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Matthew J. Edlund M.D.

Wake Up to the Power of Naps

You deserve a break today

Judged by the media reaction, napping on the job is a crime. Thirteen time baseball All Star Ken Griffey Jr. was near universally condemned for allegedly napping during a game, and has now left baseball. The prejudice against naps is deep. According to one major consulting group, 52% of large American corporations will fire or reprimand workers for napping on the job.

This is crazy. Napping is one of the most natural acts a human being can engage in. And recent research argues that naps markedly improve performance and health:

1. A study reported last month by researcher Bob Stickgold at Harvard had 100 students learn a computer maze, then come back five hours later to try it again. Those who napped in between improved seven times more than those who didn't. The numbers were skewed upward by the ten time improvement of those who had non-REM dreams during their naps. Sara Mednick has shown many performance improvements with naps, including improved creativity when nappers get REM sleep.
2. A famous NASA study of pilots showed a 26 minute nap improved performance 34% and alertness 54%, effects which lasted for hours
3. Decision making is improved even by short naps
4. Sleep is very important for memory and learning, including the "muscle memory" needed by athletes and musicians
5. Middle aged Greek males who napped three times a week for 30 minutes cut their risk of heart related deaths 37%.
6. Baseball great Hank Aaron was a champion napper, and in the latter part of his career, Barry Bonds was called the King of Naps, his recliner always by his side. Connie Mack napped before every game.
7. Many insomniacs receive profound relief from short afternoon naps. Weekend naps are also a major way sleep deprived Americans make up for their massive sleep deficit, especially our severely sleep deprived teenagers.

The prejudice against naps is part of the prejudice against rest. Rest is how the body revives, renews, and rebuilds. Even passive rest like sleep is as necessary as food to our survival, and rest and food are deeply intertwined. Done right, active rest improves appearance, health, performance, and creativity, besides making people feel a whole lot better. Naps can make you feel better, even look younger.

So it's time to stop knocking naps. And if you have a boss who will fire you if you're found napping on the job, you can look at the "The Power of Rest" and try the UnNap Nap, where the quick calm of paradoxical relation can provide many of the benefits of naps while you remain fully alert. Rest revives us. Rest is active, profoundly healthy, and, when done right, with active physical, social, mental, and spiritual rest techniques, downright exciting.
Think about that during your next nap.

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About the Author

Matthew Edlund, M.D., researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health. He is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.