Waking Up To The Value of Napping
Text by Tyler Phillips

By taking a nap, many will consider you lazy. In fact, results of a recent poll show that one out of five Americans think just that. Given that experts are now waking up to the fact that catching some shuteye during the day has many benefits, it’s time to shift our thinking about napping.

Above: A 30-minute power nap taken after lunch has many benefits.

YOU’RE NOT ALONE

If you’re one of the secret snoozers, you’re in good company. Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap, from 2 p.m ‘til 4 p.m.every day, was a nonnegotiable, acknowledging that it helped him get twice as much done. President Lyndon Johnson took a nap every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to break his day up into “two shifts,” and JFK ate his lunch in bed and then settled in for a daily nap. According to Virginia Tech professor Roger Ekirch, a “sleep historian,” other celebrated nappers include Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt and Napoleon. Ekrich adds, “Why even oil tycoon and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller napped every afternoon in his office.” 

IN THE PAST

“Generally, people went to bed between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m.,” Ekirch explains. “They slept for three, three-and-a-half hours. Then they wakened not long after midnight…reflecting on dreams, they meditated, they prayed. They would stay awake for about an hour before entering phase two of sleep.” But the Industrial Revolution and its emphasis on productivity ended all that. “Our attitude towards sleep changed,” Ekirch explains. “Sleep became associated with lethargy.” Unfortunately, that stigma stuck. 

THE BENEFITS OF NAPPING

• Restores Alertness. Energy dips in the early afternoon, leaving you feel a little sleepy and a bit out of focus. It happens to most of us. A quick nap can bring us back up to speed.

• Prevents Burnout. In our fast-paced culture, we are always on the go. However, we were not meant to race without rest. Doing so leads to stress, frustration, and burnout.Taking a nap is like a system reboot. It relieves stress and gives you a fresh start. Those who nap show greater emotional resilience, improved cognitive function, and more. Just 30 minutes can prevent the day’s wear and tear from frying your circuits.

• Heightens Sensory Perception. According to Dr. Sara C. Mednick, author of Take a Nap, Change Your Life, napping can restore the sensitivity of sight, hearing, and taste. Napping also improves your creativity by relaxing your mind and allowing new associations to form in it. When it came to making new connections, nappers had the edge in research done by the City University of New York.

• Sharpens Recall. By resting, you brain will be able to consolidate some of the information you’ve learned during the daytime, and you’ll be able to remember it better after that nap. Also, by having summarized this material, your brain now has the capacity to process new information. 

• Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease. Did you know those who take a midday siesta at least three times a week are 37-percent less likely to die of heart disease? According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, working men are 64-percent less likely. “Taking a nap could turn out to be an important weapon in the fight against coronary mortality,” said Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, who led the study.

• Increases Productive. The secret to becoming more productive is not only managing your time; it’s managing your energy. Numerous studies have shown workers becoming increasingly unproductive as the day wears on. But a Harvard University study demonstrated that a 30-minute nap boosted the performance of workers, returning their productivity to beginning-of-the-day levels.

SOME TIPS

• Be Consistent. Try to nap at the same time every day. This helps stabilize your circadian rhythms and maximize the benefits. One easy way to do this is to schedule it. The optimal hours are after you lunch, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., when your blood sugar and energy start to dip. 

• Keep It Short. Avoid “sleep inertia,” that feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come from awakening from a deep sleep. Long naps can also negatively impact nighttime sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 20 to 30 minutes tops. Set an alarm on your phone to avoid oversleeping.

• Turn Off the Lights. Light acts as a cue for our bodies. Darkness communicates it is time to shut down—or go into standby mode. If you can’t turn off the lights, use a simple eye mask. Turn the lights back up to full brightness when you wake up.

• Use a Blanket. When you sleep, your metabolism falls, your breathing rate slows, and your body temperature drops slightly. Though not imperative, you will usually be more comfortable if you use a light blanket when you nap.