I have never been a napper. In fact, I’ve long considered myself to be proudly anti nap. I’ve always held firm that falling asleep midday is for the weak willed and the lazy unless we’re talking about cranky toddlers or house cats,. Whether I’m powering through jet-lag in a foreign city or heading out for a night out on the town after a day of back-to-back meetings, sleeping the day away is not an option. As they say, I’ll sleep when I’m dead!
And I’m not alone in my stance against snoozing; there is undoubtedly a stigma — particularly in North America — around the idea of rest. Sneaking in a daytime nap is seen as a guilty pleasure while boasting about how little sleep you get (or “need”) each night is a point of pride for many modern day millenials. We might wax poetically about our juicing habits and self-care rituals, but many of us are guilty of prioritizing productivity and busyness over our physical wellbeing.
But here’s the thing, as I get older I care a lot less about DOING ALL THE THINGS and a lot more about how I feel day to day in my own body. When it comes to long term health and happiness, I know diet, exercise and sleep patterns are much more important than the number of emails I can respond to or Instagram likes I can rack up in a day. And I’m starting to realize that getting plenty of sleep doesn’t make me a sloth, it’s actually a key component in the pursuit of a fulfilling, meaningful life.
Of course, getting the full recommend eight hours of sleep each night isn’t always a reality. Sometimes we go to bed late after an accidental Netflix binge-watching session, sometimes our REM cycle is interrupted by a crying baby or snoring partner, and sometimes we just toss and turn for seemingly no reason at all. So when our nocturnal slumber is less than amazing, a quick afternoon nap can serve as a restorative remedy during a sleep deprived day.
There are countless scientific studies that suggest there are many benefits of napping. It can help improve our lives from a physical, mental and emotional standpoint. In her book Take a Nap! Change Your Life, author and sleep researcher Dr. Sara Mednick exalts the various benefits of daytime naps and argues that a strategic sleep is more effective than a cup of coffee if you’re looking for a midday pick-me-up. Research shows short sleep breaks during the day can reduce stress by lowering your cortisol levels, increase creativity and cognitive abilities such as decision-making skills and memory function, and improve your overall mood. According to Mednick, we can even customize our sleep habits to achieve specific results by altering the duration and timing of our naps. For example, you might tailor a nap to inspire creativity on Monday and a different type of nap to help with short-term memory on Wednesday.
And while falling asleep on the job might have been taboo in the past, our perceptions of workplace sleep are starting to shift. Reports from the National Sleep Foundation show that taking a power nap in the middle of the workday is a great way to restore mental alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents throughout the day. Back in the ’90s George Constanza retrofitted his desk to build a secret napping workstation, but today numerous forward-thinking tech companies like Google and Uber are creating dedicated sleep areas in their offices to encourage hard-working employees to get horizontal in the name of increased productivity and performance.
So if we’re sold on the science of napping, the burning question becomes how long? Sleep experts suggest a short kip of around 15 to 20 minutes is the optimal amount of time for some midday shut eye. Snooze too little and you’ll be left unsatisfied and will miss out on the potential restorative powers of napping; get too much sleep and you risk causing sleep inertia that’ll leave you feeling groggy and disoriented.
It’s also important to think about when we nap. Like chugging a cortado after work, settling in for a snooze after 4 p.m. can potentially interfere with your usual bedtime and make it difficult to fall asleep at night. And of course, your environment is key when it comes to reaping the benefits from an afternoon nap. Ideally you’ll want to get comfortable in a cool, dark space that’s free of excess noise and distractions. That said, catching some zzzzs while riding the bus or powering down in your office breakroom can do the job in a pinch.
Call it what you want — a cat nap, power nap, disco nap — but there’s no denying the potential health benefits of a midday snooze. And while an afternoon siesta can’t replace a good night’s rest, it can certainly help combat the negative consequences of sleep deprivation and help boost your physical health and mental faculties for the second half of the day. So perhaps it’s time to stop fighting fatigue, listen to your body and treat yourself to a well-deserved nap.