It's Time You Took a Nap! For most of us, regular naps are a distant memory of childhood. But taking a regular nap can be a "life-saving habit," according to Sara Mednick.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/11361685/11361692" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
It's Time You Took a Nap!

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/11361685/11361692" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

And now it's time for the Opinion Page, and time for a nap. If, like George Costanza, you sometimes retreat under your desk for that afternoon snooze, new research says that could be a good thing. Sara Mednick writes frequently about napping. She's the author of "Take A Nap! Change Your Life." And she says napping may be a better a stimulant than that afternoon cup of joe and could increase your productivity.

CONAN: Sara Mednick joins us in just a moment. But we also want to hear from you. Where do you go in your office to grab 40 winks? Give us a call. 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us talk@npr.org. As always, the conversation is ongoing on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation. Sara Mednick joins us from the studios of member station KPDS in San Diego, California. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today.

Ms. SARA MEDNICK (Author, "Take a Nap! Change Your Life"): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: So why should companies allow their workers to nap on the job?

Ms. MEDNICK: Well, you know, it really depends on personal preference because a lot of people obviously do have a lot of caffeine addictions that they continue to foster. But in all of my research, what I found is that when I have people not drink caffeine but take a nap instead, they actually perform much better on a wide range of memory tasks.

CONAN: Yet, that sleeping on the job, it's a phrase that has acquired such a pejorative aspect to it.

Ms. MEDNICK: You know, it really has. It's what we consider, people should be, you know, below the age of four and above the age of 70, that they should be doing that. But what actually early studies looking at napping found is that nap actually may be part of our natural biorhythm during the day, that if you actually have people in caves where they don't have any sense of the time of day or what day it is and just say we'll eat and drink, sleep when you want.

And what actually happens is that their sleep gets consolidated into one, long bout in the middle of the night. And also, they go return to bed in the afternoon. And that may be an indicator that we do have a natural rhythm that actually takes us into rest, that we should be resting in the middle of the day.

CONAN: I have to ask. Do you nap?

Ms. MEDNICK: Oh, I nap very regularly. Yeah.

CONAN: Ah-huh. And, and do you have to go, you don't work in a regular office like most of us?

Ms. MEDNICK: I work at the V.A. Hospital. I do research there. But you know, it's interesting. I didn't used to nap. And it wasn't until I actually was doing my own research and was one of these typical grad students that didn't get any sleep at all and was completely exhausted. And then I finally looked at my own data and saw wow, you know, the people who aren't napping are performing worse than they did in the morning. And the people who are napping are performing much better. And so I decided to take my first guilty nap, and since that time I've been hooked.

CONAN: That first guilty nap, you have to overcome the guilt.

Ms. MEDNICK: Absolutely. And you have to tell your boss that you're going off on some errand or something or other. And then, once your boss realizes that you're actually performing much better than you had before, hopefully he or she will turn it around.

CONAN: Let's see if we get some listeners in on this conversation. Our guest is Sara Mednick, author of "Take A Nap! Change Your Life." If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And Elliot(ph) is on the line with us. Elliot in Saint Louis.

ELLIOT (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. Where do you go to nap, Elliot?

ELLIOT: Well, I work at a Target store. And when we go on break, some of us like to sleep in the communal office area in the back.

CONAN: Aha. Does that have a…

MS. MEDNICK: Perfect.

CONAN: Does that have couches and, and nice, comfy chairs?

ELLIOT: We have a video rocker that we like to sleep in. But, yeah, normally, we just kind of curl up on the floor or on one of the desks.

CONAN: And does the boss know what you're doing?

ELLIOT: There's normally somebody back here to kick you and wake you up before the boss comes in.

CONAN: So you've got somebody standing alert for you?

ELLIOT: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. MEDNICK: And do you feel like that actually does improve the rest of your day after you take a nap?

ELLIOT: Definitely. Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. And the - as far as you know, the Target store is continuing to sell as many, you know resin(ph) chairs as it used to?

ELLIOT: I think more probably.

