When I was growing up, naps were looked upon negatively. In fact, many thought that naps were a sign of laziness. Unfortunately, back then we did not understand the value of naps. We were literally in the dark ages.
In recent years, we have come to appreciate the value of well-timed naps. Numerous studies have shown that a well-timed nap can increase memory retention as well as athletic performance. In fact, with their hectic travel schedules, many athletes routinely take short naps on game day. Steve Nash, the great point guard, has touted the influence of naps on increasing his performance and longevity in the NBA.
We also know that naps improve memory retention. This involves retention of facts as well as procedural memory. The latter refers to things like riding a bike or your golf swing.
The first part of an average nap is dominated by non-REM sleep. This type of sleep is mostly involved in factual memory. If we extend the nap to 60 or 90 minutes, we get into REM sleep. This portion of the sleep cycle is more involved in what we call procedural memory–what I previously referred to with the bicycle and golf reference. However, we have to be aware that in some individuals, naps that are longer than one hour can leave one groggy and may make falling asleep that night more difficult. So as with many things, it depends upon the individual.
As for short naps of no more than 30 minutes, that can go a long way in preventing the post lunch circadian dip. You know that overwhelming sleepiness that is so common in the afternoon. In fact, our neighbors to the south of us have taken napping to an art form. They call it a siesta.
What have the studies shown? A 10 to 20 minute nap in someone who slept a normal 7 to 8 hours the night before can increase alertness for four hours. The same nap in someone who partied and slept far less than they should have, can increase alertness for two hours.
Therefore, what is the take-home message? First, instead of reaching for the Starbucks, maybe a nap would be better. Talk to your HR person or supervisor about putting into place a quiet and comfortable location where you and your coworkers can avail yourself of the opportunity to take a short midday nap. Point out how it will result in increased productivity and a more harmonious workplace. Unfortunately, excessive caffeine may keep people awake, but it can result in irritability and anxiety. I’m sure most will agree that a healthy short nap is preferable.