Power Naps

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Are power naps beneficial, or am I better off to push on through the day and hope to get a good night’s rest?
Answer: Research suggests that power naps are beneficial in that you not only feel better, but the napping improves memory performance. Other research has shown that napping on a regular basis may reduce stress and may even decrease your risk of heart disease.
As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. Unfortunately, our busy lifestyle often keeps us from napping. Though naps do not necessarily make up for lack of nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. You may be encouraged to consider power naps when you learn that Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush to name a few are known to have taken regular afternoon naps.
What about shift work? Working a schedule that deviates from the typical “9 to 5” hours, may cause fatigue and reduced performance, especially for night shift workers. In a 2006 study, researchers at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center affiliated with St. John’s Mercy Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital in suburban St. Louis, Missouri found that both naps and caffeine improved alertness and performance among night shift workers and that the combination of naps and caffeine had the most beneficial effect.
Not all napping is beneficial and napping does not benefit all individuals. For some, napping can leave them with the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come with awakening from a deep sleep. While this state usually is short lived, it can be detrimental, and even dangerous to those who must perform immediately after waking from a nap. Grogginess and disorientation is more severe, and can last longer, in people who are sleep deprived, or in those who nap for longer periods. For others, a long nap, or a nap taken too late in the day may adversely affect the length and quality of nighttime sleep.
The following tips have been suggested if you choose to nap: (1) As with sleep, keep a regular nap schedule. The best napping time seems to fall in the middle of the day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. This is consistent with a more traditional sleep cycle carried out in non-industrialized societies. (2) Make your power nap a short nap. Set your alarm for 30 minutes or less if you don’t want to wake up groggy. (3) Some have suggested going to a dark room or wear an eye mask to block out the light. Blocking out light helps many people fall asleep faster. (4) Stay warm while napping. Cover yourself with a blanket because your body temperature drops while you sleep.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]