Who doesn’t know the feeling of an intense tiredness descending on one’s body – for example just after lunch? The head droops slightly, the eyelids struggle to remain open and the couch beckons! Kelly Bulkeley, Ph.D., shows how naps can protect your health and boost your waking performance. Published in Psychology Today on May 7, 2018.

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Woman napping

Naps are not an indulgence or a sign of laziness, but rather a powerful means of rejuvenating your mental and physical well-being. Here are four reasons why you should find the time, and a place, for a brief daytime snooze:

1. You probably need it.

Many people are sleep deprived at moderate to severe levels. Long work hours, busy personal lives, noisy urban environments, and the stimulation of multiple electronic devices all make it harder than ever to get as much sleep as our minds and bodies require. A quick siesta cannot make up for all the sleep you’ve lost, but taking a nap when you have the chance will protect your health and diminish the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.

2. You may be a naturally polyphasic sleeper.

Millions of years ago, our primate ancestors lived in trees, and they were polyphasic sleepers, meaning they slept at multiple times across the day and night. When our species emerged, we came down from the trees and eventually became mostly monophasic sleepers, with one major period of sleep during the night. But some humans have always had a tendency toward a polyphasic cycle, and this is true for many people today, too. Such people naturally need to take naps at various points during the day. They are not lazy or slothful; they just have biological constitutions that function best with polyphasic sleep. Unfortunately, they often have to conform with the work schedules of a monophasic society, just as naturally left-handed people have to adapt to the architecture and design of a right-handed world.

3. You can boost your performance with a well-timed nap.

The world’s greatest athlete-napper right now has to be alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, the Olympic gold-medalist from the United States. She regularly naps between runs on race days, keeping her mind and body at maximal freshness. Many top-level athletes also give themselves the opportunity to nap before a competition. For example, NBA basketball player J.J. Reddick of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a nap between 2 and 4 p.m. every day before an evening game. When he wakes up, he begins a pre-game routine that leads him right to tip-off. These athletes know the power generated by healthful sleep, and have learned to focus that power on optimizing their performance. You can apply this same principle in your own life by letting yourself nap before facing a major challenge or task that requires you to be at your best.

4. You can explore lucid dreaming.

Many people find it easier to enter into lucid dreaming during a nap than during a regular night’s sleep. (A “lucid” dream is one in which you know you are dreaming within the dream.) During a nap, the mind is still fairly close to waking consciousness, which allows for more cross-fertilization between different modes of awareness. This has actually been a widespread practice through history for people seeking creative insights and alternative perspectives toward waking-life challenges. Artists, scientists, and advanced meditators have all drawn inspiration from brief lucid spells of daytime sleep that open new ways of looking at reality upon awakening.

Kelly BulkeleyKelly Bulkeley, Ph.D., is a psychologist of religion and director of the Sleep and Dream Database, and a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.


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