Oh, to be 2 again. When naps were not only acceptable, but encouraged! Celebrated! Mostly by our sleep-deprived parents, who would give anything for a nap themselves. And yet, it’s likely that, despite the obvious benefits of napping, we vehemently refused any such efforts to put our restless bodies down for a rest. We’re sorry parents! Now we see the error of our ways. Too late, of course.
But all is not lost. The tides are turning on the acceptability of naps for adults! Between the fact that the CDC found that more than 40 million workers get less than 6 hours of sleep, when the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine, too poor nutrition leading to low blood sugar levels and plummeting energy, study after study has confirmed the many benefits of napping. In fact, there is even proof that our bodies were built to take naps! Can we get an “amen?!”
Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
Our bodies need sleep as much as they need food and oxygen. So sleep deprivation has very serious effects on the health of our entire bodies, including in our cardiovascular, digestive, central nervous, and of course, our immune systems. It can cause accidents on the road and at work. It also makes you dumber! Sleep deprivation not only impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving, it also makes it harder for you to permanently retain anything you do learn. It puts you at higher risk of all kinds of heart problems, as well as stroke and even diabetes. It can increase anxiety and depression and make you gain weight. And of course, we’re already talked a lot about how not getting sleep is also detrimental to your immune system. By not giving it a chance to build up its illness-fighting forces, you become more susceptible to viruses like colds and flu.
Benefits of Napping
Clearly, the importance of sleep for our health and keeping your body working in peak condition cannot be overstated. But the reality is that not many of us are getting the sleep we need (duh). It’s no surprise, then, that many companies (not just Google and Apple) are embracing naps. Studies have shown that even short, 10-15 minute power naps can improve productivity, alertness and cognitive performance. Meanwhile, Berkley did a study that suggested that a 1 hour nap could dramatically improve brain performance, and not just by refreshing and restoring the mind, but actually making you smarter! As if that wasn’t enough, it’s actually a better to way to wake up than caffeine.
Making sure you’re getting enough sleep will help your immune system keep you from getting a cold or flu, but if you’ve already been infected, making sure you rest as much as possible will help your body fight the virus and help you get well faster. So if you’re sick, it’s especially important to work in some nap time into your day!
Did you need any more convincing? Yeah. We didn’t think so. Time to pull up a pillow and take these steps for a perfect nap.
6 Steps for a Perfect Nap
Best to be horizontal, as it’s significantly harder to fall asleep sitting. Although a nice, comfy bed is great, the couch might be better, as you’ll be less tempted to sleep for too long. At work? Many employers now provide napping areas, but if not, you can head to your car, or, if you’re committing to this nap thing, and are not afraid of looking totally ridiculous, might as well go all the way and get one of these. And if you have your own office, splurge on a nap desk. Yeah, it’s a thing.
- Lighting and Noise
Make sure the space is dark and quiet. Use earplugs, sleep masks and white noise machines or soothing music, if you have to.
You only have a little time to make this work so it’s important that you get as comfortable as you can so you can take full advantage of the time instead of wasting it on trying to deal with discomfort. The temperature should be cool, but pleasant; about 65-70F is typically good. Grab a jacket or blanket if the area is cold, or a fan to cool off if it’s too warm. If you’re sick, you’re going to want to plan for the symptoms that might make it harder to fall asleep (and keep your sick day survival kit at hand!). Down some honey to suppress coughing and ease a sore throat. Flush the sinuses with some saline, plug in the humidifier and add some lift with pillows to help keep you breathing more comfortably.
Our bodies naturally feel sleepier typically around 1-3pm, so plan your nap for around that time (taking into account your own body’s rhythms, of course). This will ensure that your nap is efficient for your body and that you will be able to fall asleep more easily without messing up your nighttime sleep schedule. It’s also been shown that timing your nap with your caffeine intake, also known as a “caffeine nap”, will ensure that the caffeine kicks in when you wake up, for ultimate alertness. Seriously. If you’re taking a sick day (which you should definitely do! Check out this guide for some tips), get comfy and then let yourself drift off whenever you need to.
Different nap lengths provide different benefits. A 20-minute power nap is ideal for the work day and will help you wake up feeling more alert as well as improve mood, concentration, alertness, and motor skills. If you can sleep for longer, aim for 45 minutes or go full on for 90 minutes, which can also improve creativity. Beware of 30 minute naps, as they can lead to sleep inertia. Remember to set your alarm (and put it in the other side of the room, if you’re a serial snooze button pusher, like some of us!)
- The Mindset
Now, you have to get into the napping mindset for this to work. Plan for it so you take advantage of the time when you’re feeling most sleepy and least productive to recharge. Have everything ready to make it work. Once you start, use meditation and breathing techniques to relax and shut down the voices in your head and the anxiety. Most importantly shut out the guilt. This is for your health, after all!
Do you usually take naps? Are you planning to now? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!