It’s already been a long, taxing work day, with more stressful hours yet to come. You’ve just finished a modest, packed lunch and last night’s tossing and turning have become this afternoon’s red eyes and prolonged yawns. You’re sinking into your office chair with alarming frequency and keep forgetting which task is up next. Your mind is trying to tell you something, though you long ago programmed yourself to ignore it: You’ve worked up a nappetite. And those of us at Sleep Outfitters can certainly empathize.
By now, it should come as no surprise that America is an overworked and underslept nation. Most need look no further than their own daily schedules and oft-neglected rest hours to recognize the hurried reality of industrialized, modern life. Even those of us working in the sleep industry aren’t immune. This is only intensified by the fact that we may be fighting against the natural rhythms of our bodies. The vast majority of all mammals are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they alternate short periods of sleep and wake throughout a 24-hour period. Mankind, in contrast, generally is monophasic resulting in just two periods, commonly day and night. It’s not clear if this is the natural sleep cycle for humans; in fact, evidence points to a biphasic model (a long period of sleep at night and a shorter period midday) as a better fit. ''It seems nature definitely intended that adults should nap in the middle of the day, perhaps to get out of the midday sun,'' said William Dement, director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center at Stanford University, in the first collection of scientific studies of napping, published in 1989.
Yet, years later, the stigma remains. Naps are for the lazy, the unambitious, the weak. They’re for the elderly, for children. They have no place in the day of a professional. Some have heard these claims directly, but most of us have at least felt their impact. It’s why we wouldn’t be caught dead dozing off in our cubicles, even on break. What would people think? In an ideal world, they would think, “what a savvy, healthy coworker.”
Time and again, studies have underlined both the power and naturalness of a well-timed nap. Dr. Roger Broughton, a professor of neurology at the University of Ottawa, was one of the earliest to propose the idea; in 1975, he challenged conventional wisdom by arguing the body's built-in sleep rhythm included a smaller period of sleep in the afternoon in addition to standard nighttime rest. And research has since backed his once-ignored theories. In one such study, volunteers stayed for weeks in a room isolated from any time indicators and were told they could sleep whenever they wished. They ultimately tended toward the two periods Dr. Broughton speculated. Another study at NASA found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent. The National Institute of Mental Health funded a Harvard study which showed a midday nap can reverse information overload and boost performance to higher levels. Naps can refresh your mind and memory, increase alertness and creativity, improve mood and productivity, reduce stress, sharpen senses, and even decrease your risk for heart disease. They give your brain a moment to catch its breath and get organized. Why not indulge your nappetite?
Ok, but how?
Thankfully, it seems many are heeding this advice. As we’ve noted in the past, recent studies have seen one-third of adults claim to nap on a typical day. And even in our race toward endless profit, many companies are carving out more nap-friendly spaces and breaks in their schedules. But perhaps you are one of those who are on board with the idea of restorative naps, but can’t seem to pull one off. What’s the secret? Here are a few tips that might help match you with the most supportive rest:
-Overwhelmingly, research points to two lengths of naps as most effective...
1) A 10 to 20-minute snooze is excellent for improving attention, boosting performance, and staving off sleepiness. These power naps also fit in quite nicely with a lunch break at work or immediately upon returning home. These might be referred to as a power nap or Stage 2 nap as it stays within the beginning of a sleep cycle, avoiding the detriments of waking up deeper in sleep while still reaping some of the benefits of rest. (Struggling to fall asleep in so short a time or waking up so soon after? Try a “caffeinated nap” sometime after a meal to ease into sleep and jolt yourself awake.)
2) Alternatively, a 90-minute nap (if you’re lucky enough to find the time) allows a full sleep cycle from lightest to deepest to take place and REM (rapid eye movement) to be reached. This has been proven to help your brain create new connections, problem solve, store memories, and bolster creativity.
-It’s worth noting that though naps in between these two periods may still prove helpful, they’re likely to come paired with sleep inertia, or feelings of grogginess and disorientation. In a practical sense, it may be more helpful to avoid a nap altogether than to take a 40-minute one, as you’ll likely leave it sleepier than before. Similarly, anything longer than 90 minutes risks throwing off your internal clock and keeping you up at night.
-Timing is key as well. If you nap too late in the day, you may find yourself counting sheep long past your regular bedtime. This can be avoided by waking from your nap at least three hours prior to bedtime. Try too early in the day and you won’t be ready to doze off again. A nap taken between 1-3 p.m. may be the most ideal. However, for those with unusual work schedules and sleep hours, follow this handy model to determine a naptime that works for you.
-Remember the basics: Avoid light. Stay warm and comfortable. Set an alarm. And above all, have fun.
Sleep Outfitters encourages you to grab a worktime siesta if you can manage, and watch as your day transforms. (Perhaps on one of our dreamy mattresses, properly fitted to your individual needs?) The power of good sleep might not surprise you, but just how well you take to it might. If you let it.