Alaska Sleep Education Center

Napping: the Complete Guide

Posted by Christopher D Childs on Dec 31, 2020 3:00:00 AM


Business man getting a nap.Our modern culture resists napping and even works against getting a full night's sleep. We have too much to do. We are too busy. As a result, far too many of us are sleep deprived. It is becoming more and more evident that this is a recipe for disaster.

We have internalized messages that label us "lazy" or "unable to handle stress" or something similar if we nap during the day. If we are sleep deprived, we cannot make the best decisions. If we become drowsy, our bodies will grab little bits of sleep, a few moments at a time. This causes road accidents if we're driving.

 In Ontario, Canada, there are signs along the highway:

Fatigue Kills

Take A Break

This is true and gives good advice that we should all take. In my own experience, I was recently reminded of how much benefit a short nap could give. After a day's work, standing on my feet all day, hardly a moment to sigh, I found myself very drowsy on the drive to a funeral home for the viewing of a dear friend. I knew it was dangerous to drive like this and fought the drowsiness as best I could.

At the funeral home, I sat down while I waited for a friend to arrive and allowed myself a catnap. It did not seem like I fell asleep and I relaxed like this for less than 5 minutes but it made a huge difference. All my drowsiness was gone for the drive home. I found myself alert and surprised at how short a nap had given me so much benefit.

Sure, a cup of coffee can help keep us awake. But a stimulant will not reduce our sleep debt - it can even increase it by making it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime. Napping is probably the most effective way to manage sleep debt, especially in a crisis or when traveling.

Some very famous people have been fans of napping. Thomas Edison thought that sleeping eight hours a night made people lazy and he boasted about needing only 4 hours per night. However, he loved napping and probably got eight hours of sleep by taking daytime naps. Dr. Dement retells an anecdote about Edison thus: "There is a story that Henry Ford, a friend of Edison's, once visited the inventor and was told that Mr. Edison was not to be disturbed because he was napping. "I thought Mr. Edison didn't sleep much," said Ford. "Oh, he doesn't," Edison's assistant said sincerely. "He just naps a lot."

Winston Churchill and Lyndon Johnson both napped regularly. They made naps a part of their day. Churchill even said you should get into your pyjamas for a nap!

Naps can be as short as 5 minutes to be effective. Most people find naps helpful once they try them, but some find an afternoon nap interferes with a good night's sleep. Give napping an honest try and see what suits you.

The Positive Effects of Napping

There is scientific research to back up the positive effects of napping which are much the same as sleeping well. Among the benefits you will receive are:

  • better motor performance (important for musicians, athletes, machine operators and even typists.)
  • improved perceptions and decisions (important for us all but think what this would mean for pilots.)
  • more youthful looks.
    weight loss (you don't have to eat high-carb food to keep your energy up.)
  • reduced health risks (heart problems, stroke, and even diabetes)
  • increased creativity and memory.

People are blind to how close they are to falling asleep. Dr. Dement did a study where volunteers stayed up all night except for a 2 hour nap from 5am to 7am. They sat at a computer and were asked frequently how likely they were to fall asleep in the next 2 minutes. The volunteers were terrible at predicting how likely they were to nod off. Because their brain waves were recorded, there was accurate information on when they fell asleep and they fell asleep often, even when they predicted there was zero likelihood of doing so. People acknowledge that sleep loss can be debilitating and dangerous but they won't recognize the danger signals in themselves. Drowsiness is the last sign of danger before falling asleep so get off the road if you are having trouble keeping your eyes open. It could save your life as well as the lives of others. 

To Do

Try napping during your afternoon dip in alertness.

  • Give yourself permission to nap. You are not lazy.
  • Find a quiet space if possible - maybe in your car.
  • Sit comfortably. (or lie down if possible)
  • Use a small pillow on your desk or use a contoured pillow to stop your head from flopping if your head is back against a chair.
  • Use a sleep mask if darkness helps you fall asleep.
  • If a blanket helps you doze off, use one.
  • Breathe deeply to relax your body and mind.
  • Play soft music, if it helps relax you.
  • If you are hungry, eat protein before a nap - nuts, yogurt, turkey or chicken.


  • Drink coffee or other caffeine drinks before napping.
  • Eat sugar or other high-carb foods before napping.
  • Exercise immediately before a nap

If you are afraid you will wake up groggy and irritable, take a shorter nap. If you nap too long, you get to a deeper stage of sleep and then find it difficult to wake up and get going again. If you nap for 20 minutes or less, you won't have this problem.

If you're too busy, try a few days with a nap during your low energy phase. Don't give up on napping if you feel awkward or can't manage to sleep the first time you try. The benefits are real. You'll be amazed at how much more you get done when you're rested and energized.

For people who don't catch enough Zs during the night, daytime naps can improve alertness and motor performance. "Everybody agrees that if you are sleep deprived, you can't learn, perform or think very well," says Jerome Siegel, PhD, director of the Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The balance is understanding why you tend to nap habitually or frequently due to a sudden life change.

Two of the most popular reasons that healthy napping is recommended is for stress and moodiness. If you are changing shifts at work or experiencing a loss of a pet or family member, a nap can help lower your anxiety. You may have woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Good news! A nap can help improve your mood. Even 10 minutes can affect your attitude.

Lady taking a nap on the couch.On the flip side, habitual napping can lead adults into depression. Unlike children who nap everyday at 2 p.m. due to the need for metabolism and growth, adults who nap daily are more likely to be depressed. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 300 million people suffer fromdepressionworldwide (6.7% of the U.S. population suffer with 15 million cases).

According to Harvard Medical School, a variety of studies indicate that between 65 to 90 percent of adult patients with major depression experience some type of sleep problem.

If napping is becoming more common due to what you believe is a health condition, talk to your family doctor. In the meantime, take the CNN Health Quiz: The science of sleep to determine how much you know about healthy sleeping.

If 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, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free consultation.


Chronic Drowsiness

About the author: Christopher D Childs works as a review writer for ResumeWriterReview. It gives him an opportunity to improve his critical and creative thinking skills. Moreover, he keeps up with modern tendencies of employee engagement, motivation and management.


Topics: napping, naps, power naps

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