Naps – They're Not Just for Kids Anymore

A mid-day nap is a fabulous positivity practice. It refreshes your brain and clears the way for new learning, even hours later, by clearing your short-term memory.

Woman SleepingWhen I was a little kid, my mother used to say, “Go take a nap!”   And when I’d ask her why, she’d say “Because I’m tired!”   If I had known then what I know now, I would have invited her to take a nap with me.

It turns out that a mid-day snooze is a fabulous positivity practice. It refreshes your brain and clears the way for new learning, even hours later, by clearing your short-term memory.

In an article at Live Science, psychology professor Matthew Walker, of UC Berkeley, says, “Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap.”

Imagine leaping ahead in the afternoon instead of slumping into a mindless haze.  What would that do for your productivity?  For your ability to find more zest and enjoyment in your life?

Naps Juice Us Up

Not only are we able to learn more for the rest of the day after a nap, but a mid-day nap brings other goodies, too.  According to Elizabeth Scott, M.D., a brief afternoon nap:

  • Reduces your stress level and so it improves your health;
  • Gives you faster reaction times and the ability to be more efficient, enhancing your performance;
  • Increases your patience, helping you relate to others in a more positive way;
  • Keeps your vision sharp and makes you more alert; and
  • Restores your motivation and helps prevent burn out.

They’re called “power naps” for good reason!

How Long Should I Nap?

I’m one of the 30% of Americans who regularly take an afternoon nap.  It’s been a pattern of mine since I was in high school.

When I mention this to non-nappers, they often tell me that they find naps leave them feeling groggier than if they hadn’t taken a nap in the first place.

If that’s been your experience, the problem may be that you didn’t nap long enough.

While a 15-20 minute nap will, in fact, do wonders for you according to many sleep experts, a full 90 minutes, if you can manage it, will do even more.

The reason for taking 90 minutes is because that’s the length of a complete sleep cycle, where you pass through light sleep, deep (dreamless) sleep, and the REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep in which you dream.

Interrupting a sleep cycle will leave you feeling groggier at a nap’s end than completing the whole cycle.  So you may want to set an alarm to wake you 90 minutes after you settle in.

Still, for most of us, finding an hour and a half in the middle of the day is impossible, given our over-loaded schedules.

In that case, go for 20 minutes.  Recharging yourself for 20 minutes mid-day will actually do more for you than sleeping an extra 20 minutes in the morning,

As for the after-nap groggies, they pass quickly.  The key is not to jump into activity right away or do anything that requires alert focus.  Get yourself a drink of water, or wash your face.  Just move around a little bit and you’ll be fully awake and raring to get back into active mode soon.

Finding Time

While it may be difficult to find 90 minutes for a nap in the middle of your day, most people can create time for a brief nap if they try.  And, really, the benefits of napping make finding time well worth the effort.  If you can carve out 15-20 minutes, grab them.

In an effort to cut health costs and boost productivity, many innovative companies—Google, Proctor & Gamble and Nike among them– are actually providing nap spaces for their workers .  Across the board, they’re finding the results beneficial.

A recent article in Inc.Magazine quoted Cornell sleep expert James Mass – the man who coined the term “power nap”  – as saying,

“If we operated machinery like we operate the human body, we’d be accused of reckless endangerment. Just like machinery gets oiled, the human body needs to be nurtured and fed.”

But companies that frown on sleeping on the job are still in the vast minority.  And the chances are high that you’re not lucky enough to work for one of them.  You could print out this article, and slip it under the CEO’s door or start a nap education campaign.  But in the meantime, taking good care of you is up to you.

Take an honest look at your afternoon schedule and see if you can’t block out half an hour of “you” time.   Can you take time for a brief nap on your lunch break, for instance?  Or set aside time when you arrive home from work?

If you can’t, try taking 5 minutes mid-afternoon to sit quietly with your eyes closed, watching your breathing or practicing your favorite meditation technique—even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom to get a place to do it.  A little relaxation mid-day will lower your stress and boost your energy enough to ease your way through the tasks before you.