Can you relate? We fight naps tooth and nail through childhood and then some time around adulthood we long for them. We may squeeze them into our days during college and then start them up again as we hit retirement age, but for the most part, a nap is a thing of the past from about six-years-old on.
Maybe they shouldn’t be.
Study after study shows that a nap can improve mood, energy, alertness, and performance. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers and accomplished humans were big nappers, including Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Napolean, Albert Einstein, Ronald Reagan, and Thomas Edison. Maybe they were on to something.
Not only is napping associated with the benefits listed above, it can lead to improved memory and creativity and the habit of a mid-day rest has been associated with a 37 percent reduction in mortality. The reduction of cardiovascular stress induced by daytime sleep is why. Still, the United States is becoming more and more sleep deprived with more than 40 percent of Americans saying they get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night according to a Gallup poll. Wake up people and realize that a mere 15 minute nap can make a world of difference.
Other places in the world know this, particularly the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, and much of Latin America where “siestas” are common. Originating in Spain, these early afternoon breaks came about not because people were tired, but because they were looking for a way to avoid the scorching mid-afternoon heat, especially during the summer. In countries where siestas are common so are heavy midday meals; another reason for afternoon drowsiness.
I’m sold but not necessarily on board because, as much as I love a good nap and the idea of regularly doing so, I find it hard to just doze off in the middle of the day. My mind reels and I think about the many things I could and should be doing.
Still, I loved that my father-in-law had what my mother-in-law called his “10 Minute Chair,” meaning you got in it and could doze for just a bit. I also stopped in awe when I got home from work the other day and saw my husband and his cousin who was visiting from NY both “head back, mouths open, and sound asleep” on our back patio. At 2:30 in the afternoon. So restful.
It all makes sense when you consider that more than 85 percent of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, or sleepers who do so for short periods throughout the day. Much of the animal kingdom falls in this group like the otters on an Alaskan lake I caught resting in Alaska in this photo. Humans, on the otherhand, are monophasic sleepers, meaning days are divided into two distinct periods: one for sleep and one for wakefulness. Ironically, infants enter the world as polyphasic but change to monphasic as toddlers.
Children need their naps. The Univeristy of Colorado discovered that kids who didn’t take an afternoon nap displayed less joy and interest in things around them and had higher levels of anxiety and lower problem-solving skills compared to those who napped regularly. Kids get cranky, right? Well, so do adults.
Truth be told, siestas are becoming fewer and far between among Spain’s adult professional workers, but you will still experience the closing of shops, restaurants, churches, banks, museums and other places of business between 1-5 p.m. in smaller towns. I remember when my sister lived in Spain she had to get used to scheduling her days around the siesta. Imagine all those errands you run every day not available between 1 and 5 p.m. Crazy, right? But like I said, this is also the case in Portugal, the Phillippines, Malta, Costa Rica, Greece, Nigeria, and in Italy where the naps are called “riposo.”
Originating from the Latin “hora sexta,” “siesta” relates to the fact that a day’s hours traditionally begin at dawn so noon, the sixth hour, is the perfect time to rest, as depicted in Barcelona painter Ramon Marti Alsina’s “Las Siesta” painting shown here. Traditional siestas in Spain can last for two hours, but experts recommend short 10-20 minutes naps to improve health and productivity.
It’s those short “power naps” that can prove most beneficial. According to the National Sleep Foundation, these types of catnaps provide improved alertness and performance without leaving you groggy. They also don’t interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. Not all naps are created equal though.
“Planned” napping are those snoozes you take before you actually feel tired. Think napping when you know you’ll be up late or when you want to avoid being tired later for a special event. “Emergency” naps are when you suddenly feel tired and just can’t go on another rminute with sleeping. Lastly, “Habitual” napping is the practice of taking a nap at the same time each day.
If you want to integrate the practice of napping during the day, make sure you have a comfy and restful place to do so. This would include limiting the amount of distracting noise and bright lights. Timing your nap is just as imperative. If you try to do so too early in the day, your body may not be ready for sleep but if you take a nap too late in the day, it might affect nighttime sleep patterns; a big no-no!
A nap longer than 20 minutes long is not recommended if your goal is to improve alertness and production because snoozing for any longer will result in just the opposite. It’s called sleep inertia, which is that feeling of grogginess and even disorientation when you wake up from a deep sleep. We all know the feeling. You say “I’m just going to shut my eyes for a bit” but then find yourself sound asleep in bed, unable to get up and get going. This is because when you wake up from a nap lasting longer than 20 minutes or so, you do so just as your body was starting to enter a deep stage of sleep. You don’t want to go into that deep sleep; you merely want to relax.
This was proven in a study by the research journal “Sleep” that examined the benefits of napping. The results showed that a 10-minute nap was most beneficial in reducing sleepiness and improving cognitive performance but a nap lasting 30 minutes or longer was more likely to result in sleep inertia.
Naps aren’t for everyone though. I can think of several friends and family members off the top of my head who I can’t ever imagine napping during the day. You know who you are and you shall remain nameless!
I think of them mostly because they are solid Type A personalities who can’t sit still or just live extremely busy lives. In addition to these types, napping isn’t for someone who has trouble sleeping any place other than their own bed or someone who simply has trouble sleeping during the day. Naps are not necessary or mandatory. If they don’t appeal to you, no biggie.
Those who do revel in naps report the reduction of mistakes and accidents in their work place and researchers say regular nappers also gain psychological benefits like relaxation; rejuvenation; and the feeling that your brain is being rebooted, refreshed, and, in the words of the tech sphere, defragged. Think of a nap as a way of “cleaning” your brain’s “cache” and “deleting cookies.” Some even equate them to taking a mini-vacation or experiencing a pleasant luxury.
Corporate America is listening.
Where as sleeping on the job was once a major taboo, today more and more companies are not only encouraging it, they are providing places to get it.
Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s, and Google all offer in-house napping rooms with Google’s being a futuristic lounge with womb-like chairs that boast built in soothing sounds. At athletic giant Nike’s Portland headquarters, employees have access to quiet rooms where they can nap, meditate, or just relax.
A lack of sleep costs the U.S. $63 billion a year in lost productivity and 29 percent of American workers say they have fallen asleep at work. Smart companies like these aren’t turning a blind eye to some office hours shut eye and are instead embracing the idea of napping during office hours.
Perhaps former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan said it best when she siad, “Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and they lay down on our blankets for a nap.”
I’m in. Are you?