Snooze and be happy

An afternoon nap is pleasurable to most people. If you can effortlessly drift off to sleep and wake up feeling refreshed, you should go for it. No need for guilt trips. Even if you nap for just a few minutes, enjoy it.

 Naps have been victimized by bad advertising. They have a reputation of being just for slackers and those who love to indulge. Unfortunately, there are people who feel guilty about taking a nap, but there’s no need for that. We are actually biologically designed to feel sleepy and drowsy in the mid-afternoon, between 2 and 4 pm.

The “afternoon coma” and heavy eyelids are an unpleasant yet universal experience, often felt when you’re getting your office work wrapped up in the afternoon hours. In our modern work environment, naps are not options, so most people find not-so healthy alternatives to get a quick fix. They crave junk food with caffeine or sugar and find them in candy bars or soda drinks. Or they might just blame their sleepiness on the Chinese or pizza takeout they ate for lunch. But in actuality, this experience of afternoon drowsiness is a normal physiological response; your biological clock is calling you to go rest.

Naps can be considered a tool to improve energy; hence the name “powernaps.” Naps can leave you refreshed, less stressed, more mentally alert and productive. Research that was published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism in the January issue of 2007 issue showed that brief naps can actually lower stress hormones following sleep deprivation. So if you feel frustrated with solving a problem, try this: Take a short nap, then come back and give your brain another shot. Naps can unleash some of the brain’s connections and improve creative thinking.

One study found that a 30-minute nap in athletes after a night of sleep deprivation improved their alertness and short-term memory, lowered their heart rate and best of all, improved their athletic performance. This study was published in the December issue of 2007’s Journal of Sports Sciences

When is napping a problem?

Dozing off frequently during the day in inappropriate situations — such as in class or at work — is not considered napping. Rather, this might be a sign that a person’s body and brain aren’t getting an adequate amount of sleep each night. It can also be a sign of a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea syndrome, in which a person briefly stops breathing several times during the night, causing daytime fatigue.

If you’ve gotten into the habit of taking more frequent and longer naps, this should alert you that you might have a medical or sleep problem such as sleep apnea. Also be careful about napping if you suffer from insomnia. Napping can make it worse.

Tips on napping the healthy way

  • If you wish to nap, make your naps at regular times – the same time each day.
  • Avoid napping after 4 pm so that your nighttime sleep is not affected.
  • Keep your naps no longer than 30 or 45 minutes. Set an alarm clock to ensure that you don’t sleep for many hours and cause insomnia.
  • Avoid napping soon after lunch. It might cause acid reflux. Let your food digest a bit before resting.
  • Avoid a high carbohydrate diet. A study from Sweden which was published in Biological Psychology in 2004 found that this type of diet significantly increased sleepiness about 3.5 hours after meal serving.
  • If you experience the “afternoon coma” at your office and you cannot take a nap, go for a 10- minutes fast walk, preferably outdoors, and get some sunshine. A quick up and down walk of the stairs can also help ward off the drowsy feeling.
  • Scheduled napping is part of managing patients with narcolepsy and shift work.