During my internship, I had a meeting after lunch one day with my boss and a vendor. The meeting wasn’t super exciting, and I may have fallen asleep … a couple times. Because of this incident, I became known as “the sleepy intern.”
I’ve always been a little embarrassed about my internship nickname. I mean, come on, I fell asleep one time … ONE time! But through my sleep research, I’ve learned that my mid-meeting snooze was totally understandable.
To Nap or Not to Nap?
Biologically, humans crave a mid-afternoon nap. It’s called the post-prandial alertness dip. For those of us who don’t speak Latin, “post-prandial” means “post-meal.” So, after lunch, our bodies naturally get a little sluggish and want to take a nap. See, my “sleepy intern” nickname should actually be a badge of honor because my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself.
Naps are great, especially mid-afternoon naps. They fulfill a daily physical need and can actually correct our sleep deficit. In fact, if you look at societies unaffected by electric light, they typically go to bed at sundown and wake up at dawn. Then in the middle of the day, they take a 30- to 60-minute nap.
While light bulbs are great and Thomas Edison made some really cool stuff that changed the world forever, he really screwed up our internal clocks. With artificial light, we’re able to extend our day and be more productive, but the light just tricks our brains into thinking it’s still day when we should be sleeping, which leads to sleep deficits.
And the best way to correct our sleep deficits is to take a mid-day nap. But we usually don’t. What’s up with that?
As humans living in an industrial society, we often ignore our biological need for our mid-afternoon nap. After all, naps are for babies, not responsible, working adults. Instead, we have a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke and power through our day. But that shot of caffeine causes other sleep problems (link to caffeine post).
So, what are we supposed to do? Not everyone has the luxury of a cot in their office or a car for a quick power nap (yes, that was me you saw sleeping in the parking lot). But maybe we can take a note from these companies and cultures.
Companies Napping Right
If you haven’t considered working for Nike or Google, you might send them your resumé after you read this. Both Nike and Google provide dedicated relax rooms for their employees called “nap pods.” How smart is that?
Not only are they doing naps right, but they also allow employees to work according to their personal circadian rhythms. So, if you’re a night owl, you come in later in the morning and stay later at night. And morning larks get to come in earlier in the morning and leave earlier in the day. This system is genius because you allow employees to work when they’re at their peak, you get their best work, and you pay them for their most productive time of the day.
Cultures Napping Right
In the US, siesta culture is usually considered lazy. But let’s take a minute to appreciate regions in South America and Mediterranean Europe that are keeping the siesta culture alive. Sure, it’s super inconvenient for tourists in Greece when everything shuts down for the afternoon. But those mid-afternoon nappers know the value of a good siesta in the middle of the day.
Sadly, more and more communities are abandoning the siesta culture. Before the siesta disappears for good, researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health decided to study the health consequences of getting rid of the mid-afternoon nap. Here’s how it went:
- 23,000 Greek adults, between 20 and 83 years old
- Six years
- 37% higher risk of death from heart disease than those who continued napping
- Mortality risk of not napping increased by over 60% in workingmen
Ok, we get it—naps are good for you. Now here comes the caveat: naps late in the day can be detrimental to your nighttime sleep.
Longer naps late in the day can decrease sleep quality and duration of your nighttime sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, “… Napping later in the evening, as your sleep drive increases, will comprise more deep sleep. This, in turn, may disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night. Therefore, napping late in the day is discouraged.”
Conversely, morning naps primarily consist of light NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, and will not disrupt your nighttime sleep.
The Right Way to Nap
Ideal Nap Time: No later than 2 pm
The best time to take a nap is early to mid-afternoon, which is when we have a natural decline in energy and alertness, making it a perfect time for a nap.
Ideal Nap Duration: 10 minutes
This short nap time allows you to quickly rest without entering slow-wave sleep, which makes you feel groggy when you wake up.
Nap Substitute: Bright lights
If you don’t work for Nike or Google and can’t get a quick nap after lunch, you can get a boost of energy through exposure to bright lights. Thanks, Thomas Edison. So, take a quick walk in a sunny area or open the windows and turn on all the lights in your office to help you perk up.
I love a good nap. But we all know the feeling of taking a nap in the daylight, waking up in the dark, and then wondering what year it is. Those late-afternoon/evening naps aren’t doing you any favors. So, follow our rules for the perfect nap, and you’ll be a napper for life.
And also, don’t schedule meetings right after lunch … for your intern’s sake.
Did you miss our previous posts about how to take your sleep to the next level? Check them out here:
Part 2—Exercise at the Right Time
Part 3—Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
Part 4—Avoid Drinking AlcoholPart 6—Avoid Medicines that Ruin Your Sleep