The Surprising Science Behind Napping
September 17, 2013 6:23 PM   Subscribe

"Over the years, napping has gotten a bad rap, becoming a sign of laziness or weakness, especially during the workday. Yet, according to a growing body of scientific research, napping can actually be a very good and very smart thing to do. How so? Napping can help refresh the mind, make you more creative, boost your intelligence, and even help you live a longer, healthier life. Studies over the past decade have confirmed all of this and more, and napping is slowly gaining acceptance as a part of a healthy lifestyle, even in some corporate offices. Whether you're ready to jump on the nap-happy bandwagon or just learn more about the research being done on the practice, read on as we share the science behind the need to nap, interesting research into napping, and a scientist-approved method for taking the ideal nap."
posted by paleyellowwithorange (59 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
Every truly civilized society has a tradition of afternoon naps. This is a fact.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:28 PM on September 17, 2013 [23 favorites]


Let me know when science solves the problem where you wake up from a nap feeling like a dementor sucked out your soul while you were sleeping. The twenty and forty-five minute naps that the article recommends aren't really a possibility for me because of how picky my subconscious is about letting me sleep when I'm not in a lightless anechoic chamber, and the ninety minute nap is just a guaranteed day-ruiner for me. Bummer.
posted by invitapriore at 6:35 PM on September 17, 2013 [29 favorites]


Make a snarky comment, take a nap, check back, repeat.

(this really should have been posted at 2 in the afternoon)
posted by sammyo at 6:35 PM on September 17, 2013


Okay, making a new sign for my door: Shh! Sciencing in silence!

Nice to see I'm doing my naps right!
posted by tilde at 6:40 PM on September 17, 2013


I had a really nice nap in the park just this afternoon.
posted by carter at 6:42 PM on September 17, 2013


I am very much pro-nap. However, I also snore horribly. In order for naps -- especially in the workplace, which is where the is ultimately going -- to be socially acceptable, we're going to have to do something about the snoring thing. It's going to be hard to respect a coworker after you know what their snore sounds like. This is a line we should not cross. Our society depends on it.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:48 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've always done the tropical thing and gone home for a "long lunch" siesta then worked an hour later to cover the time.

I have had ass bosses who demanded 8-5 with 60 minute lunch periods. But then, I just go get an MDs note that says I need to take a nap. PITA, but it shuts down the OCD management types.

(as noted above), yeah, a few people I have known don't get refreshed from naps--they just stay groggy. Glad I'm not one of those!

-Napster
posted by CrowGoat at 6:50 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I was a medical resident and had to be on-call for 30 hours at a time, I tried a number of things. I tried caffeine pills and they made me feel horrible. I'd be just as exhausted and drained, but feel wired just the same. And if I did try to lie down to sleep, my heart would just pound the bed through my chest. I tried sleeping in as late as possible on call days.

What helped the most was a nap. I would finish my day-work by 15:00 or so and then excuse myself to the call room. I could lie down until my night-call officially started at 17:30. Then I wouldn't exactly feel refreshed throughout the night, but I could go much longer and think much clearer into the wee hours.
posted by adoarns at 6:53 PM on September 17, 2013


I took a nap last week, and a new colleague of mine asked another colleague of mine about it. He was worried. Should I wake him up? my new colleague asked of my friend. Since when has it become pathological to take a nap? These studies have been flurrying around for a decade. I was a little pissed off to hear about this, frankly. Of course, I hadn't had my after-lunch nap that day.
posted by kozad at 6:57 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I regularly take cat naps. I lie down if at home or go to the breakroom and listen to some ambient pandora and put my head down.

Without fail i wake up on 10-15 min.

I do feel groggy for a minute or two, but i just let myself come up out of it slowly and i feel better.

I think napping is a skill because i have never met anyone in real life who says "me too!" when i say the above. They all say they can't nap and feel so sleepy and have to sleep for hours etc. I think they need to be taught how to catnap. /not meant meanly
posted by sio42 at 7:03 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


My problem with studies like this, much like my problem with the studies about stuff like standing desks and exercising during the day, is that they end up feeling moralizing about things with which I agree and over which I have no control. I know this isn't the fault of science or the researchers, but I keep being told "Here's what you have to do to be healthy! This is so important! If you don't do this, you are going to be unhealthy and it's your fault!" but actually I have very little control over my working environment; I can't order myself a standing desk and if I asked for one at best people would probably laugh. Similarly, creating a working situation in which naps were appropriate would be awesome, but once again it feels like I'm being told that I'm failing at Health by not doing this thing that is outside my control and it sucks.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:08 PM on September 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


I just go get an MDs note that says I need to take a nap

My doctor once diagnosed me as having 'post-prandial lassitude' ... maybe I should have exploited that further.
posted by carter at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


The basic properties of sleep have been known in detail for a lot more than a decade. Think more along the lines of fifty years. This material was ancient when I took a semester-long class on sleep almost ten years ago. This very superficial post from Medical Billing & Coding has a bunch of uselessly broad generalizations and also a few inaccuracies. It only reflects the state of the science (any science) in passing. It's like an eHow page on sleep neuroscience.

