Traditionally, naps have been a bit of a controversial topic in the realm of sleep. While a 20-30 minute nap in the middle of the day can enhance productivity, naps can also hurt nighttime sleep when taken too early in the day or too close to bedtime.
A recent study on sleep deprivation in low-income workers in India, however, found that naps have an interesting effect on productivity when an individual is sleep-deprived.
Before we dive into the study, though, let’s start with an overview of midday napping.
What We Know About Naps
Many doctors believe that midday napping is a natural part of the circadian sleep/wake cycle for humans. In fact, most countries around the world enjoy some type of downtime or afternoon siesta during the day.
Dr. Benjamin Smarr, a sleep research expert and National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, states that 20 to 30 minutes of napping during the day actually improves overall function and makes people more productive for longer.
You know how tired you get around 2 to 4 pm. every day? That’s a natural slump time for humans. Dr. Smarr says that taking a nap during that time frame will greatly increase someone’s productivity in the late afternoon/evening—when research suggests people are actually the most productive. He states that napping gives us better retention, focus, and overall emotional health.
In truth, that time frame is the only sweet spot for napping. Attempting to nap too early in the day will likely be ineffective because your body won’t be ready for more sleep, and napping too late in the day can disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night. Most adults should attempt to stay within the 20-30 minute timeframe—a power nap, as it’s commonly called, is all most of us need to boost alertness.
For those who work a 9-5 job, napping during the day may not be an option, which may result in individuals attempting to sleep longer during the night to make up for feeling tired during the day. But just how important is napping when compared to more sleep at night?
New Research on Napping and Productivity
A new study co-authored by MIT researchers examined 452 low-income workers in India. Each participant was equipped with sleep tracking technology that provided information on their sleep quality—particularly important to the researchers was how much sleep the participants were receiving each night. Some of the participants were provided with tips on how to improve their sleep while others were provided with financial incentives to improve sleep. A third group received both sleep tips and financial incentives. This third group also took a midday nap each day.
The findings included the following:
- Low-income workers sleep an average of 5.5 hours a night and wake up an average of 30 times a night
- There was no improvement in productivity for those who simply slept more at night, indicating that sleep quality is more important than quantity
- Those who were allowed to nap performed significantly better in a few categories:
- Psychological wellbeing (i.e. emotions)
- Cognitive functioning (i.e. alertness, memory, focus)
- Naps take time away from financial compensation, however, for workers who get paid by the hour, resulting in earnings being slightly lower.
What This Means For You
The major finding of the research is that while napping does improve a person’s overall wellbeing, napping has found its way into the conversation of class. If a person works on salary, they have the opportunity to nap during that sweet spot of 2 to 4 pm. for 20-30 minutes without consequence. For those who have irregular shifts and are paid based on hours worked, naps may not always be possible. Because of this, improving the quality of sleep rather than the quantity itself is essential.
If you’re an individual who works irregular shifts, check out this blog on the risk factors associated with sleep deprivation caused by shift-work disorder.
The most important component of overall sleep health is getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every night. If you are unable to receive this, or regularly feel tired, groggy, or have a headache and/or sore throat each morning, then you may be suffering from a severe sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a serious health condition that can result in long-term ailments if not treated.
Poor sleep doesn’t have to control your life, no matter your job or career. Let sleep expert Dr. Jeff Rodgers assess your sleep to see how he can help by scheduling a consultation at Sleep Better Georgia today.