tend to increase their anxiety with the pressure they put on themselves with sleep. We do live in this world where people feel guilty and think that they shouldn’t be sleeping more. If they’d had bad sleep, people can naturally start wondering if they’re not going to be that great that day. We’re harsh on ourselves about sleep.

Kindness and the way we treat ourselves and see our sleep is so important, because putting pressure on ourselves makes us worry about sleep. Worrying about sleep makes us sleep less. Journaling before you go to bed is such a powerful way to help you get a good, more restful sleep.

CHAMPS: If an organisation approached you, what would be your tips for leaders of organisations to ingrain a culture of positive mental wealth when it comes to sleep?

Kate: During the pandemic a lot of people are saying to me that they’re still working at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. They’re not taking their breaks or getting that balance. I think that organisations could do a lot about this now and start encouraging those conversations. They could start saying that it’s okay to take a nap and book out 20 minutes in your afternoon.

I have actually come across someone who works at a company that is based on timed hours, where the employees have to log when they’re working and when they’re not working. If they go for a walk or take a coffee break, normally they would have to log this as not working. But, their boss has said to the whole company, that the employees shouldn’t feel the need to log their walks and coffee breaks as time off, when they’re working from home, and he has told them to make sure that they take these breaks and that they are now included in their clocked hours.

I thought that was a powerful message. So, I think that management should encourage their workers to take their breaks, as one of their behaviours whilst people are working from home.

When people aren’t working from home, again it’s about opening that dialogue. It’s about getting people to talk about this to get rid of the stigmas. It’s about helping people to understand that napping can be quite helpful for you. It can help your productivity and your creativity. Creating the space is the next step, most organisations don’t have the space for people to have that rest period or nap.

CHAMPS: How can you create those keystone habits when it comes to napping?

Kate: Napping, like any good habit, takes practice.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have a nap or get into that sleep phase. Sometimes just relaxing is beneficial, so some days, if you don’t actually nap, that is absolutely fine. It’s also about looking at how long you nap.

There’s a power nap which is around a 20-minute nap. That’s really great for more of your cognitive functions, your emotions, your wellbeing and memory.

Then you have a 90-minute nap which is a full sleep cycle. That is really good for physical recovery. You may find yourself wanting to do this if you are ill or if you are recovering from something. For a lot of athletes, this is part of their training routine where they’ll have a 90-minute nap in the afternoon, before they carry on with the second half of their training.

A 20-minute nap on a daily basis is good for most people, because it is good to refresh their memory. If it’s a longer, full sleep cycle nap and you need a more restorative sleep, then a 90-minute nap may be needed.

With the 90-minute nap, it takes you into the deep sleep phase, when your growth hormones are released. That is why the physical recovery happens in a 90-minute nap. With a 20-minute nap, you are possibly only going into your REM stages of sleep and REM phases are more linked to improvements in memory and storing your information. REM sleep is not only about storing experiences and emotions that you have had during that day, but it links it to past content in your brain: past memories, past learnings and experiences.

That is where some people attribute their creativity coming out of naps – it’s because you have just managed to make links and join the dots with stuff that you’ve had lingering in the back of your mind. That is kind of your first 20 minutes and earlier sleep cycle. That is when you experience those kinds of benefits.

Rest Space LDN on restspaceldn.com. We’re also on social media – Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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