By Anna Medaris Miller
It didn’t take Suzy Strutner long to adjust to the California sunshine and lifestyle, but she’s still getting used to one aspect of Los Angeles life: the lack of an office nap room. “I really feel like I have been suffering without it,” says Strutner, a 25-year-old Huffington Post editor who recently moved from the publication’s New York office, which has two nap rooms, to its Beverly Hills post, which has zero.
The Huffington Post is among a growing number of companies including Ben and Jerry’s, Google and Zappos that, in a sense, encourage employees to sleep on the job by dedicating space to napping. At the Huffington Post’s New York office, for example, employees can either rest in a room with a bed or one with a more recliner-like pod.
For Strutner, escaping for a 20-minute nap two to three times a week was exactly what she needed to beat a mid-day slump or even recharge after work before going out with friends. “I felt totally refreshed,” she remembers. “Especially doing a creative job; being able to take 20 minutes to yourself feels really good.”
Indeed, an increasingly robust body of research is showing that naps can even benefit employers by boosting workers’ attention, memory and creativity, says Sara Mednick, an assistant professor in the University of California–Riverside’s psychology department and author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life.” Her research has even found that people perform just as well on a visual learning task after a 60- to 90-minute snooze as after an eight-hour night of sleep. Naps can also improve heart and metabolic health, Mednick says, and have also been shown to boost mood.
“When I first started doing this work in 2002, the public opinion was that [napping] was a waste of time practiced by lazy people,” Mednick says. “Now you see Arianna Huffington boasting about nap rooms in her workplace – I would say that is quite a change.”
And a good one at that, adds Michael Grandner, director of the University of Arizona’s sleep and health research program. “Any company that has a program to foster physical activity, that also has a program to foster healthy nutrition [but] they’re not doing something to promote healthy sleep, you’re missing a third of the picture,” he says.
Still, not all naps are created equal, Grandner says. Here’s how he and other experts suggest maximizing the health benefits of nap time:
Do: Nap Briefly
Effective naps aren’t just shorter bouts of deep, nighttime sleep; they’re lighter rest periods for the brain. “You don’t want to nap too late or too long because you start getting into deeper stages of sleep, and when you wake up from those naps, you feel tired and horrible and cranky,” says Grandner, who’s also an assistant professor of psychiatry, psychology and medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. For Strutner, just 20 minutes did the trick. Afterward, she says, “it’s like a whole new day.”
Don’t: Nap Extensively
Not only are lengthy naps – say, 90 minutes or longer – a recipe for deep sleep that’s better saved for nighttime, they also make it harder to fall asleep when bedtime comes, says Rebecca Spencer, an associate professor in the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s department of psychological and brain sciences. “You kind of put yourself into a spiral that’s not necessarily healthy.”
Do: Nap Mid-Day
Don’t: Worry About Caffeine
Do: Make It a Habit
As with many skills, napping takes practice to perfect. “It takes people to really be consistent about it in order to have it not affect overnight sleep; in order to not get heavy sleep inertia afterward,” Spencer says, referring to post-sleep grogginess. A daily 30-minute nap is ideal, she says. If you don’t have an office or schedule conducive to taking regular siestas, you’re probably better off focusing on getting solid nighttime sleep, Spencer says.
Don’t: Nap Because You Need To
Somewhat ironically, the wrong reason to take a nap is to combat sleep deprivation. “If you’re napping by choice, that’s one thing, but if you’re napping because you can’t stay awake, that’s another thing,” says Grandner, who points out that people who nap habitually to make up for poor nighttime sleep are more likely to develop chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Insomniacs, too, should avoid “snacking” on sleep during the day in order to build up their appetite for sleep at night, Grandner adds. “If you feel like you have to take a nap in order to function,” he says, “that’s a sign that something’s probably not quite right.”
Do: Nap Because You Want To
You’re on vacation and you treat yourself to a snooze on the sand. You’re at work (with a nap room) and you want to cool off after an argument or sleep on an idea. You’re an athlete looking to give your muscles a little extra rest. All are fine reasons to take naps, experts say, since they’re not acting as substitutes for a good night’s sleep. “When you take relatively well-rested people [and] give them a nap in the middle of the day, you can improve alertness, you can improve memory and learning, you can improve tiredness and fatigue,” Grandner says. “You can improve a number of different outcomes.”