I’ve noticed that the subject of naps has been in the news and on the Web a lot lately. The simple time-out or chill-time that we might enjoy for its own sake is being analyzed by medical experts. I pay attention to sleep articles because sleep apnea is a part of my life.
Earlier this year, a Cambridge University sleep study found that naps may have a correlation with serious health problems. The dreaded phrase, “higher mortality rates”, came into play. University of California psychologist, Dr. Sara Mednick says the data is more nuanced. She says that napping may be a symptom of health problems, not their cause. On the other hand, about 40-percent of the population is simply pre-disposed towards needing a little shut-eye to supplement their regular sleep.
I rarely need to nap, but when the need arises, I’m glad to indulge the urge. Usually, daytime sleepiness comes over me on hot, humid summer afternoons, generally on Sundays. The heat of summer is not conducive to energetic activity for me. I just want to find a place near a fan, preferably with air conditioning, and nod off.
For me, summer siestas are very positive time-outs. Often, I will watch the patterns of light and shadow play on the ceiling. Any worries I may have, dissolve into peaceful thoughts. Usually, I drift into a light sleep for about half -an-hour. Nap times, for me, are some of the most beneficial ways to enjoy the miserable summers of Nebraska.
I found out, on my own, that I must carefully regulate any nap time. If I nap longer than 30-minutes, my regular night sleep will suffer. Also, if the nap happens less than four hours before my regular bedtime, regular night sleep is more fitful. I also found out that I very rarely had time for any naps during the many years that I worked the graveyard shift. The lack of naps, adversely affected my health.
There have been a few instances when I fell into deep sleep and napped for a couple of hours. Upon awakening, I was totally disoriented. I couldn’t remember where I was, the correct day of the week, and couldn’t believe my wristwatch. My thinking was fuzzy and my body felt fatigued. Worse, at regular bedtime, I couldn’t drop off to sleep. The extra long naps were certainly not good for me. I eventually learned to set a kitchen timer.
A few years ago, I came across Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s “The Ultimate Nap CD”. The music is presented on three different tracks. They are 10, 20, and 30 minutes long. The tracks contain a slow-paced, mellow, droning synthesizer melody. At the very end of each track a gong strike has been added to awaken the listener.
In my own experiments with the CD, I found that the 30 minute nap track was best for me. I usually start the CD half way through the 20 minute nap. The gong sounds after the track. This startles my mind and enables me to clear my thoughts and drift off. The best time of year to use this disc is during the wintertime. This is when I’m usually much more energetic and need to consciously take a mental break.
After my naps, I feel more focused and productive. I’m convinced that napping is a helpful, healthy practice if it is disciplined. Of course, this opinion is based on anecdotal evidence. The trick is to find the optimal nap time and timing.
Personal experimentation with napping environment will help. Do you nap best in your bedroom or somewhere else? Do you need music as an aid? Do you need a timer to awaken you? The best naps are those most customized to ones own needs. The best indicator is if you feel better after your nap.
Some of the most innovative companies are now incorporating nap time into work time. A few workplaces have even dedicated a room in the office for employees to take a 20-minute sleep break. These often substitute in place of a standard coffee break.
Fatigued workers find concentration more difficult and productivity takes a dive, too. Chronically tired workers are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. So, the costs of lost productivity and increased rates of mistakes and accidents due to sleepiness outweigh the price of providing nap time for workers. Despite the proven benefits of a work time nap time, only around five-percent of companies provide a nap room on site.
To get the most out of regular sleep and napping, I found out that napping for longer than 30-minutes is counter-productive. It is best to keep regular bedtimes and wake-times, even during the weekends. I don’t drink caffienated or alcoholic beverages less than three hours before sleep-time. I keep my sleeping area quiet, cool, and dark. I sleep best with the thermostat turned down to 62 degrees Fahrenheit. You may wish to experiment with temperature and find a happy medium if you share sleeping space with a bed partner.
The biggest problem is getting enough regular sleep. Most experts say we need between seven and nine hours of sleep. In today’s topsy turvy world, getting eight hours per night isn’t always possible or advised. To take up the slack, nap time seems to be the best solution.
My personal experiments and experience tell me that nap time is beneficial. Like many other adults, I need to find time to make nap time a regular habit.