By Shelby Freedman Harris, Psy.D. for YouBeauty
As a sleep specialist with an emphasis on treating insomnia, I'm constantly advising my patients to avoid naps since they can worsen sleepless nights. Naps are often thought of as the bad guy, but in reality they can be quite beneficial to most people who already sleep well at night.
America is a sleep-deprived nation. Although a brief snooze during the day doesn't come close to making up for the nightly sleep we lose on a regular basis (because we're too busy to make sleep a priority), naps can improve our overall daily functioning.
Although naps are often stigmatized as a sign of laziness or unproductivity, they can be very beneficial for workplace performance. Short naps have been routinely demonstrated to reduce accidents and mistakes while also improving attention, concentration, performance and alertness. Naps also help boost your mood and ability to manage stress. Naps can be used proactively to gain energy for a late night out. They can even be used effectively to combat drowsy driving when a short snooze is taken just before getting behind the wheel or using heavy machinery.
Routine, planned naps are necessary for some people, while others find that taking an occasional nap when sleepy might be all that is needed. For example, patients with narcolepsy find that planned short naps are crucial to managing their sleepiness every day. Shift workers also benefit greatly from brief naps just before night work or during a break, with some needing a nap before driving home to make sure they aren't drowsy and behind the wheel.
Although it seems simple to take a nap, there are a few tricks to optimize the benefits of a midday snooze. Here are a few tricks to getting in a great power nap.
1. Short, 20-minute power naps are generally much better than longer ones since longer naps cause you to get into deeper stages of sleep, leading to an increased feeling of grogginess upon awakening. Longer naps can also interfere with nighttime sleep. Shorter naps are typically refreshing and can help increase alertness for a few hours.
2. Make sure that your sleep environment is comfortable, quiet, dark and cool. If you are at home, try to nap only in your bed. If you aren’t at home, find a place where you can either lie down or recline. Block as much light as possible coming into the room (or get a light-blocking eye mask), and consider using a white noise machine, fan or silicone earplugs to block the noise around you.
3. Power naps taken before 2 p.m. tend not to interfere as much with nighttime sleep, so earlier naps are better. If you find that you have trouble sleeping at night, avoid napping during the day.
If you can't get through the day on a regular basis without feeling sleepy, napping, or dozing off (even if for a few minutes), speak with your doctor to have a thorough checkup and rule out any medical disorders that may cause excessive daytime sleepiness. Consider a referral to a sleep specialist since a number of sleep disorders can cause excessive daytime sleepiness (i.e. not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, sleep apnea, nightmares, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm disorders). Depression and stress can also lead to sleepiness and increased napping -- talk with your doctor if you're feeling sad, down or depressed or are having a lack of interest in things you once enjoyed.