Why you should have a nap right now
‘We need to de-stigmatise sleep as being for a lazy or weak person’
In 2006, when The Irish Times was moving from its old premises in D’Olier Street, legend has it that, in a cluttered room behind and beneath some desks, the movers found a mattress, a lamp and a pile of reading material.
They had uncovered the secret nap room of one of the employees.
This tale is usually told as an example of old-school journalistic eccentricity, but new management thinking and scientific research suggests that this secret napper was actually a forward0thinking workflow pioneer. The appropriate length of a nap has also been the subject of much discussion on Twitter in recent days – in the warm weather, thoughts must be turning to siestas.
The nap, says sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe, “needs a rebranding. We should see it as a ‘recovery period’ rather than thinking of it as a ‘nap’. I think, for adults, a nap has very negative connotations that you’re lazy . . . We need to de-stigmatise sleep as being for a lazy or weak person. I would be a fan of the idea of the nap.”
More people feel sleep-deprived these days, she says. She blames the stresses and anxieties of modern life, the always-on work culture and the proliferation of technology and screens. Most adults need between seven and nine hours a night, but “routinely in surveys a third of Irish people are dissatisfied with the amount of sleep they get . . . It’s a bit of an epidemic.”
So why take a nap?
“Throughout the course of the day your system is dipping,” she says. “It’s ebbing and flowing because that’s what the circadian rhythm does. A sleep in the day, properly timed and not too long and not too short, what the studies continuously suggest is you have better productivity, concentration levels, mood and behaviour.”
So Wolfe basically reckons that it would be no harm to have a nap every day. “Although everyone’s different and if you try it and find it’s interfering with you sleeping at night it mightn’t be for you.”
How long should my nap be (I’m planning it already)?
Some experts suggest 20 or 30 minutes, but it’s her view that serious nappers should try to complete a sleep cycle of 45 minutes. “Probably no more than 90 minutes.”
When should I have my nap?
“There’s a perfect time to nap between one and half two pm,” she says. “That’s perfect in terms of your circadian rhythm. Sleeping at those times shouldn’t interfere with your bedtime.” She says that there’s another sweet spot between five and seven.
Could I nap at both those times?
She pauses. “If you were doing both I’d be of the mindset you are a very sleep-deprived person and I’d want to know why.”
Where should I have my nap? At my desk?
She’s not sure about this. “I don’t want to suggest we remove our hard-working ethos and we need respect for your colleagues,” she says. “I just don’t feel that having a nap should be stigmatised. That’s why I feel a designated space might be more appropriate . . . Maybe corporations need to look into designated nap rooms or . . . ‘sleep pods’.”
This isn’t as wacky as it sounds. Wolfe recently spoke at the Keep Well summit, an event on workplace health, at which companies were actively discussing such things. Indeed, many companies have already put such provisions in place.
Earlier in the year Maynooth University put sleep pods in their library to be used by sleepy students. It’s not purely altruistic, she says, “An American study said lack of sleep is costing $150 billion a year. (It leads to) less productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, lost revenue, poor decision making.”
More importantly, really, she notes that lack of sleep has also been linked to cancer, obesity, diabetes, dementia and depression. “One hour less sleep a night encourages negative thinking processes.”
So we should respect “the nap”, she says, and stop praising those who forgo sleep. “Some people say, ‘I get four hours and I do fine.’ But those people are about one percent of the population.”
The rest of us, she says, might need some “recovery time”.
And typing this in my secret nap room, I have to say I agree.