Renewable Resource: Energy and the Afternoon Nap

October 7, 2013

Sweet Dreams. By Shop Homegrown on Etsy.

By Amy Hackworth. Sign by Shop Homegrown on Etsy.

My husband has been blessed with the gift of napping. He has the ability to nap at almost any time of day with both depth and length, and still get a full night’s sleep. It’s a trait he inherited, and among my favorites of his family stories is the time Justin’s aunt remarked that she didn’t know adults took naps until she married into the family. If you’ve ever felt a little guilty for sneaking an afternoon nap, vindication is yours.

Turns out, the gift of napping has significant benefits for productivity, performance, and overall health. Arianna Huffington extolls the virtues of the nap in this story on the growing presence of nap rooms in corporate America, pointing out that “sleep makes us more productive, creative, less stressed and much healthier and happier.”

Tony Schwartz is a productivity expert leading the charge toward relaxation and renewal as legitimate means to improving performance. In a piece for the New York Times earlier this year, he makes a great case for changing our commitment to exhausting schedules that leave us regularly feeling tired and overworked.

Time is a resource, he notes, but (as we’re all too aware) it’s finite. Since we can’t generate more hours in the day, Schwartz suggests we look instead at the resource of energy, and by using it wisely, accomplish more in less time. This means taking regular breaks: research shows natural energy highs and slumps about every 90 minutes when we’re awake, much like the 90 minute sleep cycles we’re more familiar with. “Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously,” Schwartz says, “Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.” Instead of turning to food, caffeine, or the natural chemicals generated by stress to keep us moving through the day, Schwartz and others suggest a simpler, more natural solution: take a break when you’re tired. Nap, meditate, walk or run at regular intervals. While you might be tempted to think of those precious minutes as time lost, you’re likely to make up for those minutes through energy gained. And who couldn’t use a little more energy?

Are you in a work or family culture that accepts (or possibly celebrates) napping? Do you notice that taking regular breaks from work increases your productivity? What are your favorite ways to step away from busy-ness?

P.S. — Interesting profiles and great suggestions of how busy people make time to relax and renew here. And some video of Tony Schwartz discussing the topic here.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tiffany L. October 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Amy! You are so right–naps are alive and well in our family. My dad claims that all his creative ideas come from his daily schnooze, as he likes to call it. Now I feel so vindicated in my little nod. :)

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2 Amy Hackworth October 7, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Ha! I wondered if you would see this, Tiffany! Your nods have officially become research-based exercises in renewal. :)

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3 Valerie October 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm

My parents, especially my dad are huge nap takers.Sunday afternoon naps were a mandatory 2 hour quiet time for all 10 of us kids! If we couldn’t be quiet we got kicked outside, haha. But who could blame my parents of ten their weekly respite.

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4 Aimee October 7, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Thank you for writing this post!! I’m half Greek and so growing up naps were and are still are expected. When I lived in Athens for a few months EVERYONE took a rest during the hottest part of the day. I married into a family that seemed to view resting during the day as a waste of time or even worse sheer laziness so naturally I have felt guilty about taking naps. I recently read an article about why certain people in Greece were living super long lives and one of contributing factors was taking a nap during the day. Since reading that I’ve decided to forgo my guilt and be proud of my heritage of nap taking.

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5 Amy Hackworth October 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Aimee, thanks for this response. It’s really interesting to find that our common practice of getting by on little sleep really does have consequences for our long term health. Seems like I have also heard about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. I guess Greeks have health figured out!

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6 Rachel October 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Naps are part of my daily life and I don’t apologize for it. Ha! I can lie down for 30 minutes and feel recharged to finish the rest of the day. I jokingly call it ‘dirty 30′ and my family knows to respect it. I close the blinds, turn on the sound machine and BAM!

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7 Amy Hackworth October 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm

A sound machine! I like it.

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8 Joy | Frock Files October 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I love this post! I’m a firm believer in the power of naps. Since caffeine after 2pm makes me feel funny, short naps are often what get me through the afternoon slump. Now that we have a puppy, I also get up to take her out every couple of hours and being outside does a good job of keeping me energized too. I’m betting it’ll wake me up even more once it’s really cold!

