My dog, Goose, is less than impressive. He’s not particularly attractive and he likes to dig in my vegetable garden. He doesn’t have a proud heritage or come from a noble breed.
Goose, however, is an impressive napper. He can nap in any situation at any time of day. But the minute the UPS man knocks on the door, he is awake, fully alert, and not deterred by post-nap grogginess.
If you read about what makes the most successful people productive, often you will find mention of a nap in their daily routine. Most don’t nap as freely as Goose does, but they reserve a spot in their agenda for half an hour of shuteye. They find it keeps them fresh throughout the day.
So if naps worked for Winston Churchill and JFK, wouldn’t they work for you?
Maybe not. A 2014 study on napping and mortality raises some questions. Over 16,000 men and women were questioned about their napping habits and followed for 13 years.
Sadly, nappers were more likely to die during that time than their non-napping counterparts, “independent of age, sex, social class, educational level, marital status, employment status, body mass index, physical activity level, smoking status, alcohol intake, depression, self-reported general health, use of hypnotic drugs or other medications, time spent in bed at night, and presence of preexisting health conditions.”
Meaning many factors that would cause someone to want to nap that also might contribute to earlier death were excluded as the cause of the increased mortality.
But we can’t say the napping caused people to die, either. This was an epidemiologic study, not a randomized, controlled trial. It shows correlation, not necessarily causation.
The authors offer a couple of explanations for this correlation. First, they suggest napping can be an indicator of an underlying but undetected health issue that predisposes certain people to die earlier.
A second possibility is that those in the nap group have disturbed nighttime sleep, which is associated with increased mortality.
A third, possibility is naps themselves increase the risk of death. My money is on one of the first two possibilities.
The research leaves many unanswered questions. Even so, napping is all the rage. Universities and corporations alike are adding napping facilities to make the environment a little friendlier. Ben and Jerry’s with their office nap room and unlimited supply of Phish Food sounds like a dream job in my book. “A happy employee is a productive employee,” indeed.
The workplace nap trend is based in part on research by people like Sara Mednick, PhD of UC Riverside. She is the author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. She presents compelling evidence that napping can boost creativity, reduce stress, help with weight loss, improve your sex life, and a lot more good stuff.
If you want to give napping a try to see if it works for you, here are a few suggestions to get you started. For most people, a 20-30 minute nap will get the job done. It lets you benefit from the restorative effects of sleep without going into the deepest parts of the sleep cycle. This keeps you from waking up groggy.
Some people prefer a nap of about 90 minutes, which allows them to go through one entire sleep cycle and reap the benefits of REM sleep. But, as with most new endeavors, beginners should start small. Keep it to 15-20 minutes as you begin. Work your way up to find the optimal nap length, much like you would with a bench press.
The key here is clarity about why you are napping. If you simply need a pick me up after lunch, a nap may offer many benefits. But if you are slogging through the day, getting by on naps and caffeine, it’s probably time to see your doctor and talk about making real changes. You don’t want to sleep yourself into an early grave.
Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or AssetBuilder. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.