If you’re walking around groggy eyed and struggling to find the words to order your third coffee, you’ve probably considered taking a daytime nap. Should you take a nap in the middle of the day? Where can you nap at work? Are there real benefits?
As a sleep epidemiologist, I study population-based sleep patterns. Americans are not getting enough sleep. Check the guidelines to see if you are sleeping enough at night. If you are not sleeping in the optimal range, the first step should be to figure out how you can improve your sleep routine so you can get sufficient restorative sleep at night. Also, if you have trouble falling asleep at night, taking a daytime nap is probably not a good idea because it will make it more of a challenge for you to fall asleep the next night; however, if for any number of reasons (e.g., jet lag, caretaking responsibilities, etc.) you are not able to get enough sleep at night, you might benefit from squeezing in more sleep during the day.
There are a few companies that are celebrated for providing sleep-friendly environments. Ben & Jerry’s in Burlington, VT and Nike in Portland, OR, for example, allow their employees to take naps or meditate during the day. There’s also evidence that this is good for worker productivity, in addition to workplace morale. Unfortunately, most of us probably don’t have employers that encourage napping so openly. Instead, here are some tips that you can use to help you incorporate a pep-nap into your workday.
Find a Comfortable Safe Spot.
In order to get a high quality catnap in, you need to be comfortable and safe. Depending on where you work, this may be the biggest challenge. If you work in a private office with a door that closes (and locks), you’re set. Turn off the lights, shut the door, and put a sign that says you’ll be back in 20 minutes. Hopefully, you can find a comfy chair or sofa to sit on, or maybe you could even make a makeshift spot under your desk. (Hey, if George Costanza can do it, so can you!) If you don’t have the privacy of your own office, you might have to get creative, but you may find that there’s a nearby library or an under-utilized conference room that might just fit the bill. Just be sure that the location is safe. Do not sleep in your car with the engine turned on. One overworked young woman in New Jersey tragically died last year while taking a nap in her car in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot where she worked due to carbon monoxide fumes.
Time It Right.
For most people, your body will naturally be tired between 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM. Try to take a brief nap during this period. By taking advantage of your natural body rhythm, you’ll be less likely to have trouble falling asleep at night.
Short and Sweet.
If you are expected to be working, you should probably not plan on taking the two-hour nap that your preschooler or grandchild takes each day. Your boss will likely notice you are missing, but even with just 15-30 minutes of rest in the afternoon, you may wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the afternoon challenges. Also, there’s a risk of sleeping for too long and getting into a deeper stage of sleep. If you sleep for an hour or more, you may wake up with “sleep inertia” and end up feeling groggy or drowsier than before.
Create a Nap Association.
It may help you sleep if you have something with you that reminds you of sleep. If you usually listen to a sound machine at bedtime, turn one on in your office. If you drink mint tea in the evenings, you might pour a cup before enjoying an in-office nap. If your brain and body associates certain sounds, smells, and other sensations with sleep, you may be able to fall asleep faster.
You don’t want to be interrupted during your naptime. Thus, do not be afraid to turn off your email and silence your phone. The messages aren’t going anywhere. It may be tempting to scroll through Facebook or play just one round of Candy Crush, but don’t let yourself waste your precious naptime on social media or other digital games. Naptimes are for napping, and you know it.
What are the benefits?
A short nap will help you function at your best for the rest of the afternoon. Experimental studies have shown that study participants who take naps have increased working memory, which is necessary to complete complex tasks that involve focusing on one task while keeping other tasks in memory. With the cognitive benefits of an afternoon nap, your boss will likely appreciate your rejuvenated post-nap productivity.
Our Sleep Health expert Lauren Hale, PhD is an associate professor of Preventive Medicine and core faculty member of the program in Public Health at Stony Brook University. She specializes in the effects sleep has on mental, physical, and public health. Laurens's articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, shed light on the significance of sleep and the role it plays in personal wellbeing. Lauren presented a TEDx talk at Stony Brook University on her research agenda on the social patterning of sleep health. In 2015, she became the Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal, Sleep Health.