Power naps for health and happiness

If it’s good enough for John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill, then it’s good enough for me:

The little-used booster of resilience, energy, concentration and memory:

Having a daily power nap

By Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor

29th October 2019

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Introduction

Peaceful girl and sleeperKennedy and Churchill were famous for taking a nap every afternoon, which helped them to cope with their stressful roles in life.

One Japanese company executive, whose company has nap rooms for staff, stated that: “Napping can do as much to improve someone’s efficiency as a balanced diet and exercising.”

So, take a power nap every day, and watch your life improve.  It will change your mental and emotional functioning radically, and improve your physical health

In this article I want to explain the full value of having a short nap each day, including why it’s so good for your body, brain/mind and personal and professional performance. I will outline the research which proves the value of naps. And I’ll describe the measures recently taken by companies in the US, Japan and elsewhere, to increase productivity in their staff, based on the research findings about napping.

Ignorance about sleep science

Silly-replacementMost of us have never been fully educated about our daily sleep patterns when we were younger, (at school or by our parents), simply because the research findings about sleep weren’t available to the general public: the knowledge stayed with the experts, in the Universities.

William Dement, who was a pioneer of sleep research, in America, said this in 2000:

“For nearly half a century, a huge reservoir of knowledge about sleep, sleep deprivation and sleep disorders, has been building up behind a dam of pervasive lack of awareness and unresponsive bureaucracies”.

In addition, you may not be aware of our real, unchangeable biological nature as human beings. Our culture and society is dominated by very powerful commercial forces which don’t want you to realise it either – they want you to consume, consume, consume: new mobiles, new cars, new clothes, holidays, TV programmes late into the night, computer games, new gambling games, etc. The last thing they want is for people to realise that they have very real physical and psychological needs – like the need for sleep, rest, and family contact-time – which subtracts from ‘consuming/buying/surfing time’! Where’s the profit for sellers in this ‘down time’?

One executive director of an internet company is reputed to have said: “Our major enemy is sleep”.  That is to say, people who want to seel to you, also want to keep you awake! Even if that proves to be bad for your health and happiness!

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

Our need for sleep

Here’s the bottom line about sleep: We have an inbuilt, unchanging, fundamentally biological pattern of sleep and rest, which is ‘bi-phasic’: meaning that there are two times every day when we human beings are genetically hard-wired to feel the need for sleep.

The first sleep phase begins in the late evening, and lasts throughout the night until after dawn has arrived.

The second phase occurs in the mid-afternoon, after a lunch-time meal. This reduction in energy after a meal at lunchtime is called a ‘post-prandial’ slump (because ‘prandial’ is the Latin for ‘meal’).

We experience this afternoon drop in energy and alertness regardless of the culture that we were brought up in, or the part of the world that we live in. If this daily pattern of energy reduction is accepted and integrated into our working lives then there are massive benefits for everybody. (In an industrial or commercial context, that means employers and employees).

Keri quoteWhat your school teachers and parents were unable to tell you in detail was that sleep is very, very important for your proper functioning as a human being. (William Dement considered that there were three essential factors for health: healthy sleep, good nutrition and physical fitness). But your parents and teachers were unable to tell you more fully about sleep. This was because the information wasn’t available to the general public for many years after all the scientific reports gained from researchers (using special electrical equipment to measure sleep in human beings), had been collected and analysed.

Now we have the benefit of a lot of information finally being available to the general public, and we can therefore reap the benefits of the work done by generations of sleep researchers.

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

But how can people take time out for naps?

Apparently, before the Industrial Revolution, most people took naps; and the reason they did that was because of the way the human body evolved. And before the invention of electric or gas-fuelled lighting, people slept at night and during the daytime.

Here is one valuable opportunity for a nap: The great benefit of travelling by public transport means that after a hard day’s work, or at other times, you can simply get on the bus, or train, find a seat and start to relax and recover from the day’s hassles, as the driver does all the hard work of dealing with the traffic, or the track signals.

With practice, slowly relaxing your body will mean that you can fall into a light and refreshing sleep which will recharge your batteries. Even a six minute nap can enhance your ability to figure out problems and improve your memory (Edlund 2011)[1].

What a nap does is helps your body to relax, and switches on your ‘built-in tranquiliser’ (Jacobson 1976)[2] When you relax, your inbuilt ‘parasympathetic nervous system’, (also called your ‘rest and digest’ mechanism), helps you to recover from the stresses of the day. Healing also takes place; and the nap gives your brain time to process all the information you’ve been bombarded with during the day.