To address a tangential detail, I doubt that companies like Apple and Google have nap rooms because "science has shown that naps are beneficial." We have nap rooms where I work too, but it's because some of our employees don't go home a lot. (We also have standing desks and yoga ball seats.)
posted by Nomyte at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always seem to get PND (post-nap depression) where I stay groggy for an extra long time if the nap goes past 20 minutes. A spoonful of sugar (juice or fruit or, in desperate times, ice cream) always helps me wake up.
posted by anya32 at 7:17 PM on September 17, 2013


An article from Medical Billing and Coding?
posted by discopolo at 7:22 PM on September 17, 2013


This crazy world.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:23 PM on September 17, 2013


carter: "My doctor once diagnosed me as having 'post-prandial lassitude' ... maybe I should have exploited that further."

The smartest thing medicine ever did was adopt a Latinate vocabulary for its terms. That sort of thing would never fly if the doctor's note just said "motherfucker gets tired when they eat, damn."
posted by invitapriore at 7:30 PM on September 17, 2013 [31 favorites]


I'm lucky that I can fall asleep anywhere. I take a half-hour nap every day. I'm also lucky that I don't feel groggy when I wake up from one. In fact, I feel like a new man. I get a lot more done when I don't feel like I have to hold my eyes open with toothpicks.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:37 PM on September 17, 2013


It also beats the hell out of guzzling coffee or those disgusting 5 hour energy shots.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:38 PM on September 17, 2013


carter: "My doctor once diagnosed me as having 'post-prandial lassitude' ... maybe I should have exploited that further."

Completely OT, but my sister's pediatrician gave her a note to chew gum in class to "exercise her uvula".

Regarding naps, when I'm an office drone, I can either nap on purpose as part of my lunch hour, or I can nap unintentionally in fits and spurts for three hours all afternoon and get nothing done. Boss's choice.
posted by notsnot at 7:42 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love napping so much I once had a dream about having a nap.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:45 PM on September 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I love napping so much I once had a dream about having a nap.

I recently had a dream about analyzing a dream I had had earlier in the same dream.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:55 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who doesn't like naps? Every now and then I think one will be refreshing, then I'm groggy and feel like crap for the next few hours after I wake up. Seriously, am I doing it wrong?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:00 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm also a terrible napper. On the rare occasions when I successfully nap, it's fantastic. But usually I either wake up horribly groggy or I never get to sleep at all.

There's a little park near my office where at lunchtime, all the shady parking spots are occupied by people taking naps in their cars.

We did just refurbish our teeny break room - it's got a couch and a chaise longue and a big armchair with an ottoman. Mostly my pregnant colleagues seem to make use of it for napping. Maybe I'll give it another shot sometime.
posted by rtha at 8:02 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The trick for me was to limit naps to half an hour. I used to take two hour naps, wake up groggy and screw up my sleep pattern at night. But half an hour? As someone I can't remember once said on twitter: "A nap is like a cup of coffee that isn't lying to you."
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:15 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who doesn't like naps? Every now and then I think one will be refreshing, then I'm groggy and feel like crap for the next few hours after I wake up. Seriously, am I doing it wrong?

Nope, I am the same way. Short sleep periods make me feel terrible to the point that if I'm only going to get 3-4 hours in a night, I just make it an all-nighter because otherwise I'll feel even worse.
posted by threeants at 8:17 PM on September 17, 2013


I used to come home from work and tell my wife that my brain needed defragging. Since I retired, I have trained her to just go with my more often than not afternoon naps. I am a better person, and partner, for it.
posted by Danf at 8:46 PM on September 17, 2013


I love lunch time naps. Without them, I usually get exhausted staring at screen in the afternoon and my eyes sometimes flash dreams when I closed them. Now, I can remain productive in the afternoon.
posted by DetriusXii at 9:01 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm too paranoid to take a nap in my car. I think people would mess with me. But I really would like to get a nap into my work day.

