Is a midday siesta good for you?

It can have both psychological and professional advantages


A power nap at the workplace can boost your creativity. Photo: iStockphoto
A power nap at the workplace can boost your creativity. Photo: iStockphoto

When we are young, napping is an essential part of our schedule. But as we grow older and our schedules become hectic, we barely have the time to sleep. “A lot of research is pointing to the fact that a short nap in the afternoon might actually help reverse the effects of a poor night’s sleep,” says Manvir Bhatia, director of sleep medicine at the Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, and the Hauz Khas-based Neurology and Sleep Centre, both in New Delhi.

A study published last year in the Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism said a quick afternoon nap helped relieve stress and bolster the immune system of those who had slept only 2 hours the previous night.

The time factor

A nap is usually defined as daytime sleep lasting 15-90 minutes. The National Sleep Foundation of the US lists three kinds of naps: planned napping, when you take a nap even if you are not sleepy or tired; emergency napping, when you doze off because you are too tired to continue; and habitual napping, when you take a nap at a fixed time every day, out of habit.

According to Suresh V. Rang, senior chest physician and sleep consultant at the Sleep Clinic in Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, a nap of 20-30 minutes after lunch is a good idea because it “does not make you groggy or interfere with your night-time sleep”. There is extensive research to show that naps longer than 30 minutes can lead to sleep inertia or a reduced ability to think and function immediately after waking up, or just grogginess, in some people. “This occurs because a person is more likely to enter deep sleep after 30 minutes,” adds Rahul Modi, ENT specialist and head and neck surgeon at the LH Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai. He describes the ideal nap as quick rest that stops short of deep sleep yet manages to refresh and stimulate.

However, research from the University of California, Berkeley, US, shows that an hour’s nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. “The findings of the Berkeley study reinforce the hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain’s short-term memory storage and make room for new information,” said Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, while presenting the study in 2010 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego.

Napping at work

If you want to take a nap, opt for a couch rather than a bed—this will help you wake up faster. “Ideally, one of the best ways to facilitate a nap at work is to have a dedicated space that is quiet, comfortable and ensures privacy,” says Dr Modi. And if you don’t have such a space, “just put your head down on the desk and rest for some time”, suggests Dr Bhatia.

According to Ashima Puri, a consultant psychologist at the Aashlok Hospital in Delhi, there is a bias against nappers, especially at work. They are considered lazy or, worse, not willing to work, and/or maybe unwell. “But there’s a difference between just nodding off and taking a power nap. Nodding off may indicate that you are not interested in the meeting or are lazy or unwell, but a power nap is either before a meeting or immediately after a meal. It refreshes you with ideas and solutions, and makes you more creative and innovative. Your decisions are sharper and more accurate. But if you nap in a meeting or in front of your colleagues, it’s rude and shows you are not interested,” says Dr Puri. A big change in mindset is needed, but it will come only when companies make napping legitimate, maybe even make it sound like a cool thing to do, she adds.

The benefits

“I love to take a 20-minute nap when time permits, as it makes me feel more energetic. The thing is, we are all today running a race without rest, and a nap can help prevent a burnout,” says Dr Bhatia.

According to research presented in August last year at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, midday naps are associated with reduced blood pressure levels. The researchers also reported that hypertensive patients required less hypertensive medication than those who didn’t sleep at midday.

Taking a midday nap may even be an effective strategy to counteract impulsive behaviour and boost tolerance for frustration, according to a University of Michigan study published in the Personality And Individual Differences journal last year. “Results from this study show that staying awake for an extended period of time hinders people from controlling negative emotional responses, and napping may be a beneficial intervention to enhance the ability to persevere through difficult or frustrating tasks,” the researchers write.

The other side of the coin

That said, whether sleeping in the afternoon is right for you will depend on the reason. “If there is a newfound need for napping or unexplained fatigue without an identifiable cause (such as long working hours or sleep deprivation), it is important to seek medical attention. These may be due to lack of sleep at night, a new medication or a number of medical or sleep disorders, the most common being obstructive sleep apnea. Anyone who suddenly or compulsively feels the need to take an afternoon nap despite sleeping for more than 7-8 hours in the night should seek medical attention,” says Dr Modi. Other warning signs include drowsiness or a feeling of fatigue through most of the day, even during activities such as watching a movie in the theatre, during office meetings or, more importantly, while driving. “Patients who are prone to poor-quality sleep at night or insomnia should avoid afternoon naps at all costs,” he adds.

It is important to remember that although naps are good to quickly recharge your body and mind, they cannot replace a good night’s sleep.

Ashok Reddy, founder of GrabOn, a start-up based in Hyderabad, says they work on the philosophy that happier people are more innovative and productive. “Our office in Hyderabad is equipped to allow spaces and infrastructure to unleash the creativity of employees with elements of comfort. That’s why we have provided six napping pods for our 46 employees,” he says.

A napping pod is usually a semi-private dome-like enclosure that has a contoured, cushioned bed with optimal ergonomics for napping—you can elevate your feet, relax your lower back and even bend your knees slightly.

The Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi has introduced sleeping pods in the T3 departure terminal.

Google’s new office in Gurgaon, near Delhi, has napping pods, apart from a Taj Mahal-like reception area, a mini golf course and a cricket pitch.

Clearly, Indian companies are beginning to take the advice on naps seriously.

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