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  • Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC

Six Great Reasons to Take a Nap | Issue 299

Summary: How a good nap can help you beat the afternoon slump and renew your focus and energy.

Estimated read time: 5 minutes (and then take your nap)



By Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC


When the midday slump hits, what do you do? Are you resisting napping because you heard it was bad for you? Well, there's good news.

New studies show that for healthy adults, a short early afternoon snooze can improve energy, mood, and productivity. Research reveals several benefits from napping, including some that can ramp up your dissertation progress. Here's what a good nap does:

1. Restores energy. Napping allows you to recharge energy levels, especially at midday when many people experience a dip in alertness. A short nap combats fatigue and restores mental and physical energy, leading to increased productivity afterward.

2. Enhances cognitive function. Sleep plays a crucial role in consolidating memories and improving cognitive function. When you nap, your brain gets a chance to process and organize information—leading to enhanced learning, problem-solving abilities, creativity, and overall mental performance. Studies show naps improve memory retention and recall, thereby raising your productivity when engaged in mentally demanding tasks.

3. Improves mood and emotional well-being. Lack of sleep dampens mood and emotional stability, leading to irritability, stress, and reduced overall well-being. Napping works to counteract these effects by promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels. Giving your brain a mental break allows you to resume tasks with an improved mood and greater emotional balance.

4. Boosts alertness and focus. Naps give your brain an opportunity to rest and reset, leading to increased alertness and improved focus. You can maintain a higher level of cognitive functioning throughout the day, enabling you to stay on task and complete work more efficiently.

5. Enhances physical well-being. Short naps may benefit cardiovascular health, but additional studies are needed regarding longer naps.

6. Reduce brain shrinkage. Did you know that your brain naturally shrinks as you age? Daily 20-minute naps might reduce that to some degree. Two studies found links between habitual napping and larger total brain volume—a marker of good brain health linked to a lower risk of dementia and other diseases.

The esteemed Mayo Clinic concurs, noting that naps have positive benefit for healthy adults, including relaxation, reduced fatigue, increased alertness, improved mood, improved performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory.

How long should you nap? The ideal nap duration varies from person to person. You should take into account your personal sleep needs, schedule, and preferences. Keep your power naps to around 10 to 20 minutes to avoid entering deep sleep stages and consequent grogginess upon awakening. Frequent long naps, however, may signify sleep disturbances that you should discuss with your doctor.

Timing of naps also matters. Sleep experts recommend napping before 3 p.m. to avoid interfering with nightly sleep. They also advocate refraining from using naps to compensate for a chronic lack of sleep at night.

Some claim that caffeine can boost a nap's positive effects. Author Daniel Pink offers his recipe for the perfect "napuccino": Find your afternoon low point; create a peaceful environment; down a cup of coffee; set a timer for 25 minutes; repeat consistently.

While naps boost productivity and focus, keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all nap. For the right balance and timing for your naps, experiment until you identify your own "Goldilocks" zone. Consider keeping a nap and sleep diary or using a fitness tracker or app.

Finally, genes and culture may also affect the propensity to nap. For example, a decade in Argentina gave me ample opportunity to witness the value of the traditional siesta. I found it easier to lie down when nearly all the offices and shops closed for the afternoon while almost everyone was at home resting.

In a nutshell, napping can boost your emotional and cognitive well-being. Naps empower you to tackle tasks, including your dissertation, more effectively, while optimizing your well-being. Take a page from Lord Byron: "Always nap when you can. It's cheap medicine."

Image credit: This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

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