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9 Amy Hackworth October 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Being outside makes a difference in my energy, too. I remember one day when our children were smaller, feeling like I would die if I didn’t lie down, but instead I went out and (somewhat reluctantly) played tag with them. I was amazed at how energized I felt after running around the yard for a few minutes. Of course, I still believe in the good old-fashioned nap. :)

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10 Julia A October 7, 2013 at 5:23 pm

I just read an article that talked about sleep cycles. We all tend to have at least one day on the weekend end where everyone naps – and it feels great.
I can’t really nap during the week so what I try to do it the opposite and go for a good walk (hopefully uphill or up some stairs) for about 20 minutes.

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11 Tasha October 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I LOVE a nap! I am a cat person btw! I have long believed in a short nap – 10 minutes even – to revitalize, however, this can sometimes interfere in my sleep in the evenings. Lately I feel good if my total daily sleep is within a healthy range. I feel that’s a healthy way to look at it! I really am okay with 7 hours but shoot for 8. Since starting a much earlier job I am up at 5:30am and due to some health /immune stuff, really do try to shoot for the 8 hours total! Some days I don’t want to, but I nap for an hour or so after work at 2:30. I hate it, but cannot seem to help it once in a while. Exercise (daily walking) does invigorate, but I can’t lie, when I get into snooze mode I am soo00, so happy every night.
I know in the world of parents with young children, this makes people crazy, but I did my time LOL so am unapologetic these days, not in a mean way, just “this is where I am at this time in life” way. I think back to the days of being a young mother in college and working, so this is my permission to now relax a bit. It just feels so weird as I am 46 and most of my peers have young ones, so honestly I keep these things under wraps most days, LOL ♥

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12 Justin October 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Just woke up from a nap and enjoyed reading this.

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13 Moitreyee October 7, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Generally in warmer months, when the days are longer, it is a good idea for everybody to nap, and play in the evening when it is cooler. That is at least what people in warm weather countries do, such as India.
Here, my 6 year old daughter was the only one amongst her friends, who naps. When I told this to my doctor, he was very happy about it. She needs it like anything, other wise, the evening hours are wasted anyways, whining away.

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14 Erin October 7, 2013 at 8:50 pm

When I became a mother five and a half years ago, I was one of those new moms who would roll her eyes at the recommendation to sleep when the baby sleeps. I thought of all the things I could accomplish during that time. Now, I am a firm believer in napping. When the oldest child is at home, I require that he attempt a nap too. Napping has made me a happier, healthier and more balanced person. I really hope I never have to give them up!

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15 DeAnn October 7, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I did an internship with the furniture designer Milo Baughman 25 years ago. He took a nap every afternoon in his office. We were not to disturb him for anything unless his wife had died. He had an incredible work ethic and endless energy.

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16 Susie October 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I wish I was a good napper! My husband can drop off anytime and anywhere and feel so refreshed afterwards. If I try to lie down for a nap, my mind races with all the things I should be doing. Housewife guilt I suppose. But seeing as you this post has made it clear that I am doing my self a favor, I’m going to go upstairs and…..ssshh…zzz…zzz…zzzz…(wake me when dinner’s ready.)

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17 kalanicut October 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I am a fan of napping but don’t do it nearly as much as I’d like to. I remember when staying with my grandparents as a child that after lunch my grandmother would nap on the couch and my grandfather would kick back in his recliner for 30 minutes or so every day. For those of us who have a hard time quieting the mind, can I recommend sleep or relaxation meditations. There are tons free on iTunes & YouTube. Even if you don’t sleep you definitely get 30 minutes or so of restorative relaxation in and the benefits of quieting those noisy minds is priceless.

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18 Jocelyn October 8, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Love this. I was debating whether or not to take a nap but after reading this I happily jumped in bed while my 3 kids were all napping.

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19 cath October 8, 2013 at 10:31 pm

agreed! I’m so much more productive with a nap!

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20 Jeremy Hackworth October 22, 2013 at 10:39 am

Napping is definitely a skill. I think it takes a lot of practice if you aren’t used to it.

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