Before I had a baby, I was a champion cat-napper. Somewhere between 8 and 30 minutes is the sweet spot. I would look at my clock, say 1:21 and give myself some kind of oddball time to wake up, like 1:38. Then I'd just think about those numbers, subtract them in my head to get the total and drift off. About the time I'd start having a dream which became lucid, I'd think, I wonder what time it is, open my eyes, exactly 1:38. No set alarm.

Since I had a baby, my sleep is fairly unpredictable and I've lost the ability to just shut it down for a nap. Some kind of BS mama-bear nonsense keeps me on alert.

But, huge, huge fan of the daily snooze. You just have to find your sweet spot.
posted by amanda at 9:17 PM on September 17, 2013


I just get my naps in right away in the morning, between the four alarms it takes to drag me out of bed.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:25 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The most surprising thing about this is that the headline calls it surprising. Hasn't his been common knowledge for a long time? Presidents used to openly nap. Animals nap. Film at 11.
posted by Camofrog at 9:36 PM on September 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


My problem with studies like this, much like my problem with the studies about stuff like standing desks and exercising during the day, is that they end up feeling moralizing about things with which I agree and over which I have no control.

I understand the frustration, but the problem is not with the studies like this.
posted by Camofrog at 9:40 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am so grateful to be a freelancer. I take a nap with the dogs every afternoon. Usually an hour or an hour and a half, and then I'm bright and cheery again and can bang on my work til midnight or so, as needed. And if I need more rest because the arthritis is being an asshole or my meds are making me feel sick? No one knows but the dogs, and they aren't upset.

The standard workday sucks. I'm way more productive if I can rest when I need to, without fear of reprisal.
posted by MissySedai at 10:09 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am drooling just thinking about napping. Because that is what happens to me. Drool. WTF face! Pull it together and nap with dignity.

Face sez nope.
posted by srboisvert at 10:25 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


. . . I never get to sleep at all.

I used to think that, especially of short naps. Then I found out that most people have trouble distinguishing stage 1 sleep from being awake. You can even be aware of your surroundings in stage 1 sleep. Once I discovered that, I stopped stressing about it, and I think relaxing made the naps more restorative. (sorry, no links, this is what my sleep doc told me.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:42 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Count me in TEAM BAD NAPPER.

At some point, all my roommates / significant others have flat-out refused to try to wake me up from naps. "What's the point, you just say 5 more minutes for the next two hours and it sucks and you throw things at me." In college, I would sleep-lie and tell my roommates "oh don't worry, the deadline got moved back to next week, I don't have a paper due tomorrow" and then wake up the next morning in a frenzy, yell at them, and then find out that my sleeping self had made up some plausible excuse.

I've come to realize that power naps and cat naps are not in my repertoire. I have to nap a full sleep cycle (2-2.5 hours), it has to be still light out (post-sunset naps just turn into sleepathons), and I still feel terrible for the first 20 minutes after waking up. Super thirsty, super grouchy. But if I have a writing deadline that will require an all-nighter, I try to get in a disco nap before sundown to help me stay focused.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:44 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wish I could nap. I just cannot comprehend the idea of a 20-minute nap. I can't even fall asleep in 20 minutes. (Except on preview, maybe not?)

If I'm asleep, I'm dead to the world for the next 2 hours minimum. I do feel refreshed after that, but who has a spare 2 hours in the day?
posted by Gordafarin at 11:03 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In college, I would sleep-lie and tell my roommates "oh don't worry, the deadline got moved back to next week, I don't have a paper due tomorrow" and then wake up the next morning in a frenzy, yell at them, and then find out that my sleeping self had made up some plausible excuse.

I do this. I have lots of sleep trouble, (hence the sleep doc mentioned above) and my assumption has been that my body is trying to protect what sleep I get. I make up the craziest excuses. Or not, because my spouse believes them (not as much anymore due to the numerous sleep lies). And I don't even remember doing it. Apparently I can look and sound quite coherent and awake to do this and have zero recollection of the conversation.

On very important events, I have to add the clause "And don't believe me if I tell you to let me sleep because reasons. I need to get up, no exceptions."
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:04 PM on September 17, 2013


I used to think that, especially of short naps. Then I found out that most people have trouble distinguishing stage 1 sleep from being awake. You can even be aware of your surroundings in stage 1 sleep. Once I discovered that, I stopped stressing about it, and I think relaxing made the naps more restorative. (sorry, no links, this is what my sleep doc told me.)

This interests me but I am reluctant to do any further research for fear of finding out that I have actually just been in the throes of Stage 1 Sleep for the entirety of my life.
posted by threeants at 11:44 PM on September 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can't find any good links to back up my assertion. Not that they don't exist, rather, it's repeated as common knowledge everywhere that talks about sleep stages. I haven't found anything that dives into it more deeply than that. That could be the everywhere problem.

