In Defense of Naps: Five Ways Napping Can Improve Your Psychological Health
By Victoria Rivera, Wellness Psychotherapist
aking a nap during the day is one of the few biological activities that is not only stigmatized but devalued. Well, I have a confession. I am napper. Yes, I admit it. I have a yoga mat in my office, and in between sessions, most afternoons you might catch me snoozing. I used to feel guilty, maybe even a little ashamed about it, but now I am proud to proclaim that I am napper! And finally, science is backing up what I and millions of other people intuitively know...naps are good for you and may be an essential practice for your psychological wellbeing.
We now all acknowledge the importance of sleeping at least seven hours every night is for our physical and psychological health. No longer are people bragging that they only slept three hours; everyone now knows that lack of sleep is not only associated with many medical issues but also with daytime fatigue, poor memory and decreased emotional functioning. But, did you know that we are biologically programmed to have two phases of sleep?
In Dr. Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams,” he cites that in pre-industrial tribes sleep is a biphasic pattern, meaning they have long sleep periods at night (seven to eight hours) and a 30-60 minute nap in the afternoon. There are some cultures that continue to practice this; however, according to Walker, it is not a cultural phenomenon. “All humans, irrespective of culture or geographical location, have a genetically and wired dip in alertness that occurs in the mid-afternoon hours.” Of course, we need a full night of sleep and taking a daily nap does not replace that, but imagine how much better you could feel if you added another phase of sleep to your routine.
According to scientific research, here is a list of five psychological benefits:
1. Reduces physical and mental tension: We carry so much tension both in our physical body and in our minds. Giving your body and mind permission to take a much needed break helps dissipate this tension. When you actively give yourself the time to take a nap, you are giving yourself space to relax and rejuvenate, decreasing overall physical and mental tension.
2. Improves mood: You probably have witnessed the wrath of a cranky toddler when they are tired. Well, we also get cranky when we are tired — especially in the afternoon even if we had a full nights sleep. Taking a perfectly timed nap helps to reset and restore our mood.
3. Improves energy: Napping increases alertness and energy. When we have improved energy, we are able to engage in more activities; energy that helps us to manage stressors without feeling overwhelmed.
4. Improves attention, concentration and productivity: Studies show that having an afternoon snooze is helpful in improving our executive functioning including our awareness, attention, concentration and productivity.
5. Decreases anxiety: A study from the University of California showed that when people were not sleeping enough, they had a lot more activity in the areas of the brain that were associated with anxiety. Taking naps can help reduce your level of fatigue, stress and tension, reducing your level of anxiety.
Now that you know the benefits of napping, here are some tips to do it right!
1. Stick to a regular napping schedule preferably in the afternoon between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. This timeframe is optimal since it is usually after lunchtime when your blood sugar and energy levels start to decrease.
2. Keep naps short; although Walker suggests a 30-60 minute nap, a 10-20 minute nap is the most beneficial as it prevents sleep inertia (that groggy feeling after waking up).
3. Nap in a dark, cool, quiet room so that you’ll fall asleep faster.
Daniel Pink, in his recent book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” explores napping in detail even prescribing the perfect nap which he calls the “nappaccino,” (drinking a caffeinated beverage, setting an alarm for 25 minutes then napping for 10-20 minutes). He claims that you get the benefits of feeling recharged and energized from both the nap and the caffeine (as the caffeine takes about 25 minutes to kick in). Be warned: Consuming caffeine in the afternoon or evening can negatively affect your nighttime sleep, so if you are sensitive to caffeine, take the nap without the ‘ccino!
Incorporating an afternoon nap in your schedule is an amazing way to improve your psychological health and wellbeing. We have been napping for centuries; let’s decrease the stigma and give our natural biology the permission to relax, restore and rejuvenate during the day just as we now allow ourselves to at night.