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Why you should give yourself permission to nap more often

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Scientific evidence says a quick bout of sleep during the day can make us healthier.

Confession: I’m not a good nap-taker. At. All.

Naps either go one of two ways for me: I fall asleep hard because I’m totally exhausted, sleep like the dead, and wake up discombobulated, groggy, and cranky. Or I lie in the dark for 45 minutes, slipping briefly into sleep before jerking awake in a panic, having remembered one more thing I’m supposed to be doing that’s not napping.

But since my new schedule means super early mornings and super late nights three days a week, naps have become something of a necessity. And while I still don’t do them well, I’m coming to appreciate that naps can be, as Psychology Today puts it, “a powerful means of rejuvenating your mental and physical well-being.”

Millions of years ago, our primate ancestors lived in trees, and they were polyphasic sleepers, meaning they slept at multiple times across the day and night. When our species emerged, we came down from the trees and became mostly monophasic sleepers, with one major period of sleep during the night. But some humans have always had a tendency toward a polyphasic sleep cycle, and this is true for many people today, too.

Many top-level athletes also give themselves the opportunity to nap before a competition … These athletes know the power generated by healthful sleep, and they have learned to focus that power on optimizing their performance. You can apply this same principle in your own life, by letting yourself nap before facing a major challenge or task that requires you to be at your best.

I think the concept of polyphasic sleeping is interesting and compelling, because I’ve known enough people (like my mom!) who simply function much, much better when they nap. I also don’t think it applies to me, because naps tend to leave me far groggier and more tired than I was before I took them.

But I have noticed that hour-long midday naps on days when I train morning and evening camps are something of a “sweet spot” for me. Thirty minutes, or even 45 minutes, is too short to really fall asleep. And an hour and a half is too long, because it’s enough time for me to fall asleep hard and wake up disoriented. But an hour is perfect … long enough to rest, but not long enough to REM.

I’m still groggy when I wake up, but that grogginess tends to fad once I get moving — and it’s definitely gone once I’m out in the sun getting set up for camp. The post-nap combination of Vitamin D and a little heart rate spike are way more effective than a gallon of coffee (trust me, I’ve tried it).

And the truth is that my camps are far better on the days when I make time for a power nap. I have more energy and better focus, which means my campers have a better workout. Somewhat surprisingly, I also sleep better on the nights when I nap during the day, and wake up feeling more refreshed than usual.

So there’s probably something to this nap thing after all, but if you don’t believe me, go ahead and do some empirical evaluations on your own. For science. 

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