Naps: The Secret Ingredient to Health

I promise to do more afternoon napping.   What a wonderful thing.  The health benefits of napping are irrefutable. We require them of our children and yet in our society, an adult taking an afternoon nap is frowned upon.  Think of all of the phrases we have to denote laziness like  “sleeping on the job”.  You get “caught” napping.   And when you get “caught” you’ll rarely receive praise for doing so.   Adults tend to avoid naps because they are associated with someone being sick, depressed or just downright lazy.

The truth is that short afternoon naps are the best way to remedy daytime fatigue according the the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University.    Most mammals sleep in short spans spread through out the day and night.  The human species has adopted a habit of consolidating all of that sleep into one long span of about 7-8 hours per night.   Research has demonstrated that the circadian rhythm of our bodies is programmed to allow for two periods of intense sleep:  one from about 2am – 4am and the other from about 1pm – 3pm.  This cycle is not influenced by the lunch-time meal.  So to claim that the feeling of drowsiness is the result of what you ate for lunch is a fallacy.

So let’s take advantage of our natural desire to rest in the afternoon.   While I despise the term “power nap”, I do believe that it’s best to do a little planning around how to take your afternoon siesta in order to achieve the maximum benefit.

First you need to choose the length of your nap to avoid waking feeling groggy.  This is because of the natural cycles that you experience during sleep.   A full sleep cycle lasts for about 90 minutes.  The second half of the cycle (after about 45 minutes in), produces the deepest stages of sleep.  That’s why you’ll want to take a nap that is less than 45 minutes, or longer than 90 minutes to avoid waking in the middle of the deep states of 3 and 4 stage sleep.

Sleep researchers have found that the shorter nap (even those as short as 20 minutes) will increase alertness and concentration upon waking.  The longer naps beyond 90 minutes with the slow wave REM sleep will enhance creativity.  So you might also consider the desired effect you wish to achieve from your nap to help determine the length of the nap.

The most ideal place for a nap is a safe, quiet and comfortable place where you can lie down.  It takes about 50% longer to fall asleep when you are sitting.  Have a light blanket on hand to avoid becoming chilled.  Don’t make yourself too warm or you might oversleep.  If oversleeping worries you, use an alarm clock.

If you find it difficult to relax enough to get to sleep during the afternoon, consider playing a soundtrack of nature sounds, gentle music or white noise.   You might also use an eye cover to block out any excess light during your nap.

Still think that naps are for wimps?  Then consider this:  research on airline pilots demonstrated that a simple 20 minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 54%.  Napping also reduces stress, lowers the risk of many common diseases like heart attack, stroke, diabetes and weight gain.   Healthy adults on average can achieve full rest with a total of 7-8 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.  However,  your age and general health condition does affect the amount of sleep needed to be fully rested.   Click here to see how much sleep you need.

If you think your getting enough sleep, then take the Sheep Dash test which is a fun way to measure your reaction time related to how rested your are.  You might be surprised.

Once you see your results with the Sheep Dash, consider planning in a 30 minute nap 2-3 times per week into your afternoons.   If your still struggling with the idea of loafing during the day, then instead of napping consider doing a 30 minute meditation.    You might find that a little laziness goes a long way to being more productive!  Sweet dreams!

– Paul Kulpinski, LMT


The Sleep Research Centre

The Boston Globe

7 Simple Rules for How to Take a Nap


About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
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One Response to Naps: The Secret Ingredient to Health

  1. Marianne Maticic says:

    I thought my desire to sleep in the afternoon had something to do with depression. It makes me feel so much better to know this. Thank you!

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