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One Small Change

Do You Need a Nap?


The vast majority of Americans are sleep-deprived. In fact, it can be argued that sleep deprivation is not only the root cause of most stress and disease, but it also probably contributed to our current economic crisis. That’s right, those hard-chargers on Wall Street and in Washington, who regard the need for sleep as a character flaw, weren’t aware of how dramatically the lack of it compromises clear thinking.

Experts say the average adult needs about eight hours of sleep per night, but that’s an unrealistic prescription for many of us. So what if there was another option? What if by napping every day, we could recoup some of that lost shut-eye while boosting our awareness and energy? What would happen if I made one small change in my life and started napping every day for a month? Would I suddenly become more productive? Would I feel more alive? Would my memory be sharper? Would my health, athletic performance, looks and even sex life improve? Or is that too much wishful thinking to pin on something as simple as a nap?

Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and a diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, doesn’t think so. He’s bullish on napping and does so himself as often as possible. But apparently napping isn’t something you jump into as easily as a featherbed. He says there are specific napping strategies.

Frankly, that’s news to me. When I think of napping I have two distinct memories: The first is of my Uncle Henny, who would nod off at family parties, snoring even louder than the polka music. He didn’t have a strategy. He was just old and full. The other memory involves a guy named Ralph, who interviewed me for my first newspaper job. I was 20 years old, dressed in my best suit; he was a chain-smoker and looked like Jabba the Hut. As I was detailing my meager qualifications, he fell asleep. I later learned that Ralph had narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes one to nod off and awaken without knowing it. (Fortunately for my fragile ego, I still got the job.)

Despite how effortless these people made it seem, Dr. Breus insists that my own success with this experiment will largely depend on how closely I’m able to match my napping strategy to my sleep needs. There are three common scenarios:

  1. You’re sleep-deprived and you know it, getting five or less hours per night. In this case, the prescription is a 90-minute nap. You’re not getting enough of the deeper-stage sleep, so you need to nab more of it by dozing longer midway through the day.
  2. You get six or more hours of sleep per night but still get really tired in the afternoon. You’ll benefit most from a 25- to 35-minute restorative nap. Resting for a short period allows the brain to dip into the first couple stages of sleep enough to refresh you for the remainder of the day.
  3. You have a big test or project looming, and you need to power through. For this situation, Dr. Breus suggests a “nap-a-latte.” Drink a lukewarm-to-cold cup of drip coffee (it has the most caffeine), then close your eyes for 20 to 25 minutes. “You’ll get just enough sleep to reduce fatigue and, when the caffeine kicks in, you’ll be good for another four hours.”

Because I generally get seven to eight hours of sleep per night but tire noticeably by afternoon, Dr. Breus recommends I try the second strategy of napping for 25- to 35-minutes daily.

Okay Doc, this is one prescription I think I can swallow. Care to join me for this month-long experiment? If so, then choose the strategy that best fits your situation and let's start napping!

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Stress, Sleep, Tired