If you're the kind of person who makes New Year's resolutions, I have one to suggest--resolve to take more naps this coming year. If you're an employer or manage a team, encourage your employees to nap and if possible, provide a place for them to do it.
Ideally, experts say, naps should be 10 to 30 minutes long, and take place before 3 pm or so. Longer naps still offer benefits, but can leave you feeling groggy for an hour afterward. And naps later in the day risk interfering with your ability to fall asleep at night, which could make matters worse instead of better.
Why take naps? There are so many good reasons, they won't all fit in one column. Here are a few.
1. Napping helps with creativity and problem-solving.
There's a relaxed state your brain enters when you're just starting to fall asleep called the hypnagogic state. As you may have experienced, when you enter this state, all sorts of ideas, images, and connections can float through your mind. Thomas Edison so valued this partially-awake state that he would nap in a chair with a steel ball in each hand and a metal pan on the floor on either side of him. As he drifted off, the balls would drop and hit the pans with a loud clatter, waking him up and helping him remember whatever he'd been thinking or semi-dreaming in the hypnagogic state.
There's now scientific evidence to support that approach. In a fascinating experiment at the Paris Brain Institute, subjects were given a math problem to solve and a fairly tedious method for solving it. They weren't told was that there was an easier way to solve the problem. Some figured that out immediately. Others did not. Those subjects who did not figure out the easier way were given 20 minutes to doze in a chair--with an EEG helmet on so that researchers could monitor their sleep or wakefulness state. Those who drifted into the hypnagogic were likelier to find the shortcut after they went back to work on the math problems than those who did not. In other words, Edison may have been on to something.
2. You will learn better and retain more.
In another experiment, college students were given detailed information about crabs and ants. Partway through the day's lessons, they took a long break. Some napped, others crammed for the upcoming test, and some just took time off. When they were tested later that day, the participants who crammed, and those who napped, performed equally well and better than the group that just took the time to relax. When participants were tested again a week later, those who had napped remembered the material better than those who had crammed. That makes sense, since other research has shown that we consolidate memories and move them from short-term to long-term memory while we sleep.
3. Napping will make you happier.
This may sound like a wild claim, but the science says so. In a study conducted for the Edinburgh National Science Festival in 2017, researchers compared the sleep habits of 1,000 people and then compared their happiness levels. They found that those who took the half-hour-or-less naps experts recommend were measurably happier than those who either took long naps (which are sometimes a sign of health problems) or no naps at all.
Napping makes you better at solving problems, better at remembering, and generally happier, along with many other health and cognitive benefits. Given all that, resolving to take the time for a couple of short naps a week in 2022 might be a better idea than promising yourself you'll finally go to the gym.