Generation nap: In praise of the snack-size snooze

Sharon Ní Chonchúir sings the praises of the snack-size snooze

Babies and children are miserable without them. They’re a daily part of life in hot countries and Huffington Post pioneer, Arianna Huffington, swears by hers. Now, some progressive employers like Ben & Jerry are beginning to realise that they may just make their workers more productive.

What are we talking about? Why, it’s napping of course. While breaking up the working day is far from mainstream practice in Western culture, it’s an idea that is catching on.

In January, the University of Pennsylvania published research which concluded that power naps were associated with improved thinking and memory skills and made the brain perform as if it were five years younger. Earlier this year, scientists at Hertfordshire University found that people who took short naps (under 30 minutes), reported higher levels of happiness than those who took long naps or no naps at all.

Professor Richard Wiseman commented: “Previous research has shown that naps of less than 30 minutes make you more focused and creative. Our findings suggest you can also become happier by just taking a short nap.” If grabbing 40 winks boosts performance and makes people feel happier, it’s no wonder employers are catching on to their potential. Google, Ben & Jerry and Nike have dedicated nap spaces, quiet rooms, sleep pods and chill-out zones.

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is the author of several books about sleep, including Tired but Wired: How to Overcome Your Sleep Problems, The Essential Sleep Toolkit. She believes the fabled power nap could be of huge benefit to stressed-out workers.

“There’s so much demand in today’s world and, for most of us, it’s incredibly hard to step off the treadmill,” she said. “We are constantly being bombarded by information and power napping is the most effective way of just briefly going offline and allowing ourselves to rebalance before getting back on the treadmill again — with renewed energy and focus.”

These naps needn’t be long but they should be timed carefully. “Studies show that even a five-minute nap can increase mental focus and cognitive power,” she said. “However, they should be taken at some point between 2pm and 4pm and no later as otherwise they can affect your ability to sleep at night.”

In fact, naps shouldn’t be too long. Going beyond the 20-minute point could mean you wake feeling groggier than you did before you dozed off. While experts agree that short naps can be a restorative addition to the day, they warn that they may not be the solution to the problem for those of us who are simply over-worked and exhausted.

“For some clients, I’d go so far as to suggest that napping is the new caffeine,” said James Hewitt, head of Science and Innovation at Hintsa, which advises F1 teams and business executives on performance. “Napping and caffeine can both be effective survival strategies to improve alertness when sleep restriction is unavoidable, such as during long-haul travel for example. We shouldn’t rely on either of them for energy in the long term.”

Whatever the case, the next time you feel tempted to nap in the middle of the day, don’t feel guilty. It seems that those who snooze, no longer lose.


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