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The Power of the Nap

Make the most of your day and build in a short nap.

When it comes to trouble sleeping at night (insomnia), naps are typically frowned upon since they steal sleep from the night. However, for the majority of people who sleep well at night but still need an additional energy "boost" during the day, naps can actually be quite helpful.

Naps can be extremely beneficial for workplace performance. Naps improve mood and stress management abilities. Short, 20-minute nap sessions have been routinely demonstrated to reduce accidents and mistakes while also improving attention, concentration, performance and alertness. They can even be used effectively to combat drowsy driving when a short snooze is taken just before getting behind the wheel or using heavy machinery.

Daily, planned naps are necessary for some people, while others find that taking an occasional nap when sleepy might be all that is needed. Shift workers also benefit greatly from brief naps just before night work or during a break, with some needing a nap before driving home to make sure they aren’t drowsy and behind the wheel. Patients with narcolepsy find that planned short naps are crucial to managing their sleepiness every day.

An important caveat though: A brief snooze does not make up for all the sleep we lose on a regular, nightly basis! You still need to make your nighttime sleep a priority. And, if you struggle with falling or staying asleep at night, it is quite possible that napping may not be the best option overall since it might worsen your insomnia.

Although it seems simple to take a nap, there are a few tricks to optimize the benefits of a midday snooze. Here are a few steps to the perfect nap to get you through the day at peak performance:

Quick, 20-minute power naps are typically better than longer ones since lengthier naps cause you to get into deeper stages of sleep, leading to an increased feeling of grogginess upon awakening. Longer naps (and naps later in the day) can also interfere with nighttime sleep. Shorter naps are typically refreshing and can help increase alertness for a few hours.

Make sure that your sleep environment is comfortable, quiet, dark and cool. If you are at home, try to nap only in your bed. If you aren’t at home, find a place where you can either lie down or recline. Block as much light as possible coming into the room (or get a light-blocking eye mask), and consider using a white noise machine, fan or silicone earplugs to block the noise around you.

Power naps taken before 2 p.m. tend not to interfere as much with nighttime sleep, so earlier naps are better. If you find that you have trouble sleeping at night, avoid napping during the day.

If you can’t get through the day on a regular basis without feeling sleepy, napping, or dozing off (even briefly!), speak with your doctor to have a thorough checkup and rule out any medical disorders that may cause excessive daytime sleepiness. Consider a referral to a sleep specialist since a number of sleep disorders can cause excessive daytime sleepiness (i.e. not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, sleep apnea, nightmares, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm disorders). Depression and stress can also lead to sleepiness and increased napping—talk with your doctor if you’re concerned with any of these issues as well.

More from Shelby Harris Psy.D.
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