Most likely you’re overworked. You’re stressed out, you haven’t had a vacation in a while, and you’re sleeping less. You’re waking up earlier and going to bed later in an effort to get more done. According to a recent NPR story, Americans are even taking less vacation to accomplish more. Some are even doing significant work while on vacation. And there is a ton of research that shows how Americans are sleeping less and less, year over year.
We rationalize these behaviors for many reasons, but the bottom line is that there’s too much to do and not enough time to get anything done. Meanwhile, we pound cup after cup of coffee, followed by energy drinks and all sorts of supplements to get us through the day.
One often overlooked option that may alleviate your daytime drowsiness is napping. Napping has been shown to improve alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes. However most of us view naps with a certain stigma attached. Naps are often viewed as a luxury, and only for children or retirees. It’s also viewed much more negatively in some circles. Napping has also been associated with laziness, lethargy, and disinterest.
These negative napping stereotypes are largely false. In fact, there have been many famous and successfully nappers in history. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Ronald Reagan, and Winston Churchill all took afternoon naps. Most of Latin America takes a siesta, which is an hour-long nap every day in the afternoon.
However, the benefits of a nap rest largely in the method the nap is taken. In order to get the most from a nap, it is important to understand what constitutes an effective nap.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are three types of naps.
Planned napping, also called preparatory napping, is a type of nap you take before you get tired. A planned nap is great for people that know they’ll be up later than their normal bedtime, or if they tend to get tired later in the day.
Emergency napping is exactly what it sounds like – a nap that must happen. It’s a priority. This is for individuals that suddenly feel very tired and cannot continue their normal activities. An emergency nap is great for those driving long distances that need to pull over and get a quick nap.
Habitual napping describes individuals who take a nap at the same time each day. This would apply to young children that take a nap around the same time each day, or like a siesta where adults take a short nap after lunch. Habitual napping is different from planned napping in that a planned nap doesn’t occur regularly.
In spite of the type of nap you take, there are two important guidelines to follow for effective naps.
A short nap is most often recommended from sleep specialists. Naps lasting for 20-30 minutes can improve daytime alertness and eliminate that groggy post-nap feeling. Short naps also are less likely to interfere with nighttime sleep as well.
The napping environment can increase a nap’s effectiveness tremendously. If possible, find a cool, dark, quiet, and peaceful place to rest, preferably somewhere you can lie down to sleep. However, make sure you set an alarm in order to prevent from napping longer than anticipated.
Be careful not to take a nap longer than 30 minutes. Longer naps can lead to sleep inertia, which is the disorientation and groggy feeling that happens from awaking from a deep sleep. Also, avoid napping late in the day, which can negatively affect the length and quality of your nighttime sleep.
Some sleep specialists will caution against napping altogether. Ralph Downey III, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, stated, "Even just a little bit of a power nap reduces your nighttime sleep drive. The nap becomes nothing more than another episode of fragmented sleep."
The best advice is to try napping and see how you feel. However, if after following these recommendations you’re still feeling tired throughout the day, and constantly fighting sleep, you may have a more serious sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea. If this is the case, no amount of napping will help you feel more rested.
If you live in Alaska and you would like to speak to a sleep specialist about benefits you can receive from napping, or if you believe you have a more serious sleep disorder, please click on the link below.