Rest & Relaxation

To Nap Or Not To Nap

Lesson 12 Chapter 4

Should You Nap?

For years, napping has been derided as a sign of laziness. You are "caught" napping or "found asleep at the switch". But fortunately, it has garnered new respect, thanks to scientific evidence that midday dozing benefits both mental acuity and overall health. A slew of recent studies have shown that naps boost alertness, creativity, mood, and productivity in the later hours of the day.


Why Nap?

If you can't sleep and you feel tired, unproductive, or fatigued during the day, there are healthy ways to cope. The trick is to use these methods to help you feel alert and get the most out of your day, without interfering with your sleep at night.


Naps Can Be Very Helpful

Sleeping for a short time can make you more alert and energetic.  This might be critical to your work or productivity, or to your ability to take care of a child during the day. Most people feel refreshed after a nap that lasts approximately 20 minutes. Longer naps can leave you feeling groggy, because they require waking up from a deeper sleep. It's also important not to nap late in the day because this can make it hard to fall asleep at night. Even a short nap in the early evening can interfere with your bedtime routine.


How Long Do You Need?

A nap of 60 minutes improves alertness for up to 10 hours. Research on pilots shows that a 26-minute "Nasa" nap in flight (while the plane is manned by a copilot) enhanced performance by 34% and overall alertness by 54%. One Harvard study published last year showed that a 45-minute nap improves learning and memory. 

“Napping reduces stress and lowers the risk of heart attack, and stroke, diabetes and excessive weight gain.”


How To Design Your Perfect Nap

In designing the optimal nap you need to grasp its potential components. During sleep, your brain's electrical activity goes through a five-phase cycle.

A short afternoon catnap of 20 minutes yields mostly Stage 2 sleep, which enhances alertness and concentration, elevates mood, and sharpens motor skills. To boost alertness on waking, you can drink a cup of coffee before you nap. Caffeine requires 20 or 30 minutes to take effect, so it will kick in just as you're waking. Naps of up to 45 minutes may also include rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which enhances creative thinking and boosts sensory processing.

Top Tip For A 20 Minute Nap:  Caffeine requires 20 or 30 minutes to take effect, so it will kick in just as you're waking.

Limit your nap to 45 minutes or less, if you need to spring into action after dozing. Otherwise, you may drift into slow-wave sleep. Waking from this stage results in sleep inertia, that grogginess and disorientation that can last for half an hour or more.

But you might want to take a long nap, at least 90 minutes. Many of us get about an hour to an hour-and-a-half less sleep a night than we need. One recent study shows that the sleep-deprived brain toggles between normal activity and complete lapses, or failures; a dangerous state of slowed responses and foggy inattention. Sound familiar?

Naps of 90 to 120 minutes usually comprise all stages, including REM and deep slow-wave sleep, which helps to clear your mind, improve memory recall, and recoup lost sleep. Longer naps in the morning yield more REM sleep, while those in the afternoon offer more slow-wave sleep. A nap that is long enough to include a full sleep cycle, at least 90 minutes, will limit sleep inertia by allowing you to wake from REM sleep.


The Advantages Of Napping

Most mammals sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans have consolidated sleep into one long period, but our bodies are programmed for two periods of intense sleepiness: in the early morning, from about 2am to 4am, and in the afternoon, between 1pm and 3pm. This midday wave of drowsiness is not due to heat or a heavy lunch (it occurs even if we skip eating) but from an afternoon quiescent phase in our physiology, which diminishes our reaction time, memory, coordination, mood, and alertness.


When Do You Need A Nap?

To determine the best time to nap, it helps to know your "chronotype". What time would you get up and go to sleep if you were entirely free to plan your day? If you're a lark, apt to wake as early as 6am and go to sleep around 9pm or 10pm, you're going to feel your nap need around 1pm or 1.30 pm.

If you're an owl, preferring to go to bed after midnight or 1am, and to wake around 8am or 9am, your afternoon "sleep gate" will open later, closer to 2.30pm or 3pm.


Caffeine Can Help You Feel Alert And Productive.

If you drink coffee, tea, or another caffeinated beverage, limit this to a moderate amount (one or two cups) in the morning. Consuming these drinks in the afternoon and evening can make it hard to fall asleep or cause you to wake up during the night.

Another habit of chronically sleepy people is eating sugary or high fat snacks during the day (especially in the afternoon, when most people naturally experience a dip in energy). Studies have shown that losing sleep can change the way we eat (causing people to gravitate towards this type of food) and affect our metabolism as well. These snacks will generally not keep your energy up for very long. Instead, keep healthy snacks, like vegetables and hummus or nuts and raisins, close by.

Instead of eating unhealthy foods, try taking a walk or doing some exercise. The best walks are done outside where you'll be exposed to sunlight, but if that isn't realistic, take short walks around the office.


Daytime naps can improve many things: increase alertness, boost creativity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, motor skills and accuracy, enhance your sex life, aid in weight loss, reduce the risk of heart attack, brighten your mood and boost memory.