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Lifestyle & Life Moments

Why a Nap May Be Your Secret to a More Productive Workday

A business woman asleep in a comfy chair. Her phone next to her and a planner on her lap.
Getty Images

Napping often gets the reputation of being only for babies and toddlers. After all, once you get old enough, life can feel too busy to slow down midday for a restful pause. Let’s face it: Many of us are lucky to even get a full night’s rest.

But anyone who’s ever experienced an afternoon slump knows that it can be hard to power through a full day with your attention and focus intact. Studies show there’s a benefit to taking a break.

Napping can improve your mood, energy levels and cognitive abilities, which could all be beneficial for the second half of your day, both at work and during after-work hours. Rather than take you away from your job, a nap at the right time and of the right duration may help you accomplish more. Here’s why napping can be a good thing for your work output.

The Downsides of Working While Tired

Working while tired can come with drawbacks. Amy Bender, Ph.D., sleep scientist and founder of Sleep In To Win, explains that it can be difficult to always get a full seven to nine hours of sleep each night. During the workday, this lack of sleep can cause issues with alertness, mood, reaction times and irritability. An ordinarily simple task could feel monumental when your brain is running on fumes.

Ongoing fatigue by day can also make your work output weaker. “You're more irritable during the day. You lack concentration. You make more mental errors,” neurologist and Mattress Firm sleep advisor Dr. Chris Winter said on the work episode of the podcast “Chasing Sleep.” “We know this from tons of research.”

How a Midday Nap Can Help With Your Workday

Feeling sleepy at work in the afternoon? Bender explains that while many may assume their afternoon fatigue is due to their lunch, a dip in alertness after lunchtime is part of our natural circadian rhythm. Combatting this afternoon slump with a short nap is a small investment with potential for big benefits.

“More forward-thinking employees or employers are looking at napping and saying, ‘Look, taking a 15-minute nap to radically improve your performance in the second half of the day— that's an easy investment,’” said Winter in the “Chasing Sleep” podcast. “There's nothing better than a 15-minute little nap in terms of the way you feel in the second half of the day, rather than getting this sort of subpar four hours later in the day.”

For those with jobs that require overnight shift work, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Standards Practice Committee recommends napping both before and during the shift to help with alertness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that nurses and shift workers take an afternoon nap to improve alertness during the second half of the day.

And there’s a cognitive benefit to napping. A recent study found a causal link between napping every day and larger brain volume.

A short nap that dips into non-rapid eye movement (NREM) 1, or hypnagogia, can boost the cognitive process and was often part of the creative process for geniuses Thomas Edison, Salvador Dalí and Albert Einstein.

Motivation can also suffer if we’re trudging through the workday while tired. Winter explains that our bodies prioritize sleep in the same way we require food and water. If we lack sleep, all other aspects of life take a back seat until we get the rest our body needs.

How to Nap During the Day

If you find yourself sleepy during the workday, a nap could improve the situation. According to Bender, a daytime nap can be helpful even if you got seven to nine hours of sleep last night. Here are her tips for getting some midday shut-eye to improve the quality of the rest of the day.

Aim to Nap in the Window From Noon to 4 p.m.

While the circadian rhythm naturally dips after lunch, Bender says this window between about noon and 4 p.m. is the ideal time to harness your body’s sleepiness for an easier transition into a nap. Feeling a strong desire to nap before midday could indicate an underlying issue with nighttime sleep. Taking a nap later than about 4 p.m. could interfere with your overnight sleep.

Set an Alarm

You’ll want to nap for at least 10 or 15 minutes, according to both Bender and Winter. That timing allows you to rest without getting into deeper sleep that can make you groggy. If you can spare 30 minutes, you’re also likely to see benefits in mood, alertness and cognitive ability. Bender also explains that a 90-minute nap allows the body to complete one full sleep cycle of entering deep, restorative sleep. Ideally, you’d wake up naturally from a nap, but if you’re new to napping, setting an alarm could help your body adjust to sleeping for a shorter amount of time during the day.

Nap in a Calm Environment

The best nap environments are dark, quiet and cool—just like they should be at nighttime. If you can’t achieve the perfect nap environment, an eye mask and headphones could do the trick.

Some corporate settings are embracing the power of rest by creating nap rooms to encourage self-care. After all, well-rested employees are more productive and creative. Companies like Google, Cisco, Uber and Ben & Jerry’s offer corporate nap rooms. “The smart general manager, the smart coach, the smart CEO is always gonna invest in sleep because they're always gonna get that money back and then some,” Winter said on “Chasing Sleep.”

Ben & Jerry's Nap Room. A bed with a cow pasture on the comforter.
Ben & Jerry's

Don’t Stress If You Don’t Fall Asleep

Bender says closing your eyes and resting is also a great reset after lunchtime. Even if you intend on napping, but you don’t fall asleep, you’re likely to see benefits once you get up. “Even in the absence of falling asleep there are benefits for laying down and activating the parasympathetic nervous system,” she says.

If you’re struggling with work after lunch, a short nap is like hitting the “reset” button and could be the solution to a better afternoon and evening.

Get the perfect midday work nap with the sleep products