Why you need a nap.

When I was a child I loathed naps. There was just way too much to do to spend daytime hours lying on a bed. These days I crave naps because, well, there’s just way too much to do.

I wish I could distill the essence of sleep and sell it in pill form. I’d call the product a “napsule.”

And I’d be rich, because we Americans are a drowsy bunch. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 36% of respondents have “nodded off or fallen asleep” while driving.

Giving up my car and taking the bus is sounding better all the time. That is, assuming the bus drivers get enough shuteye.

You need a nap. We all need naps. Even a 20-minute snooze can change your mood, improve your cognitive abilities and maybe even save your life. It’s also a frugal hack (more on that later).


The art of the power nap

My father, for quite some time one of the most overscheduled people I have ever known, was a master of the short nap. After supper he’d lie back in the recliner, say “Wake me up in 20 minutes” and fall instantly to sleep. He called it “taking 20” and those few extra minutes of shuteye really did keep him going.

This isn’t possible for everybody, of course. Working parents, folks with more than one job, and anyone going to school while working are particularly unlikely to be able to nap after supper. Which is unfortunate, since they’re the ones most desperately in need of a doze.

Perhaps a daytime nap would work. A few times a week, set your cell-phone alarm for 20 or 30 minutes and then curl up in a break-room chair. Allow 10 or 15 minutes to eat your brown-bag lunch afterwards, and scamper back to work all renewed-like.

If your workplace clears out during the noon hour you could put your head down on your desk, just like in kindergarten. If you’re lucky enough to have an office to yourself, make a “do not disturb” sign and lock the door. Forward your phone, too.

Hey, I know a guy who sometimes goes out for a short snooze in his car. Desperate times call for desperate measures.


The power of a power nap

An article from Harvard Health Publications notes that studies by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration show that 40-minute naps “improved subsequent alertness and performance” of flight crews on long rotations.

Even a 20-minute snooze, the article says, can “improve alertness, psychomotor performance and mood.”

I can attest. At least twice a week I have a midday lie-down, setting the alarm to ring in one hour. Invariably I wake up within 40 minutes. This tactic was a huge help when I went back to school in my late 40s while working a couple of demanding part-time jobs. I’m not sure I could have finished my degree without those short snoozes.

A too-long nap might keep you up at night, so be sure to set that alarm. When it goes off, get up even if you don’t want to get up. You may feel groggy but the nap will sink in once you’re up and moving.

Don’t leap right into anything that requires concentration, though. Have a drink of water and spend about 10 minutes doing something that’s not too demanding. Hold off on peeling potatoes or making stock-market picks until you’re sure you’re completely awake. You don’t want to lose a fingertip, or your shirt, due to residual drowsiness.


Miss some Zs, lose some $$

What’s this got to do with frugality? Plenty.

If you were one of the 36% who nods off at the wheel, you’re looking at medical co-pays – maybe lots of them. My own deductible is $7,000.

There’s also the matter of fixing your crumpled car, and maybe the other guy’s whiplash. (Imagine the guilt if you caused a serious injury to another person.) And suppose that the injury knocks you out of the workforce for a while – how long could you go without a paycheck?

Exhaustion can cost you in other ways, too. How often do you get home from work so flattened that you don’t have the energy to cook even a simple meal? Takeout or deliveries are real budget-busters. Eating cereal from the box or Spam from the can is not good, either (see “medical co-pays,” above).

Tired people are less likely to exercise, which leads to more health issues. They’re also less likely to socialize, and isolated people don’t always have the healthiest habits. (Doritos in front of the tube, anyone?) Or maybe chronic weariness makes you snap at your partner or your children.

Exhaustion can lead both to increased expenditures and decreased quality of life. A good night’s sleep is the best defense. For some people, however, it’s simply not a consistent option. That’s not ideal but it’s their reality. Strategic naps might be the answer until their situations improve.

As for those who actually believe you can get by on four or five hours of sleep: I hope none of you are bus drivers.

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  1. The last line was the best!
    I love me a power nap, I just wish that I could get one every day. I always consider myself spoiled if I can get a few minutes in for shut eye.
    Great post, of course!

  2. sharon

    Back in the good old days, when the women’s room always had a sofa, I used to go in at lunch time and gab that 20 minute snooze, if someone else hadn’t already gotten there first. My family is from the southern Mediterranean, and every afternoon, anyone who was home — aunt, grandmother, pre-schoolers — would take a nap after lunch. My grandmother lived to 95 and died in her sleep. In fact, I think she may have been taking a nap. We would do well to emulate her.

  3. priskill

    Wait, you mean there are people actually snapping at spouses and children due to a lack of sleep? I am shocked, shocked by this — who are these monsters???

    I so want the “napsule!”

  4. Donna Freedman

    @Priskill: I know it sounds like an urban legend, but it’s true. I know because I read about it on the Internet.

  5. Laura

    Madam, you are a marketing genius: Napsule! How clever!
    I am a big believer in naps. Sometimes I do feel a bit guilty indulging, but I remind myself it’s a healthy habit. Nothing like that little pick-me-up to pick me up.

  6. Donna Freedman

    Laura: I think it’s better to give in to weariness than to try and drown it with caffeine. Even a short nap can work wonders.
    And when Napsules hit the market, I’ll send you a case of ’em.
    Thanks for reading.

  7. Ah! Sleep–or lack thereof. My boss asked the other day if there was anything he could do to help me accomplish my goals for this quarter. I said only if he could add another six hours to each day. I’d spend at least half of them sleeping…

  8. Ro in San Diego

    I can attest to the power of a nap. I am a high energy person who generally naps on weekends and sometimes during lunch hour at work. I always feel refreshed when I am back to my regular activities.

    When I was younger I had one semester at school where I had a course load of 21 units. Naps saved me. When I went back to school as an adult (with an infant at home) I napped with the baby to have the energy to get my coursework done and work a part time job while caring for said infant.

    I have read (somewhere) that napping helps reduce your chances of heart attack.

  9. Kerry

    I live about 7 min (10 min) from work. At lunch, I go home, set the clock for 40 min, take a nap, fix a quick lunch to take back to work (even if it’s just cheese, crackers and V8), check the mail, and go back to work. It’s a lifesaver.

    • Donna Freedman

      Kerry: Your co-workers are probably wondering, “Why doesn’t Kerry ever run out of gas late in the afternoon, the way we all do???”
      I’ve done this a couple of times since getting to Alaska. The long daylight has my circadian rhythms all out of whack, so I’m not sleeping enough at night. The mid-afternoon snooze is saving my bacon. No matter how tired I am, though, I wake up within 30 to 40 minutes.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. I find it hard to take a nap when I need it. No matter how hard I concentrate, most of the time I just close my eyes but remain fully awake. EXCEPT when I am driving long-distance (i.e. 300+ miles). I have learned to self-hypnotize to take a nap. When I am tired I pull over to a safe parking area. I have a little mantra that a psychologist/hypnotist taught me and in less than 2 minutes I am asleep for 30 to 40 minutes. Over the last 15 years this has been a life-saver. But it doesn’t work at home.

  11. During my 30 years of active work, I could n’t take a nap. What I did was to take a meditative walk during my lunch breaks which in a way refreshes me when I get back to work. But now that I’m not working, I’m enjoying this luxury of taking an afternoon nap of 30 minutes every day after lunch and I love it, I guess this is one of the many benefits of middle-age.


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