” To nap, or not to nap? That is the question.”
Ah, the nap! A controversial topic that allows for differences of opinion without conflict. Ask coworkers and friends what they think about the topic and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some swear by the brief siesta, while others have it ruin the rest of the day and the following night. But should we nap? What does science tell us about the nap? And should it be a skill to aspire to?
Dr. Sara Mednick is a sleep researcher at the University of California, Riverside and the author of “Take a Nap, Change Your Life.” She has studied the to nap, or not to nap question quite extensively and has concluded that humans have a biological need for the nap. “There’s actually biological dips in our rhythm and our alertness that seem to go along with the natural state of the way we used to be, probably way back when we were allowed to the nap more regularly.”
The human is one of the few animals that takes all its sleep in one sitting. The rest of the animal world consists of polyphasic sleepers, breaking up their sleep patterns as needed during a 24 hour period. Primitive man was a polyphasic sleeper as well, and current sleep patterns were greatly influenced by the Industrial Revolution. (See “Got Insomnia? Guess Again,” March 28, 2014) Since the rise of industry, napping has received a bad rap, and has been wrongly associated with laziness and non-productivity. Before industrialization, most cultures were biphasic sleepers. The ancient Romans were biphasic sleepers, setting aside time for sleep at “sexta,” the sixth hour of their day, approximating our noon time. This remains traditional in some cultures. The word sexta is the origin of the Spanish word siesta. Sadly, even countries like Spain are doing away with this healthy tradition.
It seems that many anti-nappers perhaps don’t know how to nap correctly. Dr. Mednick contends that, “There is something very specific about the timing of a nap. It should be about 2 PM or 3 PM. It’s the time when most humans and animals experience a post prandial dip, or low ebb. It’s a dip in cogno-processing and physiological processes, when a lot of us actually do feel sleepy.” Coincidentlly, this is the time of day when most of us grab a cup of coffee or a sugary snack in order to prevent slipping into the valley of fatigue. Mednick asserts that coffee is an inferior substitute for a good nap. “In all my research, what I found is that when I have people not drinking caffeine but take a nap instead, they actually performed much better on a wide range of memory tasks.”
Dr. Mednick’s studies, and those of others have consistently shown that:
1. Naps increase alertness. A NASA study found that a 20 to 40 minute nap increased alertness by as much as 100%. Other studies found that 20 minutes is more effective and 200 mg of caffeine, the amount in a large cup of brewed coffee.
2. A nap improves working memory. A nap clears your mind of clutter and information that is not useful. A nap is like clearing your brain’s hard drive, much like a spam filter. This makes your memory more efficient after napping.
3. Napping prevents burnout. If your argument has always been, “I don’t have time for a nap,” then there’s good news. A nap has been proven to be the, one step backward to take two steps forward, that could be the highlight of your afternoon. Workers are more productive after napping, easily making up for the lost 20 minutes.
4. Naps increase creativity. If your job requires you to be mentally creative, then a nap is the perfect way to maintain creativity. You literally can, “sleep on it,” and arrive at an answer that has been keeping you stuck. Try this and you’ll be surprised at how frequently it works.
5. A nap can improve health and can assist in losing weight. Napping decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, which has been associated with stress, the accumulation of body fat, and weight gain. Cortisol has also been linked to anxiety, overwhelm, stress, and depression. A daily snooze goes a long way towards depleting excess accumulation of this hormone.
Here’s some tips on how to nap more effectively:
1. Keep it brief. Setting an alarm for 30 minutes or less is a safe solution for those of you find yourself groggy after napping. When in doubt, brief is better.
2. Be consistent in your efforts. Pick a time somewhere between 2 and 3 PM and make it a habit.
3. Stay warm. Napping tends to decrease body temperature. Waking up cold is not the best idea.
4. If possible, close the shades and keep the room as dark as possible. Darkness can allow you to slip into sleep a little more quickly. Remember, you have approximately 20 minutes for this.
5. Experiment to find what works for you. If you wake up groggy, or you need a superior energy boost from a nap for some particular reason, try a “coffee boost” nap. Consuming a small, 8 ounce cup of coffee before can supercharge a nap. The caffeine will begin to kick in 20 to 30 minutes after being consumed, coincidentally the time when you will be rising from your nap. The benefits of both nap and caffeine will be magnified. While not for everyone, this might work well for you.
Dr. Mednick has created an instrument called The Take a Nap Nap Wheel which calculates the best time for you to nap based on your specific sleep needs. A link is provided here:
So, I think we’ve answered the question of whether or not to nap. Research shows it’s good for you and makes you more productive. Follow these suggestions, take that one step backward to take two steps forward, and improve your life.
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