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Albert Einstein was known to grab a quick nap in the afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Depending on where you are in the world, you attitude about adults and napping is likely to be very different.  While most people seem to agree that babies, toddlers, and even young school age children need naps in order to get through the day, there is less agreement about whether or not naps are good for the rest of us.  While some people swear by the power of an afternoon nap to boost productivity, others worry that napping can disrupt the sleep patterns of adults that are already sub-optimal.  So, who is right?  Here’s a look at what experts think, what doctors recommend, and what other factors we should consider when deciding whether or not to take a quick nap.

Some of our national heroes were also nap enthusiasts.  People like Thomas Edison, JFK, and Einstein were all known to grab a quick nap in the afternoon to help them perform better and be more productive.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, short naps can be beneficial at improving alertness and performance while reducing the likelihood of making mistakes.  A study conducted by NASA showed that a 40 minute nap could improve the alertness of pilots by 100% and their performance by 34%.  If you consider studies show that sleep deprived workers cost U.S. businesses an estimated 63 billion each year, sacrificing 40 minutes for a nap in order to have significant productivity gains doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

The key to successful napping is all in the details. 

  • Experts agree that naps lasting longer than 30-40 minutes can have detrimental effects.  One of these negative effects is called sleep inertia and is characterized by an extended period of grogginess and feeling disoriented that can last for a half an hour after waking.  If you are looking for productivity gains, sleep inertia can eliminate any benefits from the nap.
  • Environment matters.  In order to get the biggest benefit from your nap, you need a comfortable, restful place where you can lie down.  Limiting noise, disruptions, and even light can also make a difference in your ability to fall asleep and get the benefits of napping.
  • Time of day is also crucial.  Napping too early may not boost your energy and alertness enough to get you through the afternoon slump but waiting until too late in the day can compromise your ability to fall asleep at the regular time.

While there are drawbacks to napping, for most people, taking a short nap at the right time of day can be very beneficial.  Unfortunately, the biggest barrier to carving out time to catch a few afternoon zzz’s is our society.  Generally speaking, our culture doesn’t subscribe to the idea that naps are necessary for anyone over the age of 5 or under the age of 75.  In fact, there is a pretty significant stigma attached to adult napping.  Nappers may be labeled as lazy or may be seen as lacking since they need that extra sleep to get through the day.  Unfortunately, given our cultural attitude about sleep in general, this stigma is not surprising.  However, research is on your side.  If you feel that you could benefit from a short siesta, look for ways to build it in to your schedule.