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Making the Case for an Afternoon Nap

by | Fitness, Health, health and fitness, Lifestyle, mental health, sleep | 0 comments

Taking a nap in the American culture has been frowned upon for a long time. It has been negatively associated with laziness, sloth and grift. You can’t count on someone who is always napping, right?

And yet, the afternoon nap is central to to many cultures. The siesta “mid-day nap”, originated in Spain during the 1650’s and spread throughout Latin America. Moreover, it is very pervasive in all of Europe as well.

So, is taking an afternoon nap a good idea or not?

I will argue that taking afternoon naps can be beneficial to health, and is a valuable tool to having a more productive day.

The Benefits of Napping

  • Napping can improve performance. Research shows that napping is very beneficial with better alertness and focus. This study, for example, recruited 16 male athletes that played in three different sports: soccer, rugby and handball. The athletes trained at least 4 times a week, 2 hours a day. The researchers compared performance of the athletes who napped 90 minutes a day, 40 minutes a day, and no napping at all. Then they had the participants complete a 5 mile shuttle run. Here is what they found: In both nap groups, the athletes covered more distance and showed less overall fatigue than the no nap group. Moreover the nappers had better blood pressure and lower a lower resting heart rate. This bodes well for the importance of napping for athletes.
  • Naps can also reduce drowsiness and improve cognitive performance. This pubmed article finds that brief naps help improve cognitive performance immediately afterword that lasted several hours. According to the article, very brief naps (10 minutes or less) works “because it allows the rapid dissipation of inhibition in the ‘wake-active’ cells associated with the ‘sleep-switch’ mechanism rather than the dissipation of Process S.” In other words, brief naps do not get into the rem cycle which can lead to drowsiness, also known as sleep inertia. This is similar to what Mark Sisson mentions in his book, The Primal Blueprint . He says that brief naps re-set the sodium/potassium pump that gets out of balance after long periods of brain arousal (pg. 76). It is the main cause of mental fatigue.
  • Napping also helps with memory retention and learning. This article shows that perceptual learning (defined as the ability of sensory systems to respond to stimuli through experience) is better when people take naps. Perceptual learning is very useful for sports performance and fine motor tasks such as performing surgery or learning to play a musical instrument. The same can be said about learning and memory retention. Studies show that students have better recall and memory after taking naps.
  • One final point about the benefits of napping that I believe is very useful. Napping helps with impulse control and frustration tolerance. Man, we all could use a little more of that!

How To Nap

A proper nap should be brief, no longer than 15 to 20 minutes. Napping too long will make you feel drowsy and out of sorts when you wake up. It is known as sleep inertia. However, keeping a nap short will make you feel refreshed and ready for the rest of the day. And just as important, a shorter nap will not interfere with a good night’s sleep. Brief naps are called “power naps”. I think that describes it perfectly.


I don’t take naps every day, especially if I had a good night’s sleep, but I do nap frequently. I would say I do it about two or three times a week. I will do it on days that I am very busy, even though I feel fine. There are many days where I have a few clients in the morning and have a little break around noon, and then a very busy evening shift. I take a nap in the afternoon so I can have high energy for the evening shift, and it works like a charm!

I tell Sharon that it feels like I am clearing out my ram by napping. A computer will run slowly after a few days if it is not turned off. That is because the ram gets gummed up. After a re-boot the computer runs fast again.

What inspired me to write this blog is what I read about napping from Mark Sisson in his book. When he describes that a nap helps re-set the soduim/potassuim pump, it made a lot of sense. It is exactly like a computer clearing it’s ram.

So don’t be afraid to take a nap if you feel like you need one. I can say from personal experience that, if done right, you will feel better…and be more productive.


Gregg Hoffman