Having a nap is something that conjures up images of cute babies cuddled in their cots or pensioners snoring in armchairs – but can it also be something dynamic that can help you reboot your working day? By Jo Waters.
Certainly, taking a break from the demands of the day job is nothing new – Leonardo Da Vinci, Salvador Dali, JFK and Winston Churchill are just a few of the high-functioning creative geniuses and leaders reported to have sworn by a restorative nap to get them through their working days. And in the 21st Century, tech employers such as Google have installed sleep pods and nap rooms in a bid to help their employees stay fresh and alert when at work and spark their creativity too.
Barcelona boasts a sleep café (called Nappuccino cafe) with custom-built sleeping pods and in the UK, supplying sleep pods and online sleep workshops for employers is becoming big business with companies such as ProNappers Ltd making it their stated mission “to normalise napping in the workplace even if that is currently at home.” ProNappers sleep specialist Dave Gibson says: “We’re all naturally bi-phasic sleepers but sadly this has been totally forgotten and shunned in our modern society especially at work. Daytime rest and naps are in fact part of a healthy sleep routine. ProNappers are now breaking down the stigma and making napping normal in the workplace.”
But in 2020 with as many as 40 per cent of employees estimated to be still working from home (WFH) due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, many work-from-homers are faced with a dilemma: should they succumb to a short, (well-timed) sofa snooze to keep up their energy and concentration in the afternoons or resist the temptation as sleeping on the job could constitute skiving?
Does a nap still carry the stigma of laziness, or is it an untapped resource that can pep up flagging productivity in that postprandial slump after lunch?
Are daytime naps friend or foe?
There is ample research that has shown that sleep can boost memory and cognitive function. Remember, sleep is your best asset. So, what does the research evidence say about the benefits of naps? A study at NASA in the US found that short naps boosted working memory, (the ability to focus on one task while holding others in the memory), but not alertness.
New research from the University Hospital of Clermont-Ferrand, France which reviewed 18 studies found night shift workers who took naps during the early evening had improved cognitive performance during the night and the benefits were seen mostly in the first 30 minutes after the nap.
A review published in Sleep Medicine concluded that naps boost executive function (the mental skill that helps you plan, organise and get things done), memory formation, subsequent learning and emotional processing in younger people. But the authors of the review also highlighted that excessive napping in older people has been linked to negative outcomes, including high blood pressure, microvascular disease, depression, diabetes, and general morbidity.
Not all naps are healthy
A new study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in August 2020 found longer naps of more than 60 minutes were associated with a 30 per cent greater risk of all-cause deaths and 34 per cent higher likelihood of heart and circulatory disease when compared to people who took no naps.
“Daytime napping is common all over the world and is generally considered a healthy habit,” says study author Dr Zhe Pan of Guangzhou Medical University, China. “A common view is that napping improves performance and counteracts the negative consequences of ‘sleep debt’. Our study challenges these widely held opinions.”
When night-time sleep was considered, long naps were linked with an elevated risk of death only in those who slept more than six hours per night but overall, naps of any length were linked with a 19 per cent elevated risk of death. The connection was more pronounced in women, who had a 22 per cent greater likelihood of death with napping compared to no napping, and older participants, whose risk rose by 17 per cent with naps.
Short naps (of less than 60 minutes) were not risky for developing cardiovascular disease. Dr Pan said: ‘The results suggest that shorter naps (especially those less than 30 to 45 minutes) might improve heart health in people who sleep insufficiently at night.”
5 ways for perfect snoozing
- Keep it short: Although there is disagreement on exactly how long the perfect nap should last (of course) – the consensus is that it should be around 10 to 30 minutes – the Sleep Foundation say 20 minutes – any longer and you’ll wake feeling groggy (so-called sleep inertia). But another small study of 24 young healthy adults at the University of Adelaide found that a 10-minute nap taken at
3 pm was the most effective nap length when compared to 5, 20 and 30-minute naps. The 10-minute snooze produced immediate improvements in all outcomes including fatigue and cognitive performance. Some of the benefits were maintained for 155 minutes afterwards.
- Drink coffee before your nap: A coffee nap might sound counter-intuitive, but caffeine takes at least 15 minutes to take effect, so if you time your coffee right (and haven’t already drunk too much earlier in the day), a coffee could mean you wake feeling energised, focused and raring to go. A study on tired drivers by Loughborough University found that those who were given coffee before a 15-minute nap made fewer mistakes in a driving simulator later than those who took just a nap or had a coffee alone.
- Choose a sweet spot: Nap too late in the day and it might affect your night-time sleep, so choose a time of day to suit your own body clock. Early to mid-afternoon seems to be the best time depending on when you get up in the morning.
- Get comfy: Lying down on a recliner chair or in a sleep pod will help you nod off. Other tips for snoozing include low-level lighting, eye masks and guided meditation downloads specially designed to help you chill and drop off. You could also try using weighted blankets, which have been shown in a Swedish study to help with insomnia.
- Set an alarm: Turn your phone off to relax and chill but set an alarm so you do not sleep too long and wake up feeling groggy.