For those of you who drive, you would need to carve out the time after you get home from work, unless you are able to find a convenient time during the day.

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

Here is what the sleep researchers found out about the effectiveness of napping:

Napping and work efficiency and effectiveness:

In 1995, NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration organisation, in the US, which conducts research into spaceflight, started investigating napping. The reason for this research was described by Plenke (2015)[3] as follows:

If you screw up a task in space, not only can it be costly for life but it costs you millions of dollars.”

NASA was deeply interested in whether there would be any benefits for their astronauts from adopting naps during their working days.

What they found was that if you had a nap that lasted approximately twenty-six minutes, then the effect of this nap would improve your work productivity by 38%.

Referring to this 1995 study from NASA, which he co-authored, National Transportation Safety Board member and fatigue expert, Mark Rosekind (1995), also wrote that your 26 minute nap would increase your level of attentiveness and vigilance by 54%![4]

Research on naps in the American aviation industry

David Dinges and Dr Mark Roskind researched the importance of naps when they were working with the American aviation industry. They wanted to find out how pilots, who fly long journeys across the world, could be helped by the napping process.

The crucial area they wanted to solve was the problem of how flight crews could deal with the sleep debt which accumulated after they had been flying for three or four days on a four-stage transpacific route: The pilots had been having moments of total unconsciousness (called micro sleeps) throughout the final minutes of each of the flights and especially significant, in the final ten minutes, as the plane was being manoeuvred for landing, before reaching the runway!

The end of a sustained period of flying, such as an overnight transatlantic flight, is the most dangerous time during the plane’s entire journey. Apparently 68% of plane crashes take place as pilots land a plane, because of sleep deprivation caused by the long journey, plus mental deterioration, and micro sleeps (or moments of complete unconsciousness). But it was known that micro sleeps occurred frequently during night flights.

What the NASA research team did was to measure the effects on flight crews of having naps in the cockpit, whilst another pilot was flying the plane.

They created two research groups out of the flight crews they were investigating:

– 1. In the ‘Naps’ condition: the flight crews were given a scheduled forty minute rest interval, with the time it took them to fall asleep being measured (called ‘sleep latency’). This averaged 5.6 minutes, and the average amount of sleep was 25.8 minutes. There were no other rest periods given during the other three stages of this four-stage plane journey.

– 2. In the “No Naps” research condition:  when the flight crews were in the final ninety minutes of the flights, they had a total of one hundred and twenty micro sleeps, and they had twenty two during the last thirty minutes of the flight. (Remember, micro sleeps are moments of total unconsciousness, when the individual has no awareness of what they should be attending to!)

When the results of the two groups of flight crew’s performances were compared, what was observable was the very marked difference in the work functioning, and the concentration levels, of the flight crews:

– In the ‘Nap’ condition, there was a reduction of 34% in the times that the crew members lost their concentration, and their response times improved by 16%.

– And in terms of micro sleeps, in the final ninety minutes of the flight, the ‘Nap’ condition crews had thirty four micro sleeps recorded, but there were no micro sleeps in the final thirty minutes of the flight!

This was clear evidence of the value of a rest period during the flight:

It was apparent that if the pilot had a nap near the first section of the journey, then they would be able to minimise the number of micro sleeps as they neared the end of the flight, much later on in the journey. (The evidence used in this research study was gained from the researchers having attached electroencephalographic electrodes to the pilots’ heads.)

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If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

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Naps can counteract sleep deprivation, to some extent

Men sleeping on undergroundAnother team of researchers, (David Dinges, Mike Bonnet and their colleagues) have investigated the benefits of naps, and have used the term “prophylactic” (or ‘preventative measure’) to describe the benefit of taking (early) naps in preventing (later) problems.

If you know that you are going to be (unavoidably) deprived of sleep for a considerable length of time, then a nap (or two) can really help. Dingle and Bonnet discovered that a single nap of thirty minutes, before having to be awake all night, as an example, can improve the energy and concentration for a person through the night. And if a twenty four hour period of sleep loss is anticipated, then resting from sixty to one hundred and twenty minutes can be a performance-enhancement strategy.  (But this kind of extended wakefulness will still have negative effects, in terms of accruing a sleep debt; and micro sleeps are likely along the way, which could be very dangerous, for the sleeper and others.  And if this kind of sleeplessness happens often enough, then physical disease and mental deterioration are inevitable!)