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/sleep-101:
"Stage 1: Polysomnography (sleep readings) shows a reduction in activity between wakefulness and stage 1 sleep. The eyes are closed during Stage 1 sleep. One can be awakened without difficulty, however, if aroused from this stage of sleep, a person may feel as if he or she has not slept. Stage 1 may last for five to 10 minutes. Many may notice the feeling of falling during this stage of sleep, which may cause a sudden muscle contraction (called hypnic myoclonia)."

Only slightly related, but you can also dream in non-REM sleep. Another crazy thing I learned under the care of a sleep doctor. I couldn't figure out why I'd dream in what otherwise seemed like a light, short sleep. I thought no way I was actually getting into REM sleep that fast. I wasn't.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-rapid_eye_movement_sleep
"Although study participants' reports of intense dream vividness during REM sleep and increased recollection of dreams occurring during that phase suggest that dreaming most commonly occurs during that stage, dreaming can also occur during NREM sleep."
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:15 AM on September 18, 2013


My big problem is sleeping for less than half a hour. When I do I feel great but if I sleep longer I feel like crap. If I set an alarm for half an hour I just stare at the clock. I need some alarm that magically knows when I fall asleep and then starts counting down.
posted by Uncle at 12:37 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


on edit and preview: half an hour feels right but half a hour is right?
posted by Uncle at 12:39 AM on September 18, 2013


Big lunchtime nap fan here wherever possible. At a previous job where it was the usual one-hour lunch break the afternoon slump would hit almost without fail with the inevitable effect on productivity. New job has two (2!) hour lunch breaks as a norm so after eating I often close my office door, plug in headphones, and happily nap on the floor for about twenty minutes. Wake up slowly and I'm good for the rest of the day.
posted by AlienGrace at 12:50 AM on September 18, 2013


The only place I could possibly nap at work is in the loo but they'd start pounding on the door after about 5 minutes. (It's usually about 150°F in my car)
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:51 AM on September 18, 2013


No question, sometimes falling asleep for even five minutes can completely improve my day.

I don't see this entering the workplace anytime soon, however. Americans think that unhappy workers are better workers. True story -- at the place where I work, we had to do our jobs while sitting in two chairs that were ancient, falling apart, and totally uncomfortable to sit in. I volunteered to bring in two brand new chairs for myself and my coworker, totally free. I would donate them to make our lives easier.

My supervisor reacted as if i'd suggested that we be able to drink booze or smoke weed on the job. Absolutely not.

I brought them anyway. Fuck him.
posted by ELF Radio at 1:28 AM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm a napper - 15 to 25 minutes tops. It's not an every day thing but totally necessary if I've not slept enough the night before. It feels like a mental reboot so it's good to read that SCIENCE agrees!

I've got the process of work-day naps down to a fine art. Every time I start a new job part of my personal orienteering task is to seek out a discreet space for having forty winks. I've always found somewhere, from service cupboards to ill-visited library stacks. Most bizarre was under the lip of the ceiling balcony in a vast Victorian museum. The susurrus of the public meandering respectfully far below was very soporific and the heat of the room pooled right at the top.

Best ever space is at my current job - it's a room that got blocked off during some internal redesign and now comprises an 8 foot by 5 foot space in front of a gently humming hot water tank - it still has a light switch and an internal lock. It's pretty much perfect. I'm not so fussed about the role but that sweet nap spot will be hard to give up...
posted by freya_lamb at 2:07 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I feel exhausted at the office I lie on the floor, flat on my back and close my eyes for around a minute. I get up again feeling quite refreshed. There is little danger of my going to sleep as floor is hard and I very rarely drop off away from my bed.
posted by biffa at 4:00 AM on September 18, 2013


Count me in as another anti-napper; man I feel so groggy and awful for ages afterwards. The only thing that helped was a bath, but that would be tricky to do in the workplace.
posted by marienbad at 4:20 AM on September 18, 2013


I have secretly napped at work.. In my car, occasionally the bathroom, at one job a secret conference room with a locking door... Last place I worked I was having lots of troubles with sleep and fatigue.. And they had bathroom stalls that were completely enclosed mini-rooms. I had more than one nap sitting in the corner of the handicap stall. It was absurd but necessary for me to get through the day. Not a soul noticed; I've since asked.

