There are precious few things you can do in your life that will have a greater positive impact on your health, mood, and longevity on Earth than sleep—and not all of it has to happen at night. If your energy wanes and you find yourself dreaming of nodding off soon after lunch, rest assured. You’re not the only one with sleep on the brain.
Many adults feel an alertness dip midday, which Dr. Matthew Walker, one of the foremost experts in the field of sleep science (and self-proclaimed Sleep Diplomat), attributes to our hunter-gatherer histories. Deep in our DNA is programming that would happily have us live as biphasic sleepers, resting in two or more sessions within a day, if only the demands of contemporary life allowed it. Luckily, it’s starting to. Social norms and workplace culture in the U.S. are catching up to the long-held global wisdom that rest is to be embraced, even if it summons you in the middle of the day. Siesta, riposo, or xiuxi, anyone?
To Nap or Not to Nap?
If you’re nap-curious but a little pillow shy for one reason or another, or if you have yet to figure out how to prioritize the extra shuteye within a busy schedule, here are a few deciding factors that might gently nudge you into bed—or keep you far from it.
It doesn’t have to be long. Actually, for adults who are looking to simply curtail the midday slump, even—or ideally—a nap as short as 10 to 20 minutes will suffice. In an interview with Peter Attia on his podcast, The Drive, Dr. Matthew Walker explains that “even naps as short as 17 minutes can produce learning and memory benefits.”
Short and sweet, this kind of rest is often known as power napping, and for good reason. Increased cognitive acuity, emotional regulation, physical ability, immune system response, cardiovascular health, and stress relief are all to be gained—in just 10 minutes!
Many workplaces, including large corporations like Nike and Google, are recognizing the performance-related benefits of napping and are normalizing a certain amount of sleeping on the job by outfitting break rooms for rest, or even installing nap pods.
If your body and your boss are in favor of daytime dozing, why wouldn’t you make it a habit?
Insomniacs, take heed. Sleeping during the day when you struggle to at night will only make matters worse. The sleep drive is fueled by adenosine, a naturally-occurring chemical the body builds up throughout the day. As Attia describes, adenosine acts like a pressure cooker, and sleep, no matter the time, opens its release valve, expending the neuron-slowing chemical and decreasing the sleep drive.
Whether you experience sleep-onset insomnia (the inability to fall asleep) or sleep-maintenance insomnia (the inability to stay asleep), you want your adenosine levels to be as high as possible by bedtime. Sadly, a midday nap drains the tank for what you so desperately need: a deep, long stretch of uninterrupted slumber.
Even if you don’t typically struggle with issues of insomnia, napping too long or too late in the day may mess with your circadian rhythm, or chronotype. The Sleep Foundation recommends naps that are no longer than 30 minutes, and that you're up and at 'em again by 3 p.m.; if you’re out for longer than half an hour, it’s likely you’ll enter a REM cycle and have a tricky time reemerging without feeling groggy.
But, if you have the time, and some serious fatigue to kick, try for a 90 minute nap—a length of time that allows the body to cycle through all of the sleep stages and reap the benefits of uninterrupted deep sleep.
You’re Getting Very Sleepy…
If you’re going to adopt routine napping, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. If escaping to your bedroom isn’t an option, seek out an environment that takes rest just as seriously, ideally somewhere quiet, cool, and dark.
Just like at nighttime, create a wind-down routine that eases and economizes your ability to unplug. Curb your caffeine intake by midmorning and be sure to spend a moment or two away from screens and high-energy conversations or meetings before attempting to fall asleep. If your schedule can afford it, consider listening to a brief guided meditation or some soothing music before closing your eyes in earnest.
Lastly, and dearest to our hearts, set an alarm so you don’t oversleep. We know a good one!
Naps as Resistance
There’s another really good reason to nap: to resist the grind. More than a third of all adults in the U.S. report sleeping for less than seven hours a night, and a good portion of us are riddled with sleep disruptions or disorders that stem from stress, anxiety, and/or depression.
Could it be that a lack of sleep has contributed to tears in the social fabric? Artist, theologian, and somatic activist Tricia Hersey thinks so. Hersey founded The Nap Ministry, a grassroots organization with a variety of offerings all oriented around “the liberating power of naps,” in 2016 as a response to the churn of grind culture. Her platform experienced immense growth at the start of the pandemic when those lucky enough to reassess how a workday and a life could be, did. The Nap Ministry’s Instagram account currently has over half a million followers.
After experiencing burnout from juggling seminary, work, an internship, and parenting simultaneously, Hersey tried something countercultural and allowed herself rest. “Hersey was determined to commit to it,” reports Melonyce McAfee for The New York Times, “and in the process, to push back on what she, a Black woman, saw as a legacy of forced labor and exhaustion that her ancestors had endured.”
Now, Hersey, a.k.a. the Nap Bishop, has designed a worldview and method for community that revolves around rest. She describes the Ministry’s effort as “collectively refusing to run ourselves into the ground." Since 2016, Hersey’s spent years speaking to audiences across the country, offering coaching services, facilitating immersive workshops, and creating collective napping experiences where a group of people can experience what it feels like to rest together, and through that rest, establish connections and heal divisions. “This is about more than naps,” she writes.
Because rest benefits the human experience on so many levels—physiologically, mentally, socially, spiritually—and so deeply, it stands to say that each of those facets of experience withers without it. To borrow from the Center for Human Sleep Science: “We are, after all, biologically wondrous things, in part, because of sleep.” Now, go get some.