Most people think that naps are reserved only for babies and the elderly.
We’ve all felt a little guilty when we’ve found ourselves start to drift off in a boring meeting or after a big lunch.
But what if we told you that napping is not only good for you, it’s actually one of the best tools at your disposal for optimal performance throughout the day.
That’s right — napping could be your secret weapon to performing well at work, being switched on at home, and just generally feeling ready for anything.
Napping is the new coffee.
Let’s find out more…
Is Napping Good for You?
If you don’t believe us, listen to NASA. They found that their astronauts’ performance increased by 34% and their alertness by 54% after a 26-minute nap.
But if you’re thinking about substituting your 8 hours — or however much nightly sleep you need — with a few naps throughout the day, think again.
To truly restore your mind and body, you need to go through multiple full sleep cycles, which last around 90 minutes each. A short nap of less than 90 minutes will never be able to make up for the completion of multiple sleep cycles.
While naps can never make up for profound sleep deprivation, they can — and should — be added onto a normal sleep schedule in order to boost performance, alertness and working memory throughout the day.
Think of naps like a daily supplement — you take it once a day (or simply as needed), as an add-on to an already healthy diet of sleep.
Benefits of napping
- Boost cognitive function, memory and learning skills
- Enable creative problem solving
- Boost reaction times
- Improve mood and reasoning skills
- Manage stress levels, blood pressure and weight
- Alleviate sleepiness
Sounds good to us!
While we know that there are performance benefits to napping, there are some potential drawbacks to consider as well.
- Because you can’t complete a full sleep cycle when you nap, you may feel some sleep inertia when you wake as your body brings itself mid-way out of a cycle. This shouldn’t last for over 30 minutes.
- There is a stigma associated with napping, with some people assuming it means that a napper is lazy.
- Naps taken too late in the day can affect the length and quality of your usual night time sleep.
But don’t just take our and NASA’s word for it — check out these famous historic figures who took great benefit from regular naps:
- JF Kennedy
- Winston Churchill
- Thomas Edison
- Ronald Reagan
The Science of Napping
Napping clearly provides a number of benefits to the body and mind, but we want to know exactly how it manages to do this.
How can just 6 minutes of sleep transform our moods and brain function so positively?
Types of nap
The Sleep Foundation have identified 3 different types of nap:
- Planned nap — if you know you have to stay up a little later, or wake a little earlier than you usually would, you may plan to take a nap during the day in order to be best prepared for any later sleep deficits.
- Habitual nap — if you have a regular nap at around the same time every day.
- Emergency nap — if you feel very sleepy and require a short burst of sleep right now to tide you over for the rest of the day.
Naps can also vary by duration. What benefits you might accrue from a 6 minute nap are likely different to those after a 45 minute one.
Remember, while you can arguably enjoy more benefits from a longer nap, the longer the nap, the more likely you are to suffer from a degree of sleep inertia upon waking.
- 6 minutes: improves recall and long-term memory
- 10 to 20 minutes: the power nap — improves alertness, concentration and motor skills
- 45 minutes: improves memory and creative learning capabilities
- 60 minutes: improves alertness for up to 10 hours
- 90 minutes: reduces sleep deficit, clears the mind and avoids sleep inertia
History of napping
While adult napping isn’t too common nowadays, it’s likely that our ancestors were big believers in the power of a nap.
For the hunter-gatherer generation, being alert and focused was imperative to survival. A bout of sleepiness in the afternoon might mean no food for the next day or, even worse, certain death from invading predators.
It’s likely, therefore, that our ancestors napped when necessary during the day — in addition to their nighttime sleep — in order to be able to perform optimally throughout the day.
As humans evolved to where they are today, the basic essential need to be alert and resourceful at all times during our waking hours became less of a priority.
Employers now focus on quantity over quality work from their employees. They want us to work around 8 or 9 hours a day where we may be performing sub-optimally. If this was reduced to, say, 6 or 7 hours, with time for nap scheduled in, they may find that their workers get the job done faster and to a higher quality.
Tips for the Ultimate Nap
If you’re reading this and feel like you’re ready to use napping to transform your effectiveness during the day, there’s a few things you need to know.
Naps require a little preparation in order to be as valuable as possible. It can be difficult to just fall asleep on demand in the middle of the day!
Here’s a few tips to ensure that your naps are the best they possibly can be.
Transform your napping environment
The best way to fall off to sleep quickly is to ensure that wherever you plan on napping — your bedroom or a sleep room for shift workers, for instance — is as relaxing and soothing a place as possible.
That will mean different things for different people, so it’s best to work out exactly what it is that you find relaxing.
For us, that’s a tidy bedroom with a made bed, a little white noise, low lighting and some lavender essential oils.
As soon as our heads hit the pillow, we’re out like a light!
Nap earlier rather than later
It’s important that you don’t let your daytime napping affect your nighttime sleeping.
Napping too late in the day can mean that when bedtime rolls around, you’re not tired enough to fall off to sleep and so end up creating a sleep deficit. Which then means more napping!
We would advise to keep your naps to the early afternoon, and to avoid any naps after 4pm. If you find yourself tired and in need of some rejuvenation later in the day, it’s best to bring forward your bedtime instead of napping.
The best time to nap varies from person to person and depends on the time that you wake up — use this nap wheel to work out what time is best for you.
When you first start experimenting with regular naps, be sure to start slowly with a sleep of around 10 to 20 minutes.
This will be enough to rejuvenate you, decrease any feelings of sleepiness and make you more alert, but will also ensure that you won’t be struggling with any sleep inertia when you wake up.
Longer naps — of over 30 minutes — will see you dive headfirst into a sleep cycle. While these longer naps do have many benefits, they can leave you feeling a little tired when you wake up as your body adjusts to the interruption in your sleep cycle.
… Or sleep for a full sleep cycle
If you feel like you need more than a 30 minute nap — perhaps you’re trying to write off that sleep deficit — the best way to avoid sleep inertia when you wake up is to aim to sleep for a full cycle.
Sleep cycles generally last around 90 minutes and take you through all the phases of deep sleep.
These long naps are incredibly restorative — you’ll likely wake up feeling that you’ve had a full night of shut-eye!
Set an alarm
If you’re worried about sleeping far past your 20-minute nap time, simply set an alarm to wake you up when you need to.
This will mean that you won’t be worrying about oversleeping, which will keep you relaxed as you start your nap.
If you want to really hack your nap, take a look at some of the amazing sleep tracking apps for iOS and Android — some of them have intelligent ‘smart’ alarms that can wake you up gently at the optimal time for your body and sleep cycle.
Power up with caffeine
For those of us really keen on optimizing performance, one of the most effective napping tricks is to have a cup of coffee straight before you go for a 20 minute nap.
The caffeine takes around 20 minutes to enter your system, so by the time you wake up, you’ll be feeling extra alert and focused.
Now that’s a nap hack.
And that’s it — it’s super easy to fit a short nap into your day, and the benefits for performance and mood are almost limitless.
Have you found any benefits of napping?