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

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Naps don’t make everybody feel better

An aspect of having a nap which researchers have discovered, and which needs to be accepted by anyone who wants to use naps, is that – even though naps improve work performance, energy level and the ability to focus, for many people, on average – some people don’t feel refreshed and rejuvenated after a nap.

Why is it that some people don’t feel the benefit? Dement (2000) has the answer:

“Naps improve objective performance more than subjective performance. Just as we are not very good at perceiving how badly we are affected by sleep deprivation, we don’t seem to be very good at perceiving the benefits of a nap.” (Page 375).

Dement quote 1He thinks that the reason for this is the phenomenon of ‘sleep inertia’, which is the state of drowsiness and lack of focus we can experience after we wake up from a nap. It lasts for a short while and then wears off. William Dement (2000) states that his strategy for overcoming this is to have a coffee straight after a nap so that he can recover quickly.  (But please remember the negative effects of caffeine on your nightly sleep!)

When the US Federal Aviation Authority was advised of the research findings, in the mid-1990’s, they decided that the term ‘power nap’ would be the best term to use to describe this health and safety intervention near the beginning of long-distance flights.

Nap rooms and productivity

Eric Markowitz, senior reporter at Inc.com, in a blog post entitled, ‘Should Your Employees Take Naps, (2011)[5], gave examples of businesses in the US which have taken on board the research findings about the value of naps. He described how, in 1995, Craig Yarde, who founded Yarde Metals in Bristol, Connecticut, discovered that some of his employees, fatigued by the shifts they were working, had fallen asleep at work. (They were working very long shifts).

As a consequence of this discovery, when Yarde designed the new office space for his company, he included a nap room, with couches for his employees. Yarde stated that when he started this innovative system for his staff, not only did people think that he was insane to do such a thing, but some of his employees felt the same way as well.

“People thought we were just completely nuts”, he said.

But in 2011, fifteen years after the experiment started, the annual turnover of his company had increased to $500 million, and the staff has grown to 700, with branches along the east coast of America. Each of their new premises has its allocated sleep room!

Yarde is convinced that naps increase productivity and is quoted as saying: “It’s funny how these things go. It went from being totally ridiculous to being cutting edge right now”.

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

Nike and Google

Nike and Google have adopted a realistic approach to fatigue and sleepiness in an employee, (which can temporarily affect their productivity). They have taken on board the research findings from NASA, by having designated relaxation rooms where there are ‘nap pods’. The pods are elongated, padded seats for an individual worker. The pods have a protective metal hood over the head and shoulders of the sleeper, so they are safe from disturbance when they sleep.

Eric Markowitz (2001) in his blog also described the views of James Maas, a sleep expert and Cornell University social psychologist, who also acts as a consultant on the relationship between sleeping and productivity for Goldman Sachs, IBM, Blackrock and Harvard. He thinks that if employees are exhausted and lethargic in the workplace, then this can strongly affect their ability to concentrate; to remember information over the long term; and that their reaction times are negatively affected.

Overall, the advantage of taking naps is massive, especially if you work in an occupation where you have to work long shifts, or you know in advance that you are going to be short of sleep because of taking a long journey, or have a very full working day ahead of you.

What you get from a napping period is the chance to catch up on lost sleep; boost your mental energy reserves; and recharge your batteries for dealing with people and unexpected challenges – constructively and skilfully. And with the regular use of naps, there are also physical health benefits.

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

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Naps in Japanese companies

Walker sleep deprivation quoteBecause of the increase in ‘karoshi’ – (a Japanese word meaning ‘death from overwork’) – the Japanese government and major companies have started to take action to stop this rise.

The Guardian journalist, Justin Mc’Curry (2019), describes how it’s estimated that £108 billion pounds (GBP), each year, is lost to the Japanese economy because of the effects of sleep deprivation. He describes, as an example, what a Japanese IT Service Company called ‘Nextbeat,’ has done to improve the health and well-being of their staff: In 2018 they  established two “strategic sleeping rooms”, one for females and one for males, at their company headquarters in Tokyo[6].

In these sleeping rooms there are relaxing scents in the air and outside noises are blocked, so nothing can spoil the peace in the rooms.  And no phones, tablets or laptops are allowed in. The staff are encouraged to relax and unwind on settees.

Emiko Sumikawa, one of the executives of the company board, has stated:

“Napping can do as much to improve someone’s efficiency as a balanced diet and exercising.”

Also the employees are encouraged to follow a 9.00pm (!) finishing time, and large amounts of overtime aren’t allowed.  (They clearly have a long way to go to achieve a 35 hour week, which would be ideal for human health, mental and physical!)

