Remember those care-free days as kids when an afternoon power nap was the norm?
Somewhere along the way nap time gave way to school curriculum changes, scheduling pressures and later, things like having a job and the ingrained misconception that napping is a sign of 'laziness'.
Afternoon naps are only for children, the sick and the elderly. That voice in your head should be silenced!
The stigma attached to taking time-out flies in the face of the well documented and scientifically proven benefits of short breaks. The restorative value of a nap is undeniable and comes free-of-charge.
So, let's take a moment to sort out the fact from the fiction. Hopefully more people will recognise that a well-scheduled nap is a normal part of maintaining a healthy, well balanced and – believe it or not – more productive life.
Are we really that tired?
Australian respondents to the 2018 Sealy Sleep Census reported that getting more sleep would make the biggest improvement to their life. An alarming number of the working population take sick leave every year because they're too tired to work. In fact: sleep absenteeism is costing businesses $3.72 billion. That seems to be a clear indication that there are a lot of Australians who are unable to find a positive balance between work life and personal life.
The benefits of napping
A good nap can feel almost as good as a mini-vacation. But besides that extra R&R, studies have shown that a "power nap"– a brief nap of just 20 minutes – can result in significantly improved alertness, cognitive performance and elevated mood almost immediately after waking. The benefits typically last for a few hours and have no apparent interference with night time sleep.
But how long is too long?
Naps that last more than 30 minutes can make you feel groggy for a while after you wake up. This is known as "sleep inertia". This would be a problem for those who must perform immediately after waking from a napping period. Anything longer and you risk falling into the deeper stages of sleep which result in you feeling disoriented when you wake up. A long nap or a nap taken too late in the day may adversely affect the length and quality of night time sleep.
So, then, how can we get more napping in our life?
For most people, the best time to nap is between 1pm and 3pm, so try to squeeze in a power nap after your lunch break. But if you have an unusual sleep schedule (super early mornings or shift work, for example) it's best to align the time of your nap to the time you woke up. It's also worth noting that just by resting your eyes, without actually dozing off, can actually help restore wakefulness.
Tips for a better nap:
- Firstly (and it might sound obvious) for restoring alertness, lying down is best. If you're not at home, head to the softest, most bed-like spot you can.
- Your sleep environment can greatly impact your ability to fall asleep. Make sure the room you're in is at a comfortable temperature and try to free yourself of as many anti-sleep culprits as you can. Whether it's complete silence or having relaxing music playing, go for the noise environment that suits you best.
- Research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, unsurprisingly found that 9 out of 10 respondents reported that their mattress was important to their sleep experience. If you think your mattress could be letting you down in the nap department, it might be time to select a new one.
- If you nap regularly, you should try to nap at the same time each day.
- And finally, be sure to take enough time to fully wake up before starting anything that might be a danger.