Why We Need Naps (or What to do When Small Creatures Are Out to Get You)


My son is out to get me. For the last few months he has been waking up two, three, four times a night. On top of that my poor aging dog (Who actually isn’t small at all) has taken to whining just as I settle into bed for the night and then the cat proceeds to circle looking for a comfortable position to sleep – which usually ends up being directly on my head. And of course they all take turns in this charming little charade so that just as one settles down, the other acts up. I don’t know what I ever did to them, but all of this leads to me feeling like the walking dead from a consistent lack of sleep. (That’s me in the picture there.)

Foggy brain, lack of concentration, feeling run-down, zero energy and snappish moods ….. oh, now I remember why getting enough sleep at night is important.

So what’s a girl to do besides loading up on caffeine and relying on the mood boost of sweet treats – both of which become an addictive cycle that is hard to break?

The answer is power naps. Studies show that midday naps increase alertness, productivity, mood and performance. When those naps contain REM sleep an enhancement in creativity and problem solving is also shown. A comparison between the effects of caffeine vs. napping vs. placebo on visual, motor and verbal skills even shows that caffeine alone decreases verbal and motor skills while napping enhanced performance across all three tasks.

It is also being shown that during sleep our brain is able to convert all of the information we are holding onto into memory and file it away, leaving room to acquire new information upon awaking. Naps clear out the cobwebs, boost our mood and leave us more alert, productive and receptive to learning. What’s more surprising is that a midday nap was found to be even more effective than simply getting more sleep at night!

It makes sense. Anyone, with or without a child of their own, can take one look at a grumpy, non-cooperative preschooler that can’t sit still or pay attention and declare “Someone needs a nap!” On the road to becoming an adult – when did the rules change? The answer is that they didn’t. In fact, in a time when we are bombarded with a non-stop stream of information even in our “off time,”  a midday snooze to clear our minds and process some of that information is not only still necessary, but perhaps even critical. We sleep for an average of six to seven hours a night followed by a 17 – 18 hour stretch of alertness, productivity, information gathering, interactions, and tasking. Theoretically anyway. The better question may just be: Who in the world doesn’t need a nap around one o’clock?!

Still not sold on the the benefits of napping? Consider these professed nappers, some of whom you may recognize: Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison and Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. So go ahead and give your mind and body a midday rest. You don’t need to be a genius to feel the difference it will make.

Sources: NY Times: The Workplace Coffee Effect, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NY Times: A Look at Who Naps, NPR: Naps May Improve Performance Later in The Day, Psychology Today: Nap vs. Caffeine vs. More Nighttime Sleep?

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