5 Compelling Health Benefits of Napping
I was recently on location with a world-renowned photographer. Despite a grueling, breakneck schedule of dawn scouts followed by into-the-wee-hour shoots, he maintained the most chipper of demeanors and possessed seemingly boundless energy. On day three of our back-to-back schedule, I ducked out to grab my third coffee of the day and returned to discover his magic secret: He was napping. On the job. Literally.
I asked what he was doing curled in the fetal position of a conference room at the Hilton awaiting a portrait session with a noteworthy musician. His response: “The ability to fall asleep anywhere is the secret to my success.”
Naptime should be reinstated, and there’s sufficient hard data to back up this movement. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 85% of mammals are polyphasic sleepers—i.e., the rest of the animal kingdom sleeps in intervals throughout the day. Humans are among the only mammals that function on monophasic sleep, grabbing all our z’s in a single nightly dose.
It turns out the grand tradition of napping has been a celebrated part of history. The ancient Romans were on board; they were biphasic sleepers, breaking at hora sexta (noon) for a midday snooze. Thus the siesta culture was born, and it’s still upheld in much of Europe. Trying to get a decent anything in Barcelona at 3 p.m. is a Sisyphean task. The whole city is taking time off.
Here in the West, we skew toward the sleep-deprived side of the scale. While naps might not fit into our current 9-to-5 daily grind structure, the benefits are worth considering a rewrite to American culture. Even Einstein famously mastered the art. Could micro-napping be the secret to absolute focus? Keep scrolling to discover all the benefits the daily practice could unlock for your health.
According to Dr. Sarah Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life and assistant psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, a midday 90-minute nap does the body best. An hour-and-a-half rest will take your body through a full cycle of sleep. It will also pull you out of your REM cycle just in time to avoid the groggy feeling called "sleep inertia" that occurs when the body wakes suddenly from slow-wave sleep.
Slow-wave sleep occurs in the third and fourth stages of rest. Once your body reaches slow wave, after about 40 minutes, memories are transferred from your neocortex to the hippocampus for long-term storage. According to WebMD, 30- to 60-minute napping boosts decision-making skills and memory retention. Resting and rebooting frees up your working memory to focus on the immediate task at hand.
One NASA study found a single 40-minute nap increased alertness by 100%. Fifteen to 20 minutes of shut-eye is more effective at waking up the brain than caffeine or exercise. Einstein took what scientists now call “hypnogic naps,” which involve waking up when your body reaches the first stage of sleep—the sweet spot between waking and dreaming. This mental state is believed to unlock creative thinking and fast-track problem-solving. Salvador Dali emulated Einstein’s routine, citing it as crucial to his art process. Even a brief five- to 10-minute repose could help you get the creative juices flowing.
A 20-minute power nap means you’re waking your body in stage two of sleep. WedMD confirms naps in the 20-minute zone are the sweet spot to improving motor skills. In fact, studies show a 20-minute power nap boosts stamina more than 20 extra minutes of sleep in the morning. Instead of hitting snooze, hit the gym and opt for a midday siesta later on.
Sleep is the linchpin to health. It affects everything from your hormone levels and mood to your body’s ability to heal. Prevention recommends napping to naturally lower your cortisol levels, giving your body the added boost to manage stress and stay alert. While napping remains somewhat taboo in workplace culture, major companies are clueing into the major benefits. Google offers sleep pods on campus for employees to recharge at work, and as a society, we’ve pretty much embraced deferring to Google in all things… Napping should be trending by now.
Shop our favorite cozy napping essentials below.
Do you have a sleep routine you swear by? Tell us in the comments below.
Opening photo: David Hamilton for Muse