It’s easy to pinpoint cultures that value napping. In Spain, the siesta is engrained in society. Stores, restaurants, and businesses close daily for a midday break so that citizens can take a snooze after lunch time. The same is true of Italy, where, as a result of the riposo, businesses are known to shut down for a few hours as well.
It's clear that we have something to learn from these slower-paced cultures where the average life expectancy is significantly longer. Italy comes in 14th on the list with a lifespan of 82 years old and Spain comes in 21st with a lifespan of 81. Much further down the list is the U.S., which comes in at 43 with an average lifespan of 79. Napping in the U.S. still isn’t as culturally accepted everywhere but here’s why it should be.
What Research Says About Napping
A November 2006 study published in the journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine found that 30-minute naps during the day promote wakefulness and enhance performance and learning ability. Another study published in the 2010 edition of the journal Progressive Brain Research found that napping improved cognitive function throughout the rest of the day. In fact, the study found that just seven to ten minutes of sleep can result in a substantial increase in alertness. According to Robert Stickgold, a Harvard sleep researcher, a well-timed nap can almost immediately make you more productive at work because it makes people better problem solvers.
Why Napping Works
Researchers have found in recent years that there is a brief hump built into our circadian rhythm which may cause us to become tired midday naturally. A brief nap at this point in the day can help us to get over the hump, while extended naps (longer than one hour) can cause post-nap inertia. Another factor in daytime sleepiness is that our circadian rhythms cause us to get sleepy no matter what after 16 hours of being awake. This means that if you wake up in the middle of the night because you’re restless or you work at night, you’ll almost certainly require a short nap to reset your circadian rhythm.
How to Nap Effectively
Napping has been shown to be good for your health and your performance but how you nap is important. According to Rebecca Lee, holistic health expert and founder of RemediesForMe.com, short naps are highly important. The longer you sleep, the more groggy you’ll feel when you wakeup. According to Lee, there are four stages of sleep:
- Stage 1 is light sleep, which we can be easily awakened.
- Stage 2 our brain waves slow down.
- Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep, characterized by very slow delta brain waves.
“When you first fall asleep, stages one and two each last about 10 minutes. You can wake up from stage one feeling energized and alert,” says Lee. “It takes a bit longer to recover from stage two. If you sleep for more than 20 minutes and are woken from deep sleep, you’re likely to feel sluggish and disoriented until brain wave activity speeds up again.”
According to Lee, you should nap intentionally, not just when you’re feeling sleepy. Here’s how:
- Plan to nap for 10 to 20 minutes at the same time and place every day in order to adjust your system to the routine. If you can't do this, just try and keep the nap times similar.
- Consider setting the alarm on your smartphone and sleeping with headphones on. This will help block out noise. Wearing an eye mask will block out light and signal to others that you are intentionally napping.
- If you are a coffee drinker, drink your coffee right before taking your nap. The caffeine effects will kick in after you are all done with your nap. You will feel well-rested and the extra boost of caffeine will help keep you up for the rest of the day. As counterintuitive as this might sound, research has shown that for those that do drink coffee, if you drink it right before you nap, by the time you wake you’re ready to attack the rest of your day. A study published in the 2003 edition of Clinical Neurophysiology found that caffeine combined with a nap was most effective for sleepiness and performance level and its effects lasted more than an hour after the nap.
How NOT to Nap
According to sleep experts at Harvard Medical School, napping too much during the day can also be an indication of health problems if the napping is a result of a lack of sleep at night or if the naps are excessively long.
"In studies of older people, regular napping has been associated with diabetes, depression, and chronic pain, presumably because those conditions adversely affect nighttime sleep," the researchers noted. "Indeed, it only stands to reason that napping might be a coping mechanism for those who can't sleep well at night, no matter the age or the reason."
This shows that napping is a key tool for optimal health when it’s proactive rather than reactionary. So, don’t feel guilty getting a few minutes of shut-eye at your desk post-lunch, I know I won’t.