In chiropractic practice, I worked crazy long days. I would arrive at the office at 6:30 AM and head home around 7:00 PM. (#neededheadexamined). I learned early that a “Power Purr,” as my brother in law refers to them, was an essential part of my day. These naps started with me reclined my office floor with a sweater tucked under my head. Later, my office manager, Michael, surprised me with a spongy yoga matt and fancy pillows. I was golden. I got the mid-day napping thing down to a fine science. A quality 45 minutes and the rest of my day was filled with refreshed energy and a clear outlook.

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But napping has a mixed reputation. There is conflicting research on nap science suggesting that naps are both “the worst things ever” and also “full of life transforming benefit”. I think when our body gets sleepy in the middle of the day these two schools of thought force us to ask ourselves several questions before we submit to the prone position and light kitten snores.

Questions To Ask Before You Become A Napper

  • Why am I tired in the middle of the day? Big question. Are you getting enough sleep at night? If your “night sleep” is constantly interrupted or is erratic, no nap is going to make up for that. Instead, your focus should be on creating the best night’s sleep possible before you submit to engaging in regular napping.
  • Am I getting proper nutrition? If you lack in vitamins, minerals, protein or hydration, it can make you very sleepy. A nap will never correct a crappy diet. If you are sluggish after lunch, (the most common nap time) analyze the content of your lunch time meal. If the meal is carb heavy, consider lighter fair like salads and lots of protein. Remember to drink copious amounts of water throughout the whole day, not just in the morning.
  • Are my health metrics, like thyroid, iron, and D, at optimal levels? Low thyroid, iron or sub-optimal levels of D are factors that can make us sleepy during the day. Make sure you are regularly checked for all the lab metrics that relate to fatigue.
  • Do I have any cardiac issues? Bradycardia (abnormally low heart action) is one of many heart irregularities that can make you tired during the day. If you are feeling a chronic need to nap then make sure to consult your doctor regarding your cardiac function.
  • Is my stress level so high that my body is shutting down in the middle of the day? Our body has a  subconscious survival method to stress. It just starts gearing down, with you or without you.  Our body says, “Go to sleep, you maniac,  so you can get away from the constant fire for a minute!” Chronic stress also drains the ability of our adrenals and other regulatory hormone producing organs to function at their best. If our endocrine system is thrown all willy-nilly due to chronic stress our circadian rhythms will also suffer.

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If you have examined these questions and all is in proper order, then napping might be an excellent way for you to get the absolute most productivity and energy from your day. But what is the anatomy of a nap? What is the best strategy to execute your nap most successfully?

The Anatomy Of A Good Nap

  • Choose a quiet place free of interruption: If you are going to nap, commit! Find a quiet place where your coworker, kids or pets are not going to bother you.
  • Set a timer: There are significantly opposing theories on the proper length of a nap. Some theorists claim a power nap of between 10-20 minutes is ideal others suggest that a full sleep cycle of 45-90 minutes is the most beneficial. Once you decide what length of nap is right for you, keep it consistent by setting an alarm with an “un-alarming” sound to rouse you from your short slumber.
  • Practice relaxation breathing: As soon as you settle in, deep breathe for several cycles or utilize specific breathing techniques for sleep. This practice will relax you more quickly allowing you to get the most out of the few minutes you have carved out to rest.
  • The environment should be cool and dark: Your napping environment should be below 70 degrees and dark. Even though you are not going down for the night, these two factors can make or break the quality of your mid-day rest.
  • If it is not happening, don’t sweat it: If you don’t sleep, don’t panic! Having mindful, quiet time, where your body can relax is excellent for mood and energy. You are still getting an excellent benefit even if you don’t cross over into sleep.

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What Are The Benefits Of Napping?

  • Improved Performance Including Quicker Reaction Time: Naps provide an improvement in performance both in athletes and regular joe’s like you and me. Reaction time also sees an increase, so think about pulling over on those long drives to catch some ZZZZ’s. Your reaction time on the road will be much better post-ZZZZZ’s. 
  • Makes up for age-related decay of nighttime sleep: As we age there is a commonly experienced change in our sleeping pattern. Rising earlier and having fewer hours of quality sleep are common. A midday nap can be a great way to make up for so that loss of quality sleep. 
  • Muscle and tissue repair: People who have been injured in an accident know this too well. Sleep is the body’s greatest healer. When you take a nap, energy can be pulled away from all aspects of daily bodily functions and focused directly on cellular regeneration, muscle repair and a host of other miracles that your body performs while you are sleeping. 
  • Regulation of cortisol and other stress-related hormones: While we are sleeping our body works diligently to dissipate the stress of the day and reset our endocrine function so it is ready for the next “go round.” A solid nap has been shown to aid in these “righting” functions of the body’s hormone system.  
  • Fights Food Cravings: Napping can help regulate insulin which in turn helps balance food and sugar cravings. When we respect the body’s need for sleep weight management becomes a much easier task! 
  • Better Memory: Our brains need downtime just like our body! When we are awake we are taking in thousands of flashes sensory stimuli and sometimes our brain just needs some time to catch up! A good nap is an excellent way to support the brain’s need to decompress. 

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What is the ideal nap length? Lots of controversy around this one. One theory is that you should not allow yourself to drift all the way to REM. The suggestion is that it becomes too hard to wake and you have effectively teased your body into thinking it just slept for the night, rather than just had a good rest. The other school of thought that is unless you allow yourself a full sleep cycle you do not get the full benefit of mid-day slumber.  Maybe I will pen an article on this subject alone! But, in the meantime, I am going to recommend you find out what works for your body. If you have the time, maybe a forty-five or ninety-minute slumber, consistent with a full sleep cycle, will result in deep rejuvenation. If you only have a little window of time or find that the longer naps leave you sluggish, a ten to thirty-minute stint may be best for you. That way you don’t fully engage in REM, but you get the advantage of some still, calm, peaceful down-time in the middle of your day. Also, most naps fit best in your day between 12:30 and 2:30. Much later and you run the risk of interrupting your ability to fall asleep at night.

What is “sleep inertia”? This is worth mentioning because if you read anything on “napping” you will come across the term “sleep inertia.” The term is talking about that “molasses” feeling you have when you first wake up from a nap. Being that I am somewhat of a professional napper I have certainly fallen victim to the “slow to wake” sensation that can follow a nap. Stretching, splashing cold water on your face, jumping jacks, deep breathing or a brisk 2-3 minute walk can shake those cobwebs and leave you refreshed for the rest of the day. 

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Are you a napper? This week consider taking a little “Power Purr” Can you head to your car at lunch, or perhaps an empty conference room? Set a timer and slide down your eyemask. It just might set you up for success to come out charging the second half of your day. 

 

 

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Resources: 

NAPPING DO’s AND DON’TS FOR HEALTHY ADULTS

COMMON SLEEP MISTAKES

IS NAPPING GOD OR BAD FOR YOU? 

POWER NAPPING VERSUS SLEEPING

IS NAPPING HEALTHY?