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6 Surprising Facts About Naps You Need to Know for Your Most Productive Day

Are naps a silly waste of time or a productivity booster? Learn the facts about naps.

Photo by Cottonbro Studios on Pexels

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

My father owned his own business, and he took a nap almost every day after lunch. My mother thought it was a dumb idea. I wasn’t sure what to think. Now, I’m an avid napper. If you’re not, here are some facts about naps that may change your mind.

Start with this fact: A Pew Research Center survey found that 34% of Americans take daily naps. So why don’t you?

Napping can make you more productive

Everyone from basketball players to Google and NASA employees have tried napping, and with good results. Get this: “According to the National Sleep Foundation, one of their studies found that a 40-minute nap improves productivity by 34%, so it’s no surprise that they also have sleep pods for their employees.”

Naps should be about 20–30 minutes

If you’ve never heard of sleep inertia, let me clue you in. It’s that groggy feeling you get after you’ve had a long nap. I value the facts about naps and other scientific data, but in this case, yeah, I believe in sleep inertia because I’ve experienced it.

Longer naps are associated with sleep inertia. Takahashi and Arito showed that a 15-minute nap avoids post-nap sleep inertia because it avoids stage 3 and 4 sleep. Research by Dr. Sara Mednick shows that 20 minutes is about the right amount of time for a nap. Dr. Mednick explains this in a video.

Napping after 3 PM might backfire

As you might imagine, taking a nap too late in the day can mess up your ability to sleep well at night.

The best time for you to take a nap depends on a few factors. What time did you wake up in the morning? If you’re awake by 5 AM, you might want to take a nap by 11 AM. If you have an assigned lunch hour, you won’t have a choice; you can only sneak in a nap during that time.

Remember, too, that the time you take a nap today might not be the time you take a nap tomorrow. Don’t feel you need to be too rigid. Last Friday, I was so tired I felt like a blithering idiot by 4 PM, so I went down for a 20-minute nap. And later, I slept the entire night!

Naps can improve memory

So what are the facts about naps as related to memory? Does napping help us to remember what we’ve learned, or what we need to know to run our business?

We have different types of memory, and naps seem to have an impact on some types. For example, several studies have shown that naps can improve episodic memories.

  • Tucker and colleagues showed that a daytime nap can improve declarative memory (facts or memories of past events) but not procedural memory (knowledge of skills and how to perform tasks).
  • Lahl and colleagues showed that a very short nap can improve declarative memory.
  • Alger and colleagues showed that a daytime nap protects against subsequent interference and protects long-term retention.
  • Wagner and colleagues found that naps could keep emotional memories alive for years.
  • Lemos and colleagues studied 10–15-year-old students and found that a short nap helped them to retain memory contents longer.
  • Mednick and colleagues suggested that a nap could be as effective as a full night of sleep for memory retention.
  • Cousins and colleagues looked at memory retention in college students after they had a 1-hour nap. They concluded: “…our long mid-afternoon nap between learning periods may be a viable means to assist long-term retention of educationally relevant factual knowledge.”

The role of sleep as related to memory is detailed here. It’s fascinating.

Afternoon naps have health benefits

If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in the effect of napping on your productivity, memory recall, and goal achievement. But there are plenty of other facts about naps that you’ll want to consider.

  • Naska and colleagues studied the effects of midday napping on 32,681 individuals. They found that, after controlling for potential confounders, those who took naps were less likely to die of coronary disease.
  • Kallistratos and colleagues suggest that afternoon napping may have benefits for high blood pressure.
  • Brindle and Conklin suggest that daytime sleep may offer cardiovascular benefit in the form of greater cardiovascular recovery from psychological stress.
  • Zao and colleagues studied habitual nappers and found they showed improved sleepiness, fatigue, and mood after napping. Similarly, Kaidi and colleagues showed that a short nap improved mood.

There’s more to learn about napping

There are several books on sleep. But if you’re interested in napping, consider Dr. Mednick’s book Take a Nap, Change Your Life which seems to be one of the most popular.

Maybe you started reading this post thinking about naps like my mother did: a silly waste of time. Or maybe they were a guilty pleasure, something you saw as unproductive but did anyway. Hopefully now that you know the facts about naps, you know they can actually lead to a more productive day, better memory retention, and even better overall health. As you build your daily routine, it might be worth scheduling in 20–30 minutes for a nap!

So tell me: Are you a believer in naps? Do you take naps, or would you like to start?

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