Forget feeling sluggish and wasting time cyber-loafing today. Instead, celebrate National Napping Month, an unofficial holiday -- really, a gift -- that acknowledges that, yes, we all feel a little sleepy from time to time, and that's okay.
Of course, sleep in general has a wide range of health benefits, from protection against heart disease and obesity to stronger bones and memory. But napping has some particular perks all its own. Below are six healthy reasons to indulge in a siesta today. It doesn't have to be long -- even just 20 minutes of daytime shut-eye can make a world of difference.
Napping Boosts Alertness
Once you blink away those first few seconds of grogginess after a nap, you're likely to benefit from a boost of alertness. A NASA study found higher measures of alertness in pilots after a 40-minute snooze, compared to pilots who got no rest. Even just 20 minutes has been shown to perk up shift workers, according to Harvard Men's Health Watch. One very small study found that even after just a 10-minute nap, study participants reported at least feeling more alert.
Napping Improves Learning And Memory
It's the deeper rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that's been linked with the cognitive process, so it's no surprise that it takes a longer nap to reap real brain benefits. But if you can squeeze in an hour, or even 90 minutes, you may find your mental fatigue has vanished upon waking. A longer nap is likely to leave you slightly more groggy, but can have a longer benefit to brain power after the fact, according to a 2010 Australian study. In fact, fMRI scans have shown that brain activity remains higher in nappersall day compared to people who don't take a rest, according to a 2008 study.
Napping Increases Creativity
Ever woken up suddenly knowing the solution to what's bugging you? A team of researchers set about monitoring the brain to attempt to figure out why the lightbulb turns on after napping. They discovered a burst of activity in the right hemisphere, the side most strongly linked to creativity, Health.com reported. An earlier study found that longer naps that allowed sleepers to enter REM led to better performance on a series of creative word problems, National Geographic reported.
Napping Boosts Productivity
Experts agree that an afternoon nap is in fact the opposite of laziness in the workplace: That siesta can actually improve work output. A short power nap can be just the right pick-me-up for sleep deprived, worn-out employees, sleep researcher Sara Mednick told Businessweek, maybe even more so than an afternoon cup of coffee, Prevention reported.
Napping Lifts Your Spirits
Think back to the last time you were around a toddler who hadn't napped. It's not a pretty picture, is it? Sleepiness and the associated crankiness doesn't feel good, even as adults (we've just learned not to throw tantrums about it ... for the most part). A quick nap is a well-documented mood booster, not that you needed any scientific research to tell you so.
Napping Zaps Stress
Part of the reason a nap can get you smiling might be related to relaxation. The sheer luxury of escaping for a nap can be a great stress-reliever, even if you don't sleep for long (and as long as you don't let the stigma against napping get to you). The National Sleep Foundation recommends considering it "a mini-vacation." And don't stress if you can't actually doze off in your allotted 10 minutes: A 2007 study found that asleep or not, a short period spent resting in bed is just as relaxing.
Convinced? Here are some expert tips for how to take a nap at work from Dr. Lawrence Epstein and James Maas, Ph.D.:
How To Nap At Work
Power Napping Refuels Weary Students
With school starting at 7:30 a.m., extracurricular activities stretching past 8 p.m., and jobs and volunteer work to squeeze in as well, sleep often falls to the bottom of the adolescent priority list. One Connecticut high school teacher, who decided his students needed some down time, formed an after school Power Napping Club to give teens 20 minutes a week to just sit back and relax. Included: Students talk about the benefits of power napping.
Over-packed schedules and 12-hour days are draining already sleep-deprived teenagers. In high schools where most students go on to college, the pressure to excel inside and outside of the classroom leaves students with little time to relax.
Anton Anderson, an English teacher at Greenwich (Connecticut) High School, decided to do something to help the waves of weary teens he was seeing every day. In 1998, he founded the Power Napping Club, which allows students to nap for about 20 minutes at the end of the day before going on to extracurricular activities. It's motto: Veni, Vidi, Dormici (Latin for I came, I saw, I slept.)
"It is not a substitute for getting eight to ten hours of nightly sleep, but it does recharge the batteries," Anderson told Education World. "It was clear to me -- after 36 years as a teacher -- that the children are oversubscribed. The pressures on kids are unprecedented in the history of adolescence. We are expecting them to function like executives of hot companies when they are 15 or 16. They have courses, athletics, community service, and jobs. I saw a lot of exhausted kids."
|Students at Greenwich (Connecticut) High School recharge during a meeting of the Power Napping Club.|
SLEEPLESS IN SUBURBIA
During a Power Napping Club meeting in early May, six students gathered in a classroom to relax as soothing music played. Some laid down on the floor, others kicked off their shoes, or slumped down in their seats.
"Napping club just gives me time to stop," Tom, 17, a junior, said after his snooze. "People ask me why I don't sleep at home. Here, we have a routine."
Given their busy schedules, Tom and two other boys said a later school start than the current 7:30 a.m. would be a dream come true.
"I've been waking up later and later since freshman year," Brian, 18, a senior said. "I usually wake up at 6:30 a.m., or 5:40 a.m. if have band practice at 6:30 in the morning. I usually go to bed between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m.; I always have homework to finish late."
"I think we should switch, and let the elementary kids start earlier," Jack, 16, a junior said. "I teach third grade Sunday school, and the little kids are always up around 6 a.m. I'm in bed between 10 and 11, but don't fall asleep until midnight."
Tom added that he has the same problem, not falling asleep for an hour or two after going to bed. He still gets up at 6 a.m. most days, except during water polo season. Then he attends daily practices from 7:45 p.m.9:45 p.m., and three days a week is back at school at 6:15 a.m. for weight training. "It would be great if school started later," he said.
Kelly, a senior club member, said she is not certain if starting school later would make a big difference. But she knows that on the days she gets up at 5:30 a.m. for swimming practice before school she is drowsy by second or third period. "I'm fine for about an hour after practice."
Power Napping Club co-president Jenna, a senior, said while she is all for more sleep, she thinks delaying school's starting time would just push back her drowsy spell to later in the day.
"I usually get up at 6 a.m., unless I have homework to finish. Then I get up 4:45 a.m. or 5 a.m.," Jenna said. "I go to bed about 11 p.m. Getting up is the hard part; it would be a lot nicer if school started later. But I'm involved in sports, and sometimes don't get home until 8 p.m. now. If school started later, it would be hard to find time to do everything. And I'm just as tired in the afternoon as in the morning."
Enter the appeal of power napping. "Obviously, it's no substitute for sleep, but I definitely feel more relaxed afterward," Jenna added.