Most people, even those who regularly have a good night's sleep, will confess that sometime during the mid-afternoon they feel a slight drop in mood and performance. They feel sleepy and less alert. This is believed to be due to having a heavy lunch because it is well known that a strong meal will most likely cause some sleepiness afterward. However, there may be another side to this and this slump in alertness may actually be a sign that the person needs a little nap.
Are afternoon naps biologically programmed?
There is some evidence that nature intended for people to take a little nap in the afternoon. For example, babies and theelderly almost always have their mid-afternoon nap. Afternoon nap is actually the last toddler habit the child abandons. Furthermore, some nations, especially those close to the equator, have siestas regularly.
Biologically, our body temperature drops slightly in the mid-afternoon, just in time for a nap, no matter what we had for lunch.
The afternoon decline in alertness and mood can interfere with performance at work or in studying and it can also be unsafe, because drowsiness is a very common cause of car accidents.
The urge to sleep in the afternoon is much weaker that the urge to sleep at night, which is why it is easily suppressed. Also, nap time coincides with working hours for almost all professions, which is why today not many people can indulge in this form of relaxation.
Health benefits of napping
Napping improves the mood. Many persons will testify this is true from their own experience. A person who is in a bad mood will feel much better and lighter after a simple nap.
Most people are unable to take a mid-day nap because of work. However, napping actually improves the performance at work, by increasing the concentration, alertness and energy. This has even been proven in several scientific studies.
Napping, especially if combined with a good night sleep, will improve learning.
Many car accidents are caused by the drowsiness of the driver. This can easily be prevented by taking a short nap and a caffeine beverage when feeling sleepy or drowsy at the wheel.
Napping before work and having a coffee or tea will help night shift workers as well. They will be less likely to feel sleepy or even fall asleep during their shift.
Persons who exercise in order to lose weight often lack energy or motivation to hit the gym. Napping can be helpful here as well, because after a nap a person feels refreshed and have more energy for the exercise.
The best way to have a nap is the so-called “power nap”. This means sleeping for no longer than 20 minutes in the afternoon. Everything longer than that may interfere with night sleep pattern and may cause longer periods of adjusting to the waking state. In this case most of the benefits of napping will not apply.