Naps Aid Immunity, Energy, Alertness, Memory, and Mood

(p. D4) Sara E. Alger, a sleep scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., has been a public advocate for naps, particularly in the workplace, except in cases of insomnia. Along the way, she has had to fight anti-nap prejudice.

“Naps in general have a stigma attached to them as something you only do when you’re lazy or when you’re sick,” Dr. Alger said.

Wrapped inside nap phobia in the United States is often a message reminding us to be productive during what we now think of as normal working hours, although that concept is relatively new.

Modern attitudes about napping go back to the Industrial Revolution, according to Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York and the author of “The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life.”

“For a long time, people had flexible sleep schedules,” Dr. Wolf-Meyer said. Farmers and tradespeople had some autonomy over their time. They could choose to rest in the hottest part of the day, and might take up simple tasks during a wakeful period in the middle of the night, between two distinct bouts of sleep.

As the 1800s went on, more and more Americans worked in factories on set shifts that were supervised by a foreman. “They work for a total stranger, and a nap becomes totally nonnegotiable,” he said.

Staying awake all day and getting one’s sleep in a single long stretch at night came to be seen as normal. With that came a strong societal expectation that we ought to use our daylight hours productively.

. . .

Although there are no hard data so far on whether naps have been on the rise during 2020, sleep scientists like Dr. Alger think it’s likely. The many people who now work remotely no longer need to worry about the disapproving eyes of their colleagues if they want a brief, discreet period of horizontality in the afternoons.

If most offices reopen next year, as now seems possible, perhaps greater tolerance toward the adult nap will be one of the things salvaged from the smoking wreckage of the working-from-home era. (In a tweet last week, Dr. Wolf-Meyer called the pandemic “the largest (accidental) experiment with human #sleep ever conducted.”) . . .

Experts say that people who get seven to nine hours of sleep a day are less prone to catching infectious diseases, and better at fighting off any they do catch. Afternoon sleep counts toward your daily total, according to Dr. Alger.

This immunity boost, she said, is in addition to other well-known dividends of a good nap, like added energy, increased alertness, improved mood and better emotional regulation.

Included under the last rubric is a skill that seems especially useful for dealing with families, even if you never get closer to your relatives this year than a “Hollywood Squares”-style video grid: “Napping helps you be more sensitive to receiving other people’s moods,” Dr. Alger said. “So you’re not perceiving other people as being more negative than they are.”

Napping also helps you remember facts you learned right before nodding off. Given the way things have been going lately, of course, you may not see this as a plus. You could look at it from the reverse angle, though: Every hour before Jan. 1 that you spend napping is another hour of 2020 you won’t remember.

For the full commentary, see:

Pete Wells. “This Thanksgiving, Nap Without Guilt.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 25, 2020): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 24, 2020, and has the title “This Thanksgiving, It’s Time to Stop Nap-Shaming.”)

The book by Wolf-Meyer, mentioned above, is:

Wolf-Meyer, Matthew J. The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

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