This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune Brand Publishing "Cover to Cover" section.
Have you ever watched your dog or cat blissfully napping next to you and wondered, “Why can’t I do that?”
The truth is, you can and should. According to sleep research, our culture is slowly moving away from the negative connotations of napping, which too often have been erroneously equated with laziness, children, the sick or the elderly. In fact, experts actually recommend that healthy adults should nap when they feel the need.
A recent study conducted by the research journal Sleep examined the benefits of naps of various lengths compared with no naps. The results showed that a 10-minute nap produced the greatest benefit in terms of reduced sleepiness and improved cognitive performance.
Based on findings like these, some forward-thinking companies now offer the restorative benefits of naps to employees. The 2015 Society for Human Resource Managers Employee Benefits Survey shows that 2 percent of U.S. employers offer an on-site nap room.
Creating an on-the-job nap space can range from a room full of bean bags to high-tech pods with headphones and footrests.
Anyone who has ever fallen asleep at a desk or on a couch and awakened with a sore neck knows how important it is to choose the right location for a good nap.
“Napping in bed with a proper pillow is ideal,” says Dr. Darius Loghmanee, a sleep expert at Advocate Health Care in Park Ridge, Illinois. However, if you choose to take a nap during the day, be sure to set your alarm for no longer than 30 minutes. Sleep experts recommend limiting naps to between 10 to 30 minutes to benefit most. This is because sleep is composed of stages, from lighter sleep to deeper sleep, that repeat. If awakened too far into a deep sleep stage, you risk experiencing “sleep inertia,” which is a feeling of grogginess and a potentially dangerous decline in motor skills. According to Loghmanee, this feeling will make you more tired than you were before you laid down.
Further, Loghmanee says that if you hit that napping sweet spot it’s as good as a cup of coffee. Additionally, a well-timed nap also can save your life if you’re driving, according to Loghmanee.
“We know that sleepy driving is like drunk driving. In that case, (a nap) is better than coffee.”
If you are lucky enough to nap at home, make the most of it. Assess your sleep environment to ensure you are practicing good “sleep hygiene.”
When considering your naptime environment, check the age of your bedding – the Better Sleep Council recommends replacing your mattress every seven years, and the sleep consultants at Mattress Firm recommend every eight years. Additionally, look for pillows designed for side, back, or stomach sleepers, or for people who need more neck support.
Sleep researchers say the traditional mid-afternoon siesta is the best time to nap, which is because our natural body rhythms have sleep drives and wakefulness drives that rise and fall throughout the day.
“The reason why the siesta was a part of life in a number of societies is that there is a drop in our wakefulness drive in the afternoon,” Loghmanee explains. However, if you nap in the evening, you likely won’t be tired at your regular bedtime, which can lead to insomnia.
Loghmanee is quick to point out that not everyone has the same sleep needs and lifestyle schedules, so “ideal” sleep patterns set by research might not always be a good real-world regimen.
“The way to think about it is, how does your sleep pattern affect your life?’” he says.