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Psychological Benefits of Napping At Work: Naps Improve Cognitive Function

What is napping? A nap is defined as a short period of sleep, typically taken during daylight hours as an adjunct to the usual nocturnal sleep period. Many people take naps as a way to re-energize themselves both physically and psychologically throughout the day. Some big corporations are even starting to recognize the psychological benefits of napping and have actually set up “nap rooms” for their employees to take power naps at work.

Although getting a good night’s sleep can go a long way in maintaining energy and cognition throughout the day, in this fast-paced society, many people get inadequate sleep at night. Additionally, many people have various health conditions that may impair their ability to get a proper night’s sleep. What ends up happening is that people end up needing to take a nap during the day to help give their brain’s a boost.  Since most people work during the day, they often need to take a nap at work to get themselves through the day and to be as productive as possible.

Napping at Work: Psychological Benefits

1. Energy

The more well-rested you are, the more likely you will have additional energy. Think about it – have you ever skipped a full night’s sleep? Pulling an “all-nighter” may have been what you needed to finish a project, but you were probably pretty sluggish the next day. Taking a nap can help people that skipped out on sleep gain enough energy to make it through the day.

2. Mood

It is well documented that inadequate sleep can result in a bad mood. If you are crabby, feeling irritable, or like a total grouch, it may be a good idea to just sleep on it. Studies show that you are less likely to experience feelings of depression if you take a nap. On the Hamilton-Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD), individuals showed 40% improvement after taking a nap if the depression was a result of sleep-deprivation.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2710868

3. Decision-making

In a study conducted with nurses working shift-work, it was found that taking naps helped improve their decision-making in regards to patient care. Obviously working shift-work can be tough on your brain and can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. However, one way of improving your decision-making if you feel sleep-deprived would be to take a power nap.

4. Alertness (Vigilance)

Individuals that take naps report greater alertness and vigilance. Although many people take drugs like Modafinil to help themselves stay awake, smart planning and the proper use of a nap could go a long way. In order to not fall asleep on the job or to increase your overall alertness, plan to take a quick nap on your break.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21075238

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12220317

5. Reductions in sleepiness

By taking a nap, you shouldn’t feel quite as sleepy as before you took a nap. Research suggests that most people that take naps experience “reductions in sleepiness.” This is pretty much common sense, but should be included on the list of benefits.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22165560

6. Visual texture discrimination

Human performance on visual texture discrimination tasks improved when they took mid-day naps between training sessions. Visual texture discrimination is important in regards to perceptual learning.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12032542

7. Learning and memory

Several researchers believe that if you take a nap after learning new information, it speeds up the memorization process.  German researchers have found that naps not only help the brain process information, but they can help us learn quicker.  One study showed that the brain is better during sleep – than it is while awake – at resisting attempts to corrupt a memory.  Two groups of individuals were tested in memorization tasks – one group got to take naps, and the other was kept awake.  The nap group recognized 85% of the patterns to be memorized in comparison to only 60% for the awake group.

Source:  http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ir9Aq3KpWK1wbwDG1A9sqQLxq0nQ?docId=CNG.3d70bb040bdfdd29691ee978be81fc1a.2e1

Nap Length: Short Naps (5 to 15 minutes) vs. Long Naps (>30 minutes)

Research by Lovato & Lack (2010) suggests that naps can reduce sleepiness and improve cognitive performance. The benefits of brief naps (5 to 15 minutes) are almost immediate after the nap and can last between 1 and 3 hours.

Longer naps (up to 30 minutes) can produce impairment from sleep inertia for a short period after waking, but then produce improved cognition for many hours.  Longer periods of wakefulness prior to your nap suggest that taking longer naps are more beneficial than shorter naps. Those who regularly nap show greater benefits than individuals who rarely nap.

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444537027000099

How long should you nap for maximum benefit?

I wouldn’t recommend napping for longer than 30 minutes, but some people do. It is totally up to you and should be based upon how much time you have. By taking a nap longer than 30 minutes, you may end up waking up in the middle of a deeper sleep cycle. This can result in your brain wave activity entering deep, delta sleep.

If you awake from this delta sleep cycle, you may end up feeling groggy for the rest of the day. By keeping your nap shorter (under 30 minutes), your brain may will enter alpha and theta brain wave activity – which will make for a quicker, non-groggy, restorative energy boost.

What time should you take a nap during the day?

Ideally, you should plan your naps to be taken at a similar time every day so that your body gets used to them. By getting familiar with taking naps and properly planning them, you should be able to fall asleep quicker, and they will become more efficient.

Obviously you may not be able to take a nap at the exact same time every day and that’s fine. Whenever you feel yourself drifting off, feeling mentally cloudy, or needing an energy boost it’s probably a good time to take a nap.

Additional recommended reading:

  • http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2869.2002.00299.x/full
  • http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00718.x/full

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