Science is showing that it’s time for the beloved afternoon nap to make a comeback. Here’s why.
1. You’ll Be More Focused
This might be your secret weapon to convince your boss of the benefits of napping: it increases productivity. At first, it’s probably not surprising that a nap can make you feel more alert—multiple well-known studies of pilots have shown that 40- to 45-minute naps can increase alertness by up to 54 percent.
But what’s surprising is how little sleep is necessary for better focus. A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that even a 10-minute nap resulted in “significantly improved alertness and cognitive performance.” The same study found that 30-second and 90-second naps didn’t have the same effect, signifying that “microsleeps” of under two minutes may not be a reliable fix for fatigue because the body doesn’t get the chance to enter stage 2 sleep.
Is your boss one for peer pressure? Try this tidbit: companies like Nike and Deloitte wholeheartedly encourage workplace napping!
2. You’ll Be More Creative
An interesting study of people taking SAT word association tests found that a nap of 60 to 90 minutes between exams improved the participants’ results by 40 percent, while those that took shorter naps didn’t experience any improvement at all.
Why is creativity more pronounced among longer nappers? Because it takes about this long to enter a bout of REM sleep, which is when the brain experiences the most intense dreams and engages the parts of the brain responsible for creativity. This stage of sleep also forms “associative networks,” meaning that a longer nap will help the brain connect unrelated pieces of information together and solve problems creatively.
3. You’ll Improve Your Memory
Can a 45-minute nap really boost your memory five-fold? That’s what scientists at Germany’s Saarland University found in a 2015 study of 41 college students. After being taught 90 words and 120 word pairs, they found that after giving half of the group an hour to nap while the rest of the group watched a DVD, the nappers had a 500 percent improvement in “information retrieval from memory.”
This is certainly not the first time such a conclusion has been reached, but such lengthy naps might not even be necessary for these purposes; a German study found that snoozing for just six minutes helped volunteers memorize a list of 30 words.
4. You’ll Improve Your Vision
It’s a well-known that gazing at a computer screen all day has the unfortunate side effect of straining and drying out the eyes, making it difficult to literally focus and power through your day’s workload.
Consider rebooting with a nap. A 2008 study used functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain’s vision centers to conclude that regular naps can inoculate against this visual “performance deterioration” and inattentiveness that’s commonly experienced as the day wears on, keeping brain activity high all the live long day.
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5. You’ll Improve Your Stress
There are a lot of ways that sleep helps you reduce your stress levels, but there are two that stand out. The first is that a healthy amount of sleep has been shown to positively affect blood pressure, which can then lower stress levels.
But perhaps most importantly, sleep has been shown to reduce your body’s levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s responsible for a lot of the negative physiological effects of stress, including higher body fat, bad moods, and a tendency to overeat.
Lower stress levels don’t just improve happiness, it’s good for your heart, too. In fact, a six-year Greek study found that working men who took a 30-minute nap at least three times a week had a 64% lower risk of dying from a heart-related condition!
There are certainly times when it’s not a great idea to nap. If you struggle with insomnia, for instance, it’s wise to try skipping the nap so that you’re more tired at night time. (Some people call this “increasing your sleep debt.”) Everybody has different sleeping habits as well; if you simply don’t like to nap, or if they make you feel groggy, or if you find yourself unable to wake up without throwing your alarm clock against the wall and sleeping for two straight hours, then don’t take naps. There’s certainly no need to do so; if you function well with just one solid block of sleep per day, then don’t fix what’s not broken.
But if everything feels better with a nap, then do everything you can to work one into your day. Arrive at the office a little earlier so you can angle for a lengthier “lunch,” or you can print out this article for your boss and call it research on workplace efficiency. In any case, one thing remains clear: those cozy afternoon naps are just what the doctor ordered.