The joy of an afternoon nap

There’s something wonderfully decadent about heading back to bed for an afternoon nap. It feels like a self-indulgent treat – a luxury usually reserved for holidays or special occasions.

An afternoon nap can be restorative – allowing our mind and body the chance to rest and recuperate. In fact, many key historical figures swore by a power nap – from Winston Churchill to Albert Einstein. And in other countries, a ‘siesta’, ‘riposo’ or ‘inemuri’ is an accepted part of daily life.

So should we take inspiration from our Mediterranean cousins and embrace the art of napping once again?

Well, according to several scientific studies, yes. A short afternoon nap could help to make us more alert and less stressed. And if you make napping a daily habit, you might benefit from a better memory, increased creativity and less fatigue. It can even lower your blood pressure.

Many of us are still working from home more often, which opens up more possibilities to squeeze in a quick nap. You may not think you have time, but naps can boost productivity – meaning you may actually get more done if you allow your brain that time to switch off and recharge.

And, according to neuroscientist Sara Mednick, author of ‘Take a Nap! Change Your Life’, up to 40% of people may actually be genetically programmed to need a nap. Without one, they struggle to get through the day without guzzling coffee.

But before you dive back into bed, it’s a good idea to figure out why you want a nap so you know how long to snooze for.

How long to nap for

Many of us find that our physical and mental energy flags in the afternoon. A 10-20 minute nap can prove a more effective (and healthier) pick-me up than caffeine.

A longer nap of 60-90 minutes may come with added cognitive benefits as it allows your body to move into REM sleep. However, it’s likely to leave you feeling drowsy for a while afterwards, so isn’t usually the best idea if you need to go straight back to work.

When not to nap

While napping might sound like something of a panacea, it shouldn’t be used to replace sleep on a regular basis. If you suffer from insomnia or struggle to drop off at night, an afternoon nap might just make things worse.

It’s also best not to nap too close to bedtime. A 20-minute midday nap is unlikely to affect your night-time sleep, but an hour-long nap at 4pm almost certainly will.

Regular napping has been linked to health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. However, it’s likely that the naps are a symptom, not a cause. So, if you find you’re struggling to function without an hour-long daily nap, it might be worth having a chat with your GP.

Otherwise, feel free to embrace the lost art of napping…