There is one aspect of working from home which I greatly enjoy: the possibility to have a mid-day nap. While I remember as a child being very annoyed by midday naps (much like my kids now), as an adult I cherish them. I can always tell what time of the day it is because I always get tired around midday. And for me, the best way to handle this tiredness is to have a quick nap.
What constitutes a nap
A nap is a short sleep in the middle of the day. The length of a nap can vary but the important difference to a nighttime sleep is that a nap does not last long enough for our brains to enter a deep sleep phase, so-called slow-wave sleep. Waking from this type of sleep can result in grogginess and disorientation, much like when you wake in the middle of the night.
Naps are culturally different. In the Western world, children and elderly are encouraged to nap while adults are discouraged. A nap is often (still) considered a sign of laziness and thus most adults don’t take naps. However, in hot climates napping is more accepted than in colder climates. The reason is simply the heat of the day.
As much as the cultural background to napping varies, the styles vary as well. Some ‘nappers’ prefer some quiet time in the middle of the day, without necessarily sleeping, while others benefit from a 90 min nap without waking up groggy and disrupting their nighttime sleep.
Why napping is important
Napping in the middle of the day has multiple advantages.
You can make up for lost sleep during the night. However, a nap should never replace a proper night’s sleep.
Napping can boost alertness, creativity, mood, and productivity. It bridges the morning spurt of energy to the late afternoon one. A good nap can help you to stay focused on tasks more easily later in the day.
Further, napping reduces stress and can even reduce the risk of a heart attack. Some research even suggests that napping can reduce blood pressure.
If those reasons aren’t good enough, use this: a nap is a perfect excuse for ten minutes to yourself. I usually tell my kids that even if they don’t want to sleep, a break in the middle of the day is good to calm down. They then use it to read books or play quiet games.
How to nap
The most general advice on napping is to limit it to something between 20 and 45 min. For most people, this time span means that their brains won’t enter a deep sleep phase and should not leave them more tired.
Further, a quiet space or music helps to relax. Lying down is preferable but even just feet up can contribute to a good nap.
If you have trouble to calm down, try meditation or simple relaxation techniques.
If you are afraid of napping too long try either of these three ideas:
- Set an alarm
- Have a cup of coffee before napping. The caffeine takes about 30 min to take effect, the perfect amount of time for a nap.
- My personal favourite: hold a key or another object in your hand. Once your muscles relax your hand will let go of the keys (or the object) and it should fall on the ground and make a noise to wake you up. This technique works particularly well because it takes the perfect timing of your nap into consideration.
When napping isn’t helpful
Although I’m a big fan of napping I have also found that napping can affect my sleep at night. If I nap too long in the day I can’t get to sleep at night or my sleep is interrupted more often. In those situations, I try to change my napping style. I try to skip the nap altogether or keep it very short.
Napping is great to provide a burst of energy but it should not replace a proper nights sleep. There is research which suggests that people can adopt a napping lifestyle. This lifestyle – also referred to as Uberman sleep or Biphasic sleep – means to limit sleeping to napping and therefore creating more awake time during a 24h period. There is some (a lot) of criticism to this approach and it’s certainly not for everyone.
I believe that napping can help to get through the day, especially when you don’t get enough sleep during the night. And even if it’s not real sleep, naptime can be great to get a break.