CONAN: Probably more. All right. Well, I guess, that's a goal we can all be proud of, Elliot.

ELLIOT: All right.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

ELLIOT: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an e—mail we got from Audrey(ph) in Cleveland. I spend about half my lunch hours napping, and it feels so good, she writes. I nap at the back of my Toyota Yaris Hatchback when the weather isn't too hot or too cold. I have a pillow and a blanket back there all the time. If it is too hot or too cold, I can drive to my boyfriend's house about five blocks away and nap in his bed. I can't fall asleep unless I can lay perfectly horizontal. I set the alarm clock on my cell phone to wake me up. So

Ms. MEDNICK: That's exactly what I do.

CONAN: Really?

Ms. MEDNICK: Yeah. I actually take time in the middle of the day. Either if I have an office appointment somewhere else, I'll drive there 15 minutes early, set my cell phone, and sleep in the car, or, you know, before a yoga class is actually a wonderful thing before you work out, to I arrive at the gym a little bit early. These are all different ways that you can find naptime in the middle of the day where you really wouldn't have expected it.

CONAN: Let's get Graham(ph) on the line. Graham is calling from the Bronx in New York.

GRAHAM (Caller): Neal, hi, how are you?

CONAN: I'm okay.

GRAHAM: Good. I cover two subjects at once, actually. I look at foreclosure of properties for banks. And I drive around all day, and obviously I'm quite busy based on the information from your last clip(ph).

CONAN: Absolutely. Yes, especially in the Bronx you would think.

GRAHAM: Yup, yup, quite busy. And I get very tired driving around. As we all know, driving tired is not the best of things. So, periodically, I'll just pull over in a relatively safe area and I'd put my head back and I go to sleep. And, I have this uncanny ability to tell myself I'll wake up in 15 minutes or 20 minutes, and wake right on the money as far as when I said I would wake up. And it enables me to get through the day. I feel great afterwards, and that definitely helps my day.

CONAN: And, since you're not being directly supervised, your boss plays no role on this?

GRAHAM: I am the boss.

CONAN: You are the boss?

GRAHAM: Yep.

CONAN: So you're boss takes…

Ms. MEDNICK: Yes. It's usually the bosses who know better.

GRAHAM: But, you know, I mean, it's so beneficial to me. If I were to have any employees or anything like that, I will have no problem of them taking naps.

CONAN: So - but you just pull off on Tremont Avenue or wherever and take a nap?

GRAHAM: Yeah. I usually try to find a shady spot that doesn't look too threatening and, you know, take a little nap.

CONAN: Yeah. Interesting.

Ms. MEDNICK: Well, you bring up a really important point too about the fact that people are incredibly sleep deprived and are driving sleep deprived, and what that means for the amount of accidents and danger for people getting off work after, say a full night of working at a hospital or, you know, that nurses are shown to have actually a much higher rate of accidents when they get off work than before, you know.

So there actually are a lot of health concerns with regards to sleep deprivation that are beyond just heart disease and high blood pressure and diabetes, but also how dangerous are you to other people. And in fact, napping can be a really great antidote to that kind of danger.

CONAN: Well…

GRAHAM: Well, I like to think so. And I enjoy my naps and I enjoy your show, so thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Graham.

GRAHAM: You're welcome.

CONAN: And I - he mentioned something that a lot of people mentioned, Sara, and that is disability to say, I want to wake up in 15 minutes and go to sleep and wake up in 15 minutes.

Ms. MEDNICK: Yeah. It's fascinating. You would have a really hard time trying to do that in the middle of the night. So I'm going to go to sleep for two hours and wake up at 3 a.m. It's really not the same thing, but in fact, napping is a very particular habit that people learn how to actually do, like practicing a skill. And people can learn how to have just a 20-minute nap or 10-minute nap. And it does take practice, but in the same way as, you know, learning how to work out properly, learning how to ride a bike properly, any of these things. Your brain can actually adapt to the kind of nap that you want to have.

CONAN: Wait a minute, I'm accustomed to the idea that I have to learn French, or I have to learn - as we also learned early in this hour, arithmetic. I have to learn how to sleep?

