The Virtues of Napping

The Virtues of Napping

Strengthen Your Immune System
Many people in Latin American and Mediterranean countries couldn’t do without their afternoon siesta, typically a three- hour break during which workers may go home to eat, sleep and relax. But in some Western countries, where people are very work-driven, pausing to refresh yourself has decidedly negative connotations. Adults are expected to work all day – and not take time off to nap.

So, although legions of people would love to succumb to a quick, restorative nap – and would probably benefit from it – they resist because they fear being seen as lazy. Not that they always succeed in abstaining: polls show that 60 per cent of adults slip in a nap at least once a week – at their desks, on public transport or while watching TV.

Why it’s natural to nap

The reason is simple: we all have a built-in physiological desire for a nap in the afternoon. How do we know this? When researchers asked volunteers to spend time in an underground room with no clocks or clues as to day or night and told them to sleep whenever they wanted, the subjects slept in two cycles: a longer session at night and a shorter period – a nap – during the day.

Fortunately, we are starting to see through the myth that napping is a waste of time, thanks to well-documented studies showing that short snoozes can improve mood, performance and health. For example, nap-loving Latin Americans and Europeans usually score better on tests that measure stress than more work-driven nations. What’s more, studies done at the University of California show that the sooner you can recover from modest sleep losses, the faster your immune response is restored to normal. And what quicker way is there to make up for a night of little sleep than with a nap the next day?

Corporate bodies wake up

Several US studies have found that short naps increase concentration and counteract stress, another immune-system depressor. That may explain why people who nap are not only more productive at work, they are absent less often. Ever since NASA scientist Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., completed studies showing that pilots who take 40-minute sleep breaks on long flights do better on vigilance, alertness and decision-making tests, several European airlines now require their pilots to take time out for a midflight snooze.

Naps can also improve health and most other aspects of life for those whose work schedules require them to be awake for night shifts or rotating shifts. Due to a preset morning waking mechanism in the body’s internal clock, many shift workers find it hard to sleep past noon, even after an overnight shift. By supplementing their morning sleep with a 15- to 20-minute nap before leaving for work, they can minimise their level of sleep deprivation.