Napping? Should We or Shouldn’t We?
Find out what science and evolution tell us.
By Pam Lipe, MS
Do you feel drowsy after lunch? Do you notice a mid afternoon slump in your mood? Or do you struggle with an
urge to rest or sleep at that time? Do you turn to caffeine to maintain your alertness? In his book, “Say Goodnight to
Insomnia,” Dr. Gregg Jacobs says that napping may have been part of an evolutionary mechanism to get us out of the
hot midday sun. He notes those cultures that are closer to the equator are more likely to see napping or siestas as part
of their daily routine. But our industrial or service related cultures in the United States just do not allow us the
opportunity to snooze. Science suggests that the decline in catnaps (but not that turkey sandwich for lunch) may be
causing reduced afternoon alertness and performance.
So how are we to manage our conflicting need for forty winks against our boss or customer’s need to have us be
awake? We can turn to research again for answers. Dr. Jacobs’ research at the Harvard Medical School on insomnia
reveals that if we have the opportunity for an afternoon nap, especially after a lack of sleep the night before, we should
take the siesta. He warns, however, against dozing longer than 45 minutes and not after 4:00 PM. Longer or later
naps might make you feel groggy and increase your inability to get to sleep that night. In fact, a short nap, as little as
10 minutes, was shown to enhance alertness, mood, and mental performance for pilots on long-distance flights. These
pilots reported reduced fatigue and were more alert and vigilant. After 10 minutes!
On the other hand, science is not as clear on the following point. Is it the actual sleep that improves our mood
(after all, it is only 10 minutes) or is it the rest and relaxation that actually benefits us? Since we don’t know for sure,
we can try either. At lunch time, spend a brief time at your desk with your head in your hands. Or sit comfortably (in
the bathroom—yes, on the toilet) and focus on relaxing and deep breathing. Ten minutes to rest, relax, doze or think
about that last relaxing afternoon when you were on vacation.
Take 10. Improve your mood, feel more alert, increase your energy, and perform better on the job. Ten minutes
in mid afternoon—science and evolution say we should.
Copyright, Pam Lipe, M.S., Licensed Psychologist, All Rights Reserved—North St. Paul, MN 651-470-5174 or