Each year, on the day after Daylight Saving Time begins, we celebrate National Napping Day. Why is that? Because it’s needed! I don’t know about you, but every spring for a week or two, I walk around in a slight daze after losing that one hour. It’s sure nice to have the extra light in the evening, but it’s certainly not healthy to wake up an hour earlier.
A clock in each cell of our bodies
Even if we think we’ll just try and go to sleep earlier, our bodies are not used to the timing. We have a clock on each cell of our bodies, and each of those cells has its own circadian rhythm.
So when we make this change each year, our bodies are confused and stressed. This results in a decrease in productivity and increased fatigue. An assessment in Canada even showed that there’s always an increase in car accidents during the first week of Daylight Saving Time.
Why try napping?
To help make this transition easier, I propose we give napping a try. Our society unfortunately doesn’t support afternoon siestas, I know. But I’ve found that there’s always a way for most people to work in a nap if they try.
So why even give it a try? Here are some of the benefits:
- We have a natural dip in body core temperature and a small release of melatonin in the early afternoon; so we are made for afternoon naps. (We have a bigger one at night, which is what helps us feel groggy before bedtime.)
- Each 24 hours act sort of like a wave, with highs and lows. There’s a great big upward wave in the morning to get our day going, a small dip in the afternoon, another upward wave late in the afternoon, followed by a more significant drop to prepare to ease into sleep. When we take a nap, we strengthen that healthy curve.
- When strengthening that healthy curve by napping, it increases our energy in the afternoon; then we are likely to sleep better at night.
- Dozing even for a just a few minutes is incredibly refreshing. You simply feel better and your mood is improved. You feel like you’re ready to take on the rest of the day easily.
- We stop the stress response when we nap. Every time I lie down in bed to take a quick nap, I find myself taking a deeper breath a few minutes in, which tells me I have been sort of holding my breath. That moment of relaxation is the most important thing you can do for your body in order to heal and prevent disease.
- Midday napping is associated with lower blood pressure.
- We find ourselves more alert, productive, and happy after a nap.
Truthfully, it just feels so darn good. That’s why I do it! There’s nothing else that will make my afternoon better in every way possible.
Types of napping
Before we discuss how to nap, let me tell you about the three types of napping to consider:
- Planned napping—When you know ahead of time that you will have an extra-demanding afternoon/evening, or plan to be out late at night.
- Habitual napping—This could be daily, almost daily, or weekend napping. I tend to nap one or two days a week as my schedule allows and almost always nap on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Emergency napping—This type of napping is the absolute minimum that you could give yourself, if the other two are not feasible for you. You need an emergency nap during any situation when not doing so might be dangerous for you or others. Like if you’re driving a car and you’re feeling very sleepy. For your sake and that of others, you need to pull over, recline your seat, and take little nap. Do not think, “I will be all right.” You need to stop what you’re doing and find a way to rest.
How to include napping in your life to improve your health
There are two different schools of thought when it comes to napping. Some people believe you shouldn’t ever nap, especially if you suffer from insomnia. But I personally recommend napping often, especially for people who suffer from insomnia. If it’s done right, it can be extremely helpful.
Here’s how to nap to help you feel less stressed and less fatigued, and to improve your sleep at night:
- You napping period has to end at about 6 to 8 hours before your bedtime. For example, if your bedtime is 10pm, I often tell my patients to nap anywhere from 1 to 3pm.
- If you tend to fall asleep closer to midnight or even after midnight and wish to move your clock and be able to fall asleep earlier, I still recommend napping no later than 3pm. This is to encourage the healthy cycle of a dip around 2pm, followed by an increase of energy and then natural dip earlier in the night, instead of closer to midnight.
- Keep the nap short. Unless you are sick or very sleep-deprived from traveling (in which case a 90-minute nap may be acceptable), keep your naps under 30 minutes. If they go longer than that, you will wake up feeling quite groggy, rather than rested.
- Set an alarm for 30 minutes, so you can just let go and relax. Do so even if you tend to wake up easily before that time. Then you can simply allow yourself to enjoy those moments instead of having that slight worry in the back of your mind that you might oversleep.
- If you can’t nap, simply lying down for 30 minutes can be helpful, and then eventually if you do it often enough, you might actually start dozing off. The act of lying down still encourages that natural dip and is soothing to the nervous system.
- Make it cozy and sweet. I tend to climb in my bed, under the covers, put my sleep mask on, and simply allow myself to enjoy that beautiful moment of quietness. If you mind tends to keep racing, listening to a meditation may be helpful.
- Get creative if you can’t make it to your bed for a nap. Some of my patients have napped in their cars (they brought a blanket and pillow) or brought a sleeping bag and pillow to their office, closed their door, and drifted off to dreamland.
- If you have afternoon dips in energy, always try to nap right before it happens. I say this because oftentimes my patients complain that they get really tired and want to sleep around 3 or 4pm when it’s too late to nap. Catch it before it happens.
- If you are one of the people who have insomnia and feel like the more exhausted you are, the harder it is to sleep, focus on napping. This is the type of insomnia that best improves with napping.
These are some ideas on how to make napping work for you. Everyone is different, so mix it up and see if you can make it work for you. Do it at least a handful of times before deciding whether it’s working for you or not. Note: If fatigue is really affecting your life, you may need extra medical help.
When extra help is needed
Some possible disorders related to poor sleep, fatigue, and sleepiness include:
- sleep apnea
- thyroid issues
- hormonal changes
- gut malabsorption
- hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction (with imbalanced cortisol levels)
- toxin exposures
- …and more!
Napping can help improve your symptoms and help your body heal, though sometimes additional support is needed and helpful.
Focus on rest, not necessary falling asleep
The purpose of the afternoon siesta is not necessarily to doze off, but to rest—especially for the people who say they can’t nap. It’s not only about actually falling asleep, but about the fact that you are lying down, feeling comfortable, and taking a few minutes to do nothing. It’s so soothing to the nervous system, and sometimes a little nap is all that’s needed to encourage good health.