To Nap or Not?
SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)


To Nap or Not?

When napping is good, and how to make the most of dozing off.

Napping Facts

Think about the phrase "caught napping." It makes what is actually a short, restorative daytime doze sound lazy or even immoral. Once reserved for infants, college students and ER docs, naps are gaining respectability among ordinary adults -- and good thing, too. According to a 2001 study by the National Sleep Foundation, 40 percent of adults report feeling enough daytime sleepiness to interfere with their daily activities on at least a few days a month. About 22 percent say that daytime drowsiness disrupts them more than a few days a week. Talk about the walking wounded!

How Naps Help

"A nap can help you increase your alertness," says Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York University in Manhattan, and coauthor of A Woman's Guide to Sleep (Crown Publishing, 2000). Naps come in three categories. There are preventive naps (in which you take an afternoon snooze on a day you know you'll be up late); habitual naps (the daily nap you schedule in -- great for new moms, shift workers, students, and anyone else who regularly loses sleep); and emergency naps (in which, for example, you pull off the highway for a doze rather than drive drowsy).

As great as a nap can be, we don't all need one every day. "We naturally have two dips in energy over a 24-hour period, one in the middle of the night, and another in the middle of the afternoon," says Dr. Walsleben. "But some of us, probably because we get enough good quality sleep at night, hardly notice the mid-afternoon slump." You probably know already if you're not one of the lucky ones -- but a good test if you're unsure is to think about how you feel during a boring business meeting at 4 p.m. Does it make you want to nod off? Then you need a nap.

Smart Napping Strategies

As with all good things, you can overuse a nap, so plan wisely. It's better to take a handful of 20- to 30-minute naps throughout the week than to indulge in a 4-hour Saturday afternoon nap marathon. Shorter, more frequent naps work to pay down your "sleep debt" -- the accumulated slumber you've missed out on. Conversely, a longer nap makes nighttime sleeping that much harder, setting you up for yet another week of poor sleep. Why the length is crucial: "A 20- or 30-minute nap is restorative for both mind and body," says Kathlyn Cavander, nurse coordinator of the Sleep Disorders Center at Glendale Adventist Medical Center in Glendale, CA. "But if you stay asleep for much longer, you'll go into a deeper stage of sleep, and feel much groggier when you wake up."

Maximize your naptime experience by following these tips:

  • If you're at home: Go into your bedroom or lie down on the couch, shoes off, under the covers if you like, shades drawn.
  • If you're in your office: Close the door, shut the lights, put your phone on hold, and put your head down for 20 minutes. Don't think that's possible? "Why not?" asks Dr. Walsleben. "Explain to your boss or human resources manager that you need a daily snooze in order to remain productive. Take it out of your lunch or coffee break."
  • If you're in your car: Pull over someplace safe (i.e. not on the shoulder of a highway), be sure your doors are locked, and slide the seat as far back as it will go. --Denise Schipani