I always hated the idea that if you take a nap at work, somehow you were doing it wrong. I've worked with a few people that had been fired because they sought out a secret cubby hole to sleep. If they were sleeping the whole day, I could see it.. But a short afternoon nap to recharge your body just makes sense, and is more necessary for some people than others. But years in corporate jobs have suggested exactly what others have said. Here in the good US of A, we want our employees unhappy. If they're unhappy, only then do you know you're getting your money's worth, right? That no matter what the data says about ways to improve productivity, it's worker dissatisfaction that fuels the economy.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:23 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does passing out in shavasana count?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:38 AM on September 18, 2013


srboisvert: "Drool. WTF face! Pull it together and nap with dignity."

I uh, slept a lot in high school. In class. Once during a rest in jazz band.

I learned to make sure my mouth was not on top of a book, else the drool loosen the ink from the page and the ink get transferred to your forehead.

True story.
posted by notsnot at 7:41 AM on September 18, 2013


Oh, and to wake up properly from a nap, wet your hands and completely circumnavigate your neck. A second wetting of hands on your ears.
posted by notsnot at 7:43 AM on September 18, 2013


One of the best things about my last job was that I had an office, with a door. And no one cared if that door was closed.

So every day at lunch I'd pull out the blanket that I kept in my cupboard, sprawl out on the floor, and set an alarm for 50 minutes. I maintain that lunchtime naps were the only thing that allowed me to work a nine-to-five schedule for as long as I did--on my own schedule, I go to bed when the sun rises and wake midafternoon.

Also, post-nap grogginess is often excised, for me, by a few minutes of stretching--a quick sun salute, or a minute of downward dog and plank, or whatever.
posted by MeghanC at 8:11 AM on September 18, 2013


Car Naps - 12v plug in fan, sun shade up, run the AC to cool all the way to your shady parking napping spot, crack the windows, lock the doors.

Or so I've heard.

I work close enough to home I can run there if I must nap (and throw a load in the laundry), though more than once I was tempted by the "AC COOLED" storage units near the office - $70 bucks a month for one big enough, put in a sofa and sleep in my own near deprivation tank daily ;).
posted by tilde at 8:16 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


A few things from a former sleep researcher:
1. A nap is not going to help you if you are missing slow-wave (deep) sleep. If you find yourself waking up from brief naps really groggy, your body is probably trying to go into slow-wave sleep. SWS is more primal (think: lizard brain, REM is cortical) and older (exists in more primitive organisms/further back in the phylogenic tree). Just like hunger and thirst, your body needs to get sated on sleep. SWS is more important than REM, so if you're deprived of SWS, your body will try to make up that deficit first. So either you're not getting enough sleep, or you're not getting good enough sleep (finally got diagnosed with sleep apnea myself a year ago; sleep researcher, heal thyself!). Waking from deep sleep will just make you feel groggier, not better.
2. Nap when you need it. Your body has circadian rhythms. They persist all day and night, while you're awake and while you're asleep. If you try to nap when you're at a peak (of brain activation, let's just call it) rather than a trough, you're gonna have a bad time. Good naps work because you ride the trough back up to a peak (surfin'!). Also try adjusting your sleep times/waking time so that you wake on a peak every day (you can keep a spreadsheet for a month or so and see what times you tend to wake up freshest... college students who sleep at fairly random hours especially will notice the wave pattern *cough cough*). It's usually the same time every day, though it's different for everyone. Actually waking up earlier is sometimes better! Crazy, I know!
3. Stage 1 sleep is a deceptive motherfucker. I did a session in the lab once where I attempted lucid signaling. When I got to look at the EEG record, it turns out that I had been "asleep" for almost a half hour before I started to feel like I was "falling asleep." I had a clear memory of the time before the onset of hypnagogic imagery, and it was indistinguishable from consciousness. And I knew what I was doing, what I was looking for, and (I thought) what to expect. So even to a trained observer (practically a professional dreamer! course credit counts, right?), it is really, really hard to tell when you are asleep. Don't be hard on yourself! Close your eyes and let your brain rest for a bit. Napping is way easier than you think it is; just let it happen (and then get on with your day). =D
posted by Eideteker at 2:09 PM on September 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


An article from Medical Billing and Coding?

Medical billers and coders need naps, too.

Maybe more than the rest of us.
posted by notyou at 3:29 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


A buddy swears the key to successful short-napping is to lie down, but leave one's shoes on. Hit-or-miss for me, but he's kept his job for quite awhile.
posted by issue #1 at 6:33 PM on September 18, 2013


I thought that was an old wives tale about not getting pregnant ...
posted by tilde at 9:08 AM on September 19, 2013


Ha ha. This is being favorited by all the nappers so they can show it to the people who call them lazy.
posted by cherrybounce at 6:32 PM on September 19, 2013


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