One thing I will never understand about children: just what do they have against naps? Every single one of my four kids stopped napping at 18 months old and I always judge them a little unkindly for it. After all, naps are fucking awesome.
In fact, when I used to work as a financial advisor and had my own office with a door and a very large and fancy wooden desk, I would often lie down under my desk (the benefits of being tiny) and take a quick nap during lunch time. (Hey, I used to have to get in at 6:30 a.m. and I was not a morning person, okay?) I am not proud to say that I have totally laughed when I startled the unsuspecting passerby as I “rose” from my nap.
And now that we are in the time of COVID-19, naps are more important than ever (except to my children). My husband wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to get a jump on his day and sometimes will do the middle-aged dad thing and nap on the office couch for a bit in afternoon, startle awake to check on the kids downstairs, hang out with them a bit, and then go back to work a few more hours before calling it a day.
I mock him liberally, but I’m secretly glad for it. After all, it justifies my own odd sleeping arrangements. I’m notorious for being awake at all hours (ostensibly writing — but oftentimes, staring at K-pop band BTS because FFS can I just pretend I’m an actual person?), subsisting on 4 to 5 hours a night until after a few weeks, I crash and then sleep all day for a few days in a row.
Benefits of napping
Even though it seems obvious, for the benefit of clarity and definition, let’s first distinguish the difference between sleep and naps. Sleep is generally when you can move through all five stages of the sleep cycle — a period ranging from 90 to 110 minutes in adults. Deep sleep causes your brain to be less responsive to external stimuli so it’s much harder to wake from and leaves you groggy and fatigued.
Naps generally range from 10 to 30 minutes — just long enough for you to fall into the first or second stages of sleep, but before you fall into deep sleep. It’s the perfect length for you to awaken refreshed. Check out these other perks to taking a quick power nap.
Again, this seems super obvious — but yes, napping reduces sleepiness. Most adults don’t need to nap but can benefit from a 10 to 20 minute nap or a 90 to 110 minute nap when sleep deprived. Napping longer than 20 minutes can increase sleep inertia (that groggy, heavy feeling when you wake up) and ruin the benefits of a power nap. Be careful of napping too long or too late in the day — especially if you have insomnia — which can also make it harder for you to sleep at night.
You know how when your kids are little and super cranky and nothing seems to make them happy, you force them to nap and then after, they’re magically a new creation? It works the same for grown ups, too! Naps have been linked to increased positivity and ability to tolerate frustration — and if that’s not the word to describe daily living in the pandemic, what is?
Helps regulate emotions
Studies have shown that as people move through their day, they have amplified responses to negative emotions as the day progresses, but a nap often reverses these responses — as well as amplifies responses to positive emotions.
10- to 30-minute naps have been shown to increase performance in psychomotor speed (how fast a person responds to rapid changes in their environment), reaction time, better memory, and alertness, thus making you more productive.
Aids memory formation
Are you studying or trying to learn new material? A nap may help. Naps help verbal word-recall, perceptual learning, item memory, and associative memory.
Let’s face it — in this fast-paced world, sometimes, the most luxurious thing we can do is to shut everything down and take a nap. It feels like you’re playing hooky and being irresponsible, when really, you’re improving your brain functions and making yourself into a more productive employee.
When should you nap?
If you find your productivity flagging — as if you are in a fog — or that you can’t process information as well as you could in the morning, instead of that afternoon caffeine boost, maybe a short nap is in order. Or you can opt for the best of both worlds with a coffee nap: drink a cup of coffee (or caffeinated beverage of your choice), then immediately take a 15- to 30-minute nap. By the time you wake up, the caffeine really kicks in.
So, here’s to the nap — and taking more of them with less guilt in 2021.