Napping is serious business, despite the fact that when some of us think of naps, we think about preschool. We’ve been taught to think of naps as something to outgrow. Yet as we age into adulthood, so many of us find it hard to get enough sleep. Millions currently suffer from sleep deprivation, whose effects range from memory loss to, well… death, if we credit the dire warnings of neuroscientist Matthew Walker. “Sleep,” Walker says, “is a non-negotiable biological necessity.”
In light of the latest research, napping begins to seem more like urgent preventive care than an indulgence. In fact, sleep expert Sara Mednick says, naps are a “miracle drug” that “increases alertness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, improves perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhances your sex life,” helps you lose weight, feel happier, and so on, all without “dangerous side effects” and with a cost of nothing but time.
If this sounds like hype, consider the quality of the source — Dr. Sara Mednick, a professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and a fellow at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Mednick runs a “seven-bedroom sleep lab at UCI,” notes her site, that works “literally around-the-clock to discover methods for boosting cognition through a range of different interventions, including napping.”
Maybe you’re sold on the benefits and simple pleasures of a nap — but maybe it’s been a few years since you’ve scheduled one. How long, exactly, should a grown-up nap last? The animated TED-Ed lesson above, scripted by Mednick, answers that question with a short course on sleep cycles: how we move through different stages as we snore, reaching the deepest sleep at stage 3 and concluding a cycle with R.E.M. The length of the nap we take can depend on the kinds of tasks we need to perform, and whether we need to wake up quickly and get on to other things.
Mednick expands substantially on her evidence-based advocacy for naps in her book Take a Nap! Change Your Life. (See her discuss her research on sleep and memory in the short video just above.) In the book’s introduction, she tells the story of her “journey from skeptic to nap advocate.” Here, she uses uses a different metaphor. Naps, she says, are a “secret weapon” — one she reached for just minutes before she stood up at the Salk Institute to present research on naps. “I never imagined,” she writes of her journey into napping, “that a healthy solution to facing life’s multiple challenges could be as simple and attainable as a short nap.” Given how much sleep we’re all losing lately, maybe it’s not so surprising after all.