We fought naps kicking and screaming as kids. Today, many of us would savor a moment to rest our heads in the middle of the day, but consider doing so a luxury we simply cannot afford. While taking a snooze may feel like a frivolous indulgence, your brain will actually tell you otherwise. Mini rests give you a mental break from the stress of the day, but they also allow for actual changes in the brain that can help improve short-term mood, alertness and productivity.
“There’s a lot of new data that supports the benefits of a 20- to 30-minute power nap,” says Param Dedhia, M.D., a doctor at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. Napping may enhance your brain by allowing it to “clear out” its temporary storage space, so there is more room to amass new information—much like moving e-mails into folders can keep your inbox clear. By creating more brain capacity, you can perform tasks and activities better than you would have earlier. In fact, research shows that people who take short, midday naps enjoy improved efficiency, concentration and ability to process information when they wake up.
When Should You Nap?
Most people find that they are in need of a nap between two o’clock and four o’clock in the afternoon, because we experience a natural drop in cortisol during that time. But the time you go to bed in the evening can have an effect on your optimal nap time as well. If you’re a night owl and stay up past midnight, late afternoon is best. If you hit the sack earlier in the evening, taking a snooze sooner makes more sense, for example.
While all adults can benefit from midday naps, your body may actually require them if you’re consistently under-rested; a lack of sufficient sleep carries with it some notable health risks. Regardless, you may need to experiment in order to find out how long your naps should be, says Dedhia; 20 to 30 minutes isn’t ideal for everyone. Pay attention to how you feel when you wake up from naps of differing lengths, and tweak the duration so that you rise feeling recharged, awake and ready to go on with your day, not lethargic.
All of this may have you convinced and ready to pull up a pillow…but, when? Though it may seem unreasonable to take a nap during a work day, you may consider using your break time or part of your lunch hour for this purpose. Although a cool, comfortable, dark place with little noise is ideal, you may consider resting in your car or on a blanket in a nearby park, for example, if one is not available. Many offices are even designating “quiet rooms” for this very reason (having you at your best is both to their and your advantage). Those whose days are a bit freer may have more flexibility, of course. New parents may want to lie down when their child does.
We all are often faced with too many demands for our time and brain power. While working on fitting naps into your day, it may help to think of just how much more attention you’ll be able to give your day’s to-dos when you open your eyes after your restorative rest.