Forget feeling sluggish and wasting time cyber-loafing today. Instead, celebrate National Napping Month, an unofficial holiday -- really, a gift -- that acknowledges that, yes, we all feel a little sleepy from time to time, and that's okay.
Of course, sleep in general has a wide range of health benefits, from protection against heart disease and obesity to stronger bones and memory. But napping has some particular perks all its own. Below are six healthy reasons to indulge in a siesta today. It doesn't have to be long -- even just 20 minutes of daytime shut-eye can make a world of difference.
Napping Boosts Alertness
Once you blink away those first few seconds of grogginess after a nap, you're likely to benefit from a boost of alertness. A NASA study found higher measures of alertness in pilots after a 40-minute snooze, compared to pilots who got no rest. Even just 20 minutes has been shown to perk up shift workers, according to Harvard Men's Health Watch. One very small study found that even after just a 10-minute nap, study participants reported at least feeling more alert.
Napping Improves Learning And Memory
It's the deeper rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that's been linked with the cognitive process, so it's no surprise that it takes a longer nap to reap real brain benefits. But if you can squeeze in an hour, or even 90 minutes, you may find your mental fatigue has vanished upon waking. A longer nap is likely to leave you slightly more groggy, but can have a longer benefit to brain power after the fact, according to a 2010 Australian study. In fact, fMRI scans have shown that brain activity remains higher in nappersall day compared to people who don't take a rest, according to a 2008 study.
Napping Increases Creativity
Ever woken up suddenly knowing the solution to what's bugging you? A team of researchers set about monitoring the brain to attempt to figure out why the lightbulb turns on after napping. They discovered a burst of activity in the right hemisphere, the side most strongly linked to creativity, Health.com reported. An earlier study found that longer naps that allowed sleepers to enter REM led to better performance on a series of creative word problems, National Geographic reported.
Napping Boosts Productivity
Experts agree that an afternoon nap is in fact the opposite of laziness in the workplace: That siesta can actually improve work output. A short power nap can be just the right pick-me-up for sleep deprived, worn-out employees, sleep researcher Sara Mednick told Businessweek, maybe even more so than an afternoon cup of coffee, Prevention reported.
Napping Lifts Your Spirits
Think back to the last time you were around a toddler who hadn't napped. It's not a pretty picture, is it? Sleepiness and the associated crankiness doesn't feel good, even as adults (we've just learned not to throw tantrums about it ... for the most part). A quick nap is a well-documented mood booster, not that you needed any scientific research to tell you so.
Napping Zaps Stress
Part of the reason a nap can get you smiling might be related to relaxation. The sheer luxury of escaping for a nap can be a great stress-reliever, even if you don't sleep for long (and as long as you don't let the stigma against napping get to you). The National Sleep Foundation recommends considering it "a mini-vacation." And don't stress if you can't actually doze off in your allotted 10 minutes: A 2007 study found that asleep or not, a short period spent resting in bed is just as relaxing.
Convinced? Here are some expert tips for how to take a nap at work from Dr. Lawrence Epstein and James Maas, Ph.D.:
How To Nap At Work
The author, looking refreshed from that afternoon nap in the student center. (Photo courtesy of the Ariana Seidel)
If I knew when I was five what I know now, I would have taken full advantage of all the naptimes forced upon me in kindergarten. Seriously — what I wouldn’t give for a class I could schedule every semester that just consisted of me being able to curl up on one of those plastic mats, snuggled up in my favorite blanket and pillow Mom sent from home, while being lulled to sleep with faint Disney movie soundtrack music.
Naps are essential to the college lifestyle. No argument can persuade me otherwise. Excuses like, “I don’t like to nap,” or “I can’t nap during the day,” only lead me to conclude that these individuals must be robots. Between late-night studying and paper writing sessions, staying up watching marathons of Reese Witherspoon rom-coms, pwning noobs on Halo, CoD, or the latest RPG game, (not to mention $2 Long Island Iced Teas nights at the local bars) it’s a wonder most college students can get any sleep at all.
But napping isn’t all fun and games; it’s not a cop-out to make up for the limited four or five hours of sleep you got the night before. It’s a science: The length of the nap, the location of the nap, the number of alarms that need to be set. And, there is always the off-chance that a nap may go awry. But have no fear, collegians! With a new school year just around the corner, here are the do’s and don’ts of college napping. Freshman, take note — this is going to be more relevant than you think. I’ll keep it as brief as possible so you can get back to inter-nesting in your Snuggie.
Do: Plan ahead for your naps. If you know you’re going to be staying up late more than one night in a row, naps are good way to avoid the zombie-look in your eyes. Try and squeeze in an hours’ worth of Z’s mid-afternoon in order to keep yourself from running on empty. Planning ahead and the feeling of knowing you’ll be able to catch up on a little sleep is definitely something to look forward to.
Don’t: Confuse napping with sleeping. Naps aren’t meant to serve as a substitute for your regular sleep schedule. You need to still be aiming for those eight hours — a nap will just get you through until you can actually have time to catch up.
Do: Set multiple alarms. If you are napping with a purpose (class schedule is hectic, club meetings have taken over your life, you couldn’t stop watching that Law & Order Marathon last night), then you probably have plenty of other things going on during the day that need to be done. Make sure you set two or three alarms on your phone so that you actually get up when you need to. Sometimes setting an alarm a half hour before you need to wake up also works. It serves as the initial nudge to forewarn you that naptime is coming to an end.
Don’t: Take a nap in your bed**. I fall into this trap all the time: It’s comfy, it’s quiet in your room, it’s where you sleep anyway. But, napping in your bed is more likely to make you want to sleep for longer periods of time. Which, brings us back to our first “don’t.” Recliners, couches, friend’s futons, the student union, nearly any place is better than your bed. (**Note: This excludes dorm room residents. Where the heck else are you supposed to sleep in that 8.5X11 room?)
Do: Tell friends you’re taking a nap. Nothing is worse than oversleeping on a nap. Despite those three alarms you may have set… well, sometimes they just don’t work. Give a friend (or a parent) a quick heads up that you’re crashing in between classes and ask for a phone call or text reminder to ensure you’re awake later. Or, if you’re crashing in your student union, study lounge, or the library, you could always tape a sign to your shirt that reads “If I’m still sleeping at 3:45, wake me up.” You’d be surprised how nice people are.
Overall, the do’s and don’ts of napping are pretty standard. The biggest thing you need to remind yourself is that naps are a privilege, not a right, and should only be used in the case that your academic, social, or extracurricular lives are taking a dive because your sleep schedule isn’t working out. I can’t guarantee that these guidelines will ensure success in the upcoming school year, but I hope they’ll serve as a reminder that sleep is a precious commodity.
Now, all this writing about naps has made me realize I need to take my own advice today. I think it’s about time to grab a lawn chair and set up camp outside for a nice little afternoon snooze.
Do you have any college napping tips you’d like to share? Where do you like to sneak a snooze?
Ariana Seidel is a senior at Penn State University majoring in English and Political Science. You can find her on Twitter or on her blog.
Ariana Seidel, college living, dos and donts, naps, Penn State University, CAMPUS LIFE, VOICES FROM CAMPUS