7 Secret Benefits of an Afternoon Nap

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7 Secret Benefits of an Afternoon Nap | Wit & Delight
Image by Marlen Mueller via Repeller

Some of you who were thrown into working from home during the pandemic may have just recently discovered the magic of a midday nap. I’m fortunate enough to have been working from home for years, and I’ve long said naps are one reason I don’t think I could ever return to an office setting. (That, and the frigid air conditioning.)

Research abounds on the benefits of a daytime snooze. Studies show that taking a short afternoon nap can help:

  • boost your mood
  • release stress
  • support your immune system
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve memory
  • regulate emotion
  • increase job performance
  • and help your brain connect new information

But if the science doesn’t convince you, let me suggest a few more reasons to make twenty-minute naps a part of your daily (or at least occasional) practice. I’m a professional lifetime napper—and an advocate of rest—and I’m happy to share what I’ve discovered.

The case for naps

  • Skipping caffeine
    Most of us feel a slump after we’ve been awake for about eight hours—often around 2 or 3 p.m. Next time you do, consider grabbing a cat nap instead of another cup of coffee (if you have the option). For me, afternoon caffeine is hit or miss, but a nap is a sure thing.
  • Inviting inspiration
    Honestly, naps are part of my writing strategy. When I hit a wall on a project, I’ll shift to something else and let the challenge simmer in the back of my brain. When I add a nap to that simmering, I’ll often wake up with fresh ideas and an ability to see new connections and solutions. Naps can be an Instant Pot for creativity.
  • Surrendering control
    When we believe we’re the source of everything right and good, we start to think the world might stop spinning on its axis if we don’t keep it going. Imagine the exhaustion. (And the arrogance?) When we let go and nap, we acknowledge, at least for a moment, that life keeps going just fine without us—a good reminder for all of us now and then.
  • Being human
    Paying attention to the needs of your body—and graciously meeting them—can ground you in your physicality and remind you that you’re not super human. You are simply human, which is enough. 
  • Getting vulnerable
    To rest your head on a pillow (or a couch or even a car window) in the middle of the day is a vulnerable thing. You shift from mover-and-shaker to unprotected living organism. You drop your defenses and trust your surroundings. You take yourself out of the running, at least for a little while. There’s something to be said for what this kind of a practice can do for our souls. And our selves.
  • Catching wonder
    Stopping to breathe and rest can open you up to things that aren’t part of the linear, busy, driven world of working and accomplishing. What might you notice or discover if you let your brain float off into sleep for a few moments in the day?
  • Trusting your body
    It can be easy to spend life not listening to your body. Or, maybe you’re listening—but you’re not actually believing what you hear. What if you trusted that feeling sleepy is a message, a need, and an invitation from your physical self—to stop, rest, and reset?

Permission to pause

For those of us who sometimes find our worth in what we accomplish, a nap may feel counterproductive but, ironically, a nap can often make us more productive—and the practice of stopping, breathing, and resting can empower us to perform even better. Consider this your permission slip to steal thirty minutes for yourself.

I do want to acknowledge that I’m aware taking a nap is an option some people don’t have. Jobs might not allow it, workplaces might not accommodate it, responsibilities and demands might not leave space for it. But I also know that some of us believe we don’t have space when we actually do. (Note to self: twenty minutes spent napping might do a lot more good than twenty minutes of doom scrolling.)

Napping well

If you’re new to napping, there are tips that can help improve your nap, like keeping it short (twenty minutes vs. an hour or more) and timing it well (mid-afternoon vs. too late in the day). And people with insomnia should probably skip the nap and consider meditating instead. Beyond that, try grabbing a pillow, closing your eyes, and drifting off. You might be surprised at what you discover.

At least two naps were taken during the writing of this piece. Who’s up for another?

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