Ms. MEDNICK: Well, you know that there's an intelligent way to eat, right? There's an intelligent way to work out. There's also an intelligent to sleep not just for nocturnal sleep, but also for napping, that you can actually, you know, in "Take a Nap! Change Your Life," what we actually talk about is that you can learn how to tailor your nap to suit your specific needs by learning all about the sleep stages that you go through at night, in the middle of a day, and what time of day you should be napping in order to get a specific kind of nap. So there's lots to learn about napping, actually.

CONAN: Here's an email from John(ph) in Louisville, Kentucky. Upon waking from a nap, I feel so tired and groggy that I avoid naps.

Ms. MEDNICK: Right. And that is a common problem actually. And what he's experiencing is what's called sleep inertia. And that just means that your brain is in a sleep state and unable to get out into a waking state. And usually it's because you slept longer than 20 minutes or less than, say 60 minutes. That period of sleep is - that you wake out of into sleep inertia is called slow-wave sleep. And it's a very deep sleep, and your brain is working very slowly. The blood is flowing very slowly. And it's very hard to actually get into a more active waking state.

So what I always recommend is that people then should really cut their naps down to about 10 to 15 minutes. My husband now has exactly that same problem. He always fells terrible when he wakes up if I let him sleep longer than 30 minutes. But 10 minutes is perfect for him. He feels be very alert and awake.

CONAN: Let's talk to Jay(ph). Jay is with us from Sacramento in California.

JAY (Caller): Oh, hello.

CONAN: Hi.

JAY: Well, I continue to regularly nap. And about a year ago, I was hired as a managing editor at a local television station. And my girlfriend owns a gym, so we'd hit the door about six in the morning. And I wouldn't leave until, you know, regularly seven, eight, nine o'clock at night working in, you know, pretty much 12-hour days.

And so, I took a nap regularly in my office, and I found it not very comfortable. We had an abandoned editing room for the old school analog video equipment.

CONAN: Yeah.

JAY: And so, I would nap on the couch there. And one day, the - one of the big Kahunas walks in and there I am napping in about two weeks later I was let go without reason or cause. And I (unintelligible)…

Ms. MEDNICK: Wow.

JAY: …was because he thought I was sleeping on the job. But…

CONAN: It's that sleeping on the job prejudice again as if you were driving a locomotive or something, Jay.

Ms. MEDNICK: Mm-hmm. That's cruel.

JACK: Yeah. Right. So, but I still encourage anybody to at least talk to their manager and let them know that, hey, I'm putting in 10 or 12-hour days, I need a little nap, you know, at least 15 minutes, and it get me through the day.

Ms. MEDNICK: And it's also interesting, I mean, a lot of people are sleeping at work and their managers don't know. So the fact that you were suddenly caught, it's a kind of - I would say it's a little hypocritical to think that nobody else was sleeping on the job. So, you know, hopefully, more and more research will come out on the benefits of napping and how people actually need a little bit of a boost from sleep in the middle of the day, and, you know, change the way managers think.

CONAN: Have you manage to find a new job, Jay?

JACK: Well, I stay self-employed and I continue to do what I do. But I do continue to nap when my girlfriend comes home from the gym. We take a little half-hour nap. And it really can help push through until easily ten to midnight.

CONAN: All right.

Ms. MEDNICK: Yeah.

CONAN: Well, we'll give you that endorsement as a tireless worker.

JAY: Thank you.

CONAN: Jay, thanks very much for the call.

We're talking on The Opinion Page this week with Sarah Mednick, author of "Take a Nap! Change Your Life." She's a research scientist at the University of California San Diego. And her research is devoted not only to understanding how napping can improve human performance. And her article has been published in Nature NeuroScience and the Proceedings from the National Academy for Science. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Jerry(ph) on the line. Jerry with us from St. Charles in Missouri.

JERRY (Caller): Yes, hello. This is the short version and no, not about a locomotive, but actually napping while on the job as a pilot. The Air Force has done studies for years, and of course, