The Art of the Nap

Unlock the restorative power of napping

The Art of the Nap

Interested in a quick, pleasant way to increase your energy, concentration, and creativity while lowering stress levels and boosting your mood? If so, look no further than a daily nap.

When the summer sun blazes and the humidex is on the rise, an afternoon nap might seem like the perfect way to escape and recharge—if only you had the time. But, despite what your boss might say, there’s no reason why napping should be an indulgence relegated only to your summer vacation. On the contrary, napping—done right—can be a powerful daily tonic that brings numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits, not to mention renewed energy for work. Follow these napping tips to seize the best mid-day snooze.

The benefits of napping

For a natural boost to your day, a nap is a hard thing to beat. Studies have shown that even a brief nap can reduce sleepiness and boost cognitive performance. Indeed, a study comparing the impact of naps to that of caffeine—the daily stimulant favoured by 90 percent of North Americans—showed that napping was the winner when it came to improving declarative verbal memory (word recall) and procedural motor skills.

So the next time you find yourself reaching for the nearest cup of java to make it through the afternoon work meeting, maybe reach for an eyeshade and a pillow instead.

And the benefits of napping don’t stop there. Studies have also found that naps may improve mood, reduce stress on the immune system, lower frustration, and aid in consolidating memory, making it an ideal practice for students in particular. Shift workers and those suffering from severe sleep debt are also major beneficiaries.

Napping may even serve as something of a creative muse. In one study, researchers presented test subjects with a difficult computer game problem. After napping, the subjects were almost twice as likely to solve the problem compared to the non-napping control group, indicating that napping can be a significant aid to creative problem solving.

All told, napping can be a great, all-natural way to boost our energy, cognition, and emotional health. It’s high time we gave it a little respect.

When napping becomes excessive

While the benefits of napping are abundant, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. One meta-analysis of napping studies found that while the risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality decreased among test subjects who napped for up to 30 minutes per day, rates of both increased among subjects who averaged more than 60 minutes. Elderly people in particular should be cautious about over-napping.

Bottom line: if you have erratic sleep patterns or find that you’re sleeping excessively during the day, seek advice from a qualified health professional to ensure there isn’t a larger health issue at play.

So what makes the best nap?

As we can see, not all naps are created equal. To get the most out of your nap, it’s best to follow a few basic rules.

Keep it short

The Canadian Sleep Society recommends keeping naps to between 10 and 20 minutes per day to avoid negatively affecting nighttime sleep. Naps that extend beyond 30 minutes can also lead to excessive sleep inertia (grogginess) after waking.

Keep it regular

While researchers do not claim a cause-and-effect relationship, it is interesting to note that habitual nappers appear to experience less post-nap sleep inertia than non-habitual nappers, making for an easier and quicker transition back to the tasks of the day. Regular nappers may also be better able to consolidate motor learning during naptime.

Keep it early

Our circadian rhythms will dictate the best time of day to nap, but early afternoon is generally the most favourable time for a quick snooze.

Lie down

Lying down to nap may be difficult in a work setting (unless you’re Don Draper or have a roll-out mattress under your desk). Nevertheless, a study on the subject found that although it’s beneficial to nap both lying down and upright in a chair, you’ll gain more by lying down.

Start today

No matter what your situation—whether you’re at home, on the go, or at a forward-thinking workplace—a brief 10- to 20-minute daily nap can have an outsized impact on your health and well-being.

Now, while the sun is shining, the nearest hammock might be a good place to give it a try.

Notable nappers

Renowned for bringing us the lightbulb and thus irrevocably altering our relationship to sleep, Thomas Edison is also famous for his naps. Despite boasting of sleeping only four hours a night (and insisting his assistants limit their sleep as well), Edison nonetheless power-napped seemingly everywhere he went—under trees, on stools, and on special cots he had set up in his labs and libraries. One wonders if his assistants were given the same allowances.

Edison is certainly not alone among power-napping overachievers. Winston Churchill, not known for understatement, felt that his daily naps were vital to leading England successfully through the Battle of Britain.

Napoleon Bonaparte could apparently nap nearly anywhere, even on the back of his horse.

Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Johannes Brahms, Albert Einstein, and Salvador Dali are but a few other veteran nappers—the latter two famous for employing “micro-naps” of only a few seconds in duration to unlock the creative “hypnagogic” space between sleep and waking.

Napping with essential oils

Using diffused essential oils can be a great way to help your body slip into a restful state ideal for napping. Registered aromatherapist Beverley Hawkins, owner of the West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy, recommends using basil, camomile, lavender, mandarin, marjoram, or ylang-ylang for general relaxation, though she adds the caveat that essential oils work best when they are chosen with a specific user in mind. For sleep, try lavender, mandarin, marjoram, or petitgrain.

Blends for napping

Relaxing blend: sweet basil, 1 drop; lavender, 3 drops; mandarin, 4 drops

Sleep blend: lavender, 2 drops; marjoram, 1 drop; roman camomile, 1 drop

Diffuse the blends in water for 15 minutes prior to napping, and always remember to blow out the candle before settling in to sleep.

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