09/03/2009 03:53 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Naps Are Exercise for the Brain!

Dozing off. Getting some quick shut-eye to beat the afternoon lull. Having a siesta.

It seems I've been talking a lot about naps lately. And the New York Times must have heard me this week, as it reported on a survey about napping. The findings:

  • 1 in 3 adults admit to napping on a typical day.
  • Napping is high among adults who have trouble sleeping a night or who have worked out in the last 24 hours.
  • Unemployed people were more likely to nap during the week.
  • Women, those who make less than $20,000 a year, and people dissatisfied with their financial situation were also likely to report having trouble sleeping at night.
Unfortunately, the survey didn't define exactly what constitutes a nap. But I think most people can do that for themselves, even if those definitions vary slightly from person to person. Does nodding off for a few seconds on a commuter bus or subway count? How about putting your head down on your desk for a few minutes while reading? Or do you have to be fully engaged in the sleep-like position on a couch or bed?

Anyone who gets a boost from a brief micro-sleep could be napping. You don't have to be lying down necessarily or in a bedroom with the lights out (though that would be ideal). I know plenty of people who have mastered the art of napping while sitting up or reclining in an office chair.

As the article points out, it's too bad that napping is still bashed by society. Some sleep experts think naps should have the status of exercise and I agree! They make us feel stronger, happier, and able to perform better.

What I don't like about this recent survey is that its results somehow imply that you have to have trouble sleeping at night or be dissatisfied about work to embrace naps and see them as positive contributors to health. That's clearly not so. Whether you are:

  • happy or sad,
  • financially fit or troubled,
  • employed or out of work,
  • an insomniac or sound sleeper, or
  • a man or a woman

All of us can learn how to nap and reap its many rewards!

After all, naps were recently proven to be more effective than a cup of joe at tackling that afternoon lull. Sleep up, don't drink up.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor

This article about sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.