Napping … Is it Good for You?

Giving in to a daytime catnap might have been frowned upon in the past, but now new research has put to bed previous nap naysayers. Studies show that a little daytime shuteye can actually provide health benefits.

According to a past issue of the Harvard Health Letter, catching a daytime nap is a good way to catch up on the sleep you lose at night, sleep that may become more difficult as you age due to natural age-related decline in the quality of your nighttime sleep.

Getting Over the Mid-afternoon Slump

A case of the drowsies may seem to hit the same time every afternoon and does so for several reasons. The first is a biological element. Your biological clock, located in the hypothalamus of your brain, is regulated and impacted by many physiological processes such as body temperature, blood pressure and secretion of digestive juices.

The circadian rhythm, also referred to as the “internal body clock,” is naturally set to induce feelings of wakefulness during the day that gradually slow down and turn to sleepiness at nighttime. Oftentimes, it’s common to experience feelings of mid-afternoon sleepiness as a part of the circadian schedule.

Waking hours is the other factor to daytime sleepiness. For example, if you work a night shift and find yourself having difficulty falling asleep the next night it could be due to a disruption in your circadian rhythm, resulting from your 16 hours of wakefulness beginning earlier and ending earlier — causing you to feel drowsy in the late afternoon or early evening hours.

Power Naps at Work can Increase Productivity

Just taking a six-minute nap can help with information retention and memorization. In addition, research has shown that a nap improves:

  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Creative thinking
  • Problem solving

According to Inc.com, companies like Apple, Google, Uber, Huffington Post and Zappos have jumped on the nap “wagon” and consider napping a strategic company move, even going so far as to designate nap rooms for their employees.

Another recent study showed the benefits a planned 40-minute nap had on improving the alertness and performance of air traffic controllers working the night shift. Currently, research is in the works to improve the sleep policies of fire departments as well.

Some experts, however, still continue to believe that daytime naps may steal hours from nighttime sleep. They recommend if you do take daytime naps to take them in the mid-afternoon and limit them to 30 minutes.

Other Countries Embrace Benefits of Daytime Siestas

Taking a nap after lunch in other countries like Portugal, Spain, many Latin American countries, the Philippines, China, Italy, India, the Middle East and North Africa is commonplace and encouraged.  Some countries like Argentina take naps very seriously and have a reserved time of the day for siestas that is considered a sacred time. And it’s not unusual for an employee in Japan to take a nap in a “napping room” or at their “desk pillow” during office hours.

Another study conducted in Greece showed the more people napped, the lower their risk of dying from heart disease and stroke.

Specific study findings touting the benefits of napping include:

  • People who napped regularly during the day for at least 30 minutes three times a week or more had a 37 percent lower risk of coronary mortality than those who did not sleep during the day
  • The strongest link between lower coronary mortality and napping during the day was found among working men
  • Even people who napped occasionally had a 12 percent lower coronary mortality compared to those people who did not nap at all

Top Napping Tips

If you are looking for the best way to take a nap, here are some tips to get the most out of your daytime naps:

  • Set a timer or alarm for 30 minutes: This is the ideal amount of time for your body to reenergize and relax. A nap any longer than 30 minutes will put you in a deeper sleep cycle, causing feelings of grogginess and making it harder to focus and concentrate once you awake.
  • Create an ideal nap area: Be sure that the room is dark, free of distractions and at a comfortable temperature. You can use eye shades and relaxing music to help you fall asleep faster.
  • Schedule your nap time: Don’t wait until you’re ready to topple over from exhaustion, or worse get behind the wheel to drive home, before you take your nap. If you start taking naps at the same time and for the same duration each day, your body will have an easier time adjusting.
  • Drop any guilty feelings: Instead of thinking of yourself as lazy, think of how much more productive and alert you will be after napping.

American Sleep Habits

The reasons for sleep deprivation among Americans run the gamut from kids, work, stress, and even addictions to the Internet. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 out of 10 people admitted to not getting enough sleep in the past 30 days, and the part of the country feeling the most sleep-deprived are those on the east coast.

Other findings from the survey clarified who is and who isn’t getting enough sleep:

  • Hispanics slept better than whites or blacks
  • Men slept better than women
  • A whopping 25.8 percent of people who were unable to work said they had not gotten a single night’s good rest in the previous month
  • 13.9 percent of unemployed people also said they hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in the past month, compared to 9.9 percent of people with jobs and 11.1 percent of students and homemakers

And by state the Westerners are sleeping more soundly than those on the East Coast:

  • 19.3 percent of West Virginians ranked the highest in sleep deprivation reporting no nights of adequate rest for the past 30 days

They were followed by:

  • Tennessee: 14.8 percent have been sleep deprived for the past month
  • Kentucky: 14.4 percent
  • Oklahoma: 14.3 percent
  • Californians: 8 percent
  • North Dakotans: 7.4 percent
  • 12 of the 14 best-sleeping states were west of the Mississippi

Authors of the survey attribute the struggles in the Southeastern U.S. with getting a good night’s sleep to having a higher rate of obesity, hypertension and other chronic diseases.

© Health Realizations Institute