Why napping is good for you

I grew up in a family of nappers. In fact, my dad used to joke that his second job was mattress testing since he spent much of his leisure time resting on one.

Turns out he was onto something. And so are the Spanish and other cultures who believe in the siesta, a little afternoon respite to repower the synapses and get the juices flowing again.

Napping is wasted on the young — half the time they’d rather not be doing it. Many adults, on the other hand, welcome a good nap as often as possible (at least I know I do). Yet in our busy, type-A society, where everyone feels they need to do 12 things at once, napping has gotten a bad rap.

I say it’s time to change that view, especially in a world where so many people are sleep-deprived. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance without leaving you groggy or interfering with your nighttime sleep (if it’s not too late in the day). In fact, one study found that a 20 minute nap is actually more effective than either 200 mg of caffeine or a bout of exercise.

Remember, many of the world’s great thinkers and leaders have been regular nappers, including John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Napoleon. It apparently worked for them.

Sara Mednick, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” says that without a midday nap many people are unable to perform at optimal levels throughout the day. She’s conducted studies in conjunction with numerous academic institutions and the U.S. Navy to prove that a short power nap every afternoon when you begin to flag is a great way to get you through the rest of the afternoon and evening. It’s especially recommended for tired drivers —who are a real danger on the road. Sleep experts recommend that if you feel drowsy while driving, you should immediately pull over to a rest area, drink a caffeinated beverage and take a 15-30 minute nap.  Soon you’ll be safely back on the road.

If all this wasn’t enough to encourage you to take a nap, Mednick also says that napping boosts creativity, reduces stress, enhances libido, aids in weight loss, keeps you looking younger, reduces the risk of heart attack, strengthens memory, clarifies decision-making, and improves productivity. It also feels great.  I don’t know about you, but sign me up!

So instead of thinking about a napper as a lazy, unambitious soul who’s slacking off, perhaps we should consider him or her a smart worker who knows when he or she needs a break to be their best.

For those who aren’t freelancers like myself working next to their beds — perfect for procrastinating and nap-taking — there may still be ways to slip in some mid-day sleep. You can always do a George Costanza (from a famous Seinfeld episode) and crawl under your desk to nap unnoticed, or shut your door, lean back in your chair or lay your head on your desk. I can sleep anywhere, but if that doesn’t work for you, you might try slipping away to your car on your lunch break.

There are even a few very progressive companies (like Google and Huffington Post) that offer “nap rooms,” demonstrating that they truly get the benefits for their employees. But if it’s against office policy, save your napping for the weekends!

If you’re worried you’ll nap the afternoon away, set a timer on your cell phone for just a brief break. You’ll be renewed, refreshed and raring to go after a power nap. So forget the latte or energy drink; grab a few zzzzs and let me know how great you feel afterwards.

How often do you nap, and how does it make you feel?

Sources:

Take a Nap! Change Your Life, by Sara Mednick (Workman Publishing Company)

http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/napping

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/31/really-the-claim-for-a-more-restful-nap-avoid-caffeine/

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2009/November/napping-may-not-be-such-a-no-no