The Health Ministry of Japan now recommends that all working age people take a nap of up to thirty minutes every afternoon.

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

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Research on naps in Greece

Further evidence of the value of taking naps, or siestas, has been found by Manolis Kallistratos, who is a cardiologist at Asklepieion General Hospital in Voula, which is a southern suburb of Athens.

He carried out the study which consisted of monitoring the effects of a regular afternoon nap on 212 people (with an average age of 62), who had been treated for high blood pressure.[7]

What became apparent was that this regular afternoon period dropped patients’ blood pressure by 4%, when compared with those patients who did not have an afternoon nap.

Kallistratos considered that the benefits to those patients who participated in the napping experience were as valuable for the reduction in blood pressure as those patients who had minimised their salt consumption or alcohol intake. And because of this alteration in their lifestyle, he considered that this could restrict the likelihood of a heart attack by roughly 10%.

The results of his research, when compared with the outcome of the use of drugs prescribed to reduce blood pressure, showed that these chemical solutions achieved results “only slightly better”. His study was scheduled to be presented at the American College of Cardiology, Scientific Session, in New Orleans, USA, late in 2019.

And in 2007 the results of a 6 year study of Greek adults discovered that those who took naps for a minimum of 3 times every week, reduced their heart attack rate by 37%. (And the biggest gain was among middle aged men).

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

 

Final comments

In my own career of thirty years plus, as a college tutor, where I taught night classes as well as daytime classes, I found that my napping habit sustained me throughout this often stressful time.

Having the great good fortune of not driving a car, I could simply get on the bus home after a day’s work and immediately relax! If I’d just been teaching a night class, I was able to nap on the bus journey home and wake up just as the bus pulled into Hebden Bridge, where I live. (And amazingly, I always managed to wake up at the right time.) Then I would feel refreshed after my long day’s work!

Matthew Walker makes a recommendation that you may find very useful: He considers that if you have a nap after 3.00pm, then you run the risk of making it more difficult to sleep when you go to bed. Before that time, however, it can be a valuable way of catching up on missed sleep. (Walker, 2017).

To sum up: Naps can counteract sleep deprivation, to some extent.  They reduce the sleep debt. And according to George Dvorsky, a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo:

“Power naps can … boost our brains, including improvements to creative problem solving, verbal memory, perceptual learning, object learning, and statistical learning. They help us with maths, logical reasoning, our reaction times, and symbol recognition. Naps improve our mood and feelings of sleepiness and fatigue. Not only that, napping is good for our heart, blood pressure, stress levels, and surprisingly, even weight management.”

And a final quote from Matthew Edlund, MD, (2011) who is an award winning expert on rest, body clocks and sleep:

“Lots of patients tell me they can deal with others much more happily if they have had a nap. It can have a big impact on the effectiveness of an organisation over time”.

If you find this information useful, there’s lots more insights from sleep experts, research findings into the sleep process, and techniques that you can use to increase  your energy every day, in my recent book: ‘Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap The Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience’.

If you try out the sleep enhancement strategies you’ll enjoy your sleep more, and improve the quality of your sleep, your memory and your stamina! And the benefits are free!

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Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coaching/Counsellor

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, UK

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: (44) 1422 843 629

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[1] Edlund, M. (2011) The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough: A 30 Day plan to reset your body.  New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

[2] Jacobson, E. (1976) You Must Relax. London: Unwin Paperbacks.

[3] Plenke, M. (2015) ‘The Science behind why we should all be taking naps at work.” https://mic.com/articles/126102/naps-at-work-increase-productivity#. Dvh0yEdjZ.  (Date accessed: 17/09/2018).

[4] Rosekind, M. R., Smith, R.M., Miller, D.L., et al (1995) Alertness management: Strategic naps in operational settings. Journal of Sleep Research, Volume 4(S2), Dec 4th, 1995: Pages 62-66

[5] Markowitz, E. (2011) ‘Should your employees take naps.’ Online article: https://www.inc.com/articles/201108/sleeping-on-the-job-should-your-employees-take-naps.html. (Date accessed 20/09/2018)

[6] Mc’Curry, J. (2019) Japanese firms encourage daytime naps to counter epidemic of sleeplessness. The Guardian Newspaper. Page 20, 8th January 2019.

[7] Smyth, C. (2019) ’Give it a rest: Doctors say siesta brings down blood pressure’, The Times Newspaper, March 8th, 2019.

[8] Walker, M. (2017) Why We Sleep? The new science of sleep and dreams. London: Penguin/Allen Lane.

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