Let’s face it, napping gets a bad press. Most people think snoozing during the day is only fit for babies, old people and the work-shy. But napping culture goes back thousands of years. So why does modern society view this ancient human practice with such low regard?
The main reason is that modern society assumes the working day should fit into a 9-5, eight-hour day. But this paradigm is a throwback to the 19th century, when, during the industrial revolution, workers were forced to conform to the rigid hours set by factory owners.
Nowadays, we live in a 24/7 society. But even though lots of us now work flexible hours, or have the opportunity to work from home, the idea of taking a midday snooze still seems taboo.
Thankfully, attitudes are slowly changing. The Center for Disease Control has declared the lack of sleep as a public health epidemic, citing drowsing driving, industrial accidents, and chronic health conditions as the result of a sleep deprived population.
Hence, individuals, governments, and corporations are waking up to the idea that napping could be a great way to combat the problems of sleep deprivation. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world like Google and Uber now offer their employees special napping facilities.
The science of napping
So is it true? Can napping really be a useful way to boost your productivity? Well, don’t take my word for it. There’s a growing body of scientific research which suggests that napping can boost your physical, mental and emotional well-being in multiple ways. Here’s a rundown of some of the ways you can benefit.
1) Napping stimulates your brain
Far from being a passive activity, sleep plays an active role in learning and memory consolidation. One of the ways this happens is the body of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that accumulates in the brain during the day. Adenosine is partly responsible for sleep regulation and too much of it can cause drowsiness. Stimulants like coffee and Red Bull work by blocking the effects of adenosine. So instead of necking back a fourth cup of Joe, consider instead taking a short 20-minute nap. It’s healthier for you, and you’ll wake up without that feeling of ‘brain-fog’ clouding the rest of your day.
2) Napping improves heart health
People who sleep very little each day put themselves at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Short naps, especially those less than 30 minutes which don’t run the risk of causing sleep inertia (grogginess) are a great way to counter to effects of sleep deprivation and reducing the risk of hypertension and other heart conditions.
3) Naps improve your mental health
We’ve all experienced what it’s like to ‘get out of the wrong side of bed’. It puts us in a grumpy mood and it’s the worst way to start your day. Whilst scientists still don’t know the full extent to which sleep regulates our emotions, one study in elderly people revealed that a 30-minute nap between 3 and 5 pm, followed by moderate evening exercise such as a gentle walk, improved the mental health of participants.
4) Napping boosts creativity
Artists, scientists, and writers have proclaimed the creativity-enhancing effects of sleep for hundreds of years. For instance, surrealist painter Salvador Dali used to hold a metal spoon in his hand whilst drifting off to sleep in a chair. As soon as he fell into a deep sleep, his hand would relax and the spoon would clang on the floor. Awoken from this brief snooze he often finds himself full of creative inspiration for his next artwork.
Recent research has boosted the evidence by showing that short power naps increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, the side that’s associated with creativity.
When and how long should you nap?
Getting the timing of your nap is crucial. the best time of day is the post-lunch period where your circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock, experience a natural dip in energy. Too late in the day and you will jeopardize the chances of being sleepy at bedtime.
The length of your nap is important too. Sleep occurs in cycles; a full cycle takes around 90 minutes and shifts from light sleep to deep sleep, then on to REM (rapid eye movement aka dream-sleep).
A short 10-20 minute nap will ensure you remain in light sleep and is good for a quick, power-up during the day. A longer 45-60 minute nap is good for planting the seeds of creativity, but you run the risk of waking from a deep sleep, which might leave you feeling a little groggy afterward. For the ultimate refreshment, a full 90-minute nap will encompass a whole sleep cycle, giving you loads of energy and making up for any sleep loss incurred the night before.
What are you waiting for?
Repeated studies have shown that people who nap regularly report higher levels of well-being, increased energy and fewer mood problems. So next time you’re faced with the choice of necking a Red Bull or taking a short mid-day snooze, you know what to do!
Jeff Mann is a writer, entrepreneur and sleep enthusiast. His latest site www.sleeptrackers.io takes a look at the latest innovations in the sleep technology world.