Naps Make Us Happier, Healthier, More Creative and More Productive

November 5, 2018 at 2:55 pm




Humans are the only mammals who don’t nap during the day, but more and more studies suggest we should





More than 85% of mammals nap around the clock, catching their Z’s in several short intervals, rather than in one solid chunk at night. They’re called “polyphasic” sleepers.

Humans are among the small minority of “monophasic” sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness.

“It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans,” says the National Sleep Foundation.

Young children and elderly people nap, the foundation points out, and napping is commonplace in many non-Western cultures.

Even if we did evolve to be monophasic sleepers — those who get the majority of their sleep at night — other monophasic apes still nap during the day.

Perhaps it is just the pressures of modern life and our uninterrupted 8-hour workdays that have forced us out of our habit of napping, the foundation suggests:

“As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. And it may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping.”

Dozens of recent studies support that theory.

The ironic part is if Westerners aren’t napping because of our obsession with productivity, we’re cheating ourselves, because naps make us more productive. Studies show they boost our brain power, creativity, learning ability, memory, focus and our physical stamina.

A short nap of just 20 to 30 minutes improves mood and alertness and reduces the risk of mistakes and accidents.

A NASA study on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.

A 2015 study found an hour-long nap made people less impulsive and gave them a greater tolerance for frustration.

Established research tells us people perform better on memory tests after a full night of sleep than immediately after learning the material. A 2003 study found participants performed just as well after a 60- to 90-minute nap as they did after a full night of sleep.

“What’s amazing is that in a 90-minute nap, you can get the same benefits as an eight-hour sleep period,” said study author and psychologist Sara Mednick.” And actually, the nap is having an additive benefit on top of a good night of sleep.”

Napping helped improve memory test scores even more than caffeine, Mednick found in a follow-up study in 2008.

A 2014 study showed a 30-minute nap prevented the normal afternoon decline in energy and attention, and a 60-minute nap actually reversed the mental deterioration caused by the day.

A 2018 study found school children who nap 5 to 7 days a week sustain more focused attention, better nonverbal reasoning ability and spatial memory.

Napping is also associated with reduced blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health.

Despite all the proven benefits of napping, it’s still taboo for the Western working man and woman.

“Daytime napping is quite controversial in the United States,” said Xiaopeng Ji, lead author of the 2018 study and director of a sleep research program at the University of Delaware.

“In Western culture, the monophasic sleep pattern is considered a marker of brain maturation. In China, time for napping is built into the post-lunch schedule for many adults in work settings and students at schools.”

In Japan, the practice of inemuri — or ‘sleeping while on duty’ — is encouraged in the office, on the train, and even in class. There, napping is associated with a successful career.

The concept is just starting to catch on in the western world, with NASA, Google, Samsung, Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos and Uber installing sleeping pods in the workplace. The pods shut out the noise and light of the world and play soothing music, before gently waking employees with natural light. The hope is a little midday rest and relaxation will boost employee productivity and creativity.

So there you have it, go take a nap!