The majority of mammals on the planet are into napping. The technical term for this is following a polyphasic sleep cycle and it means that sleep doesn’t come in one long block of time but in shorter, more frequent bursts over the course of a day. We are not considered polyphasic sleepers since we are awake for a large block of time and then asleep for a large block of time. However, even the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recognizes that this may not be our natural sleep pattern. We may have adopted a more monophasic sleep pattern in order to align with the way our modern society is set up. This makes sense if you consider that some of us, namely small children and the elderly, are into napping and that there are still cultures in the world where the structure of society supports napping as an acceptable and expected practice.
So, should we be napping?
There are benefits to spending a little time asleep during the course of the day. After a nap, we may feel more alert. Naps can also help us perform complex tasks better and can limit the incidence of mistakes and accidents. Naps can offer a relaxing respite from the stress of the day and help alleviate the effects of chronic stress. Many people find that an early afternoon nap can leave them feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the next part of their day. While not a replacement for a good night sleep, the NSF notes that taking a nap can help reduce the risk of getting in a drowsy driving accident.
Naps can also help us manage our overall sleep when unusual situations occur. If we know we will be up late tonight, taking a nap during the day can help mitigate the effects of the lost sleep before it happens. There is also research that shows power napping can do more than just improve alertness. A quick nap can improve cognitive function and performance, help with memory, and enable you to respond and react more quickly to external stimuli.
Since most of us are new to the concept of napping, here are some tips for making sure you get the benefits without impacting your normal sleep pattern.
1. Ditch Daylight
Help your body settle into sleep more quickly and naturally by creating the environment most conducive to sleep, darkness. If your chosen nap location makes it difficult to go dark, invest in a sleep mask that blocks out the light. Even with your eyes closed, the presence of light can interrupt sleep.
2. Seek Silence
Just like at night, napping works best when it is quiet and you are buffered from the sounds of the world around you. If you don’t sleep well in silence, using white noise, soft music, or other non-intrusive sound nullifiers can make it easier to nap. You may also consider wearing earplugs or headphones if you can do so comfortably and noise is a problem.
3. Take Time
You only need a short nap of 20-30 minutes to reap the rewards and sleeping too much in the middle of the day can make it difficult to get the sleep you need at night. Take just enough time for your nap to make it worth it without having to worry that your afternoon siesta will leave you tossing, turning, and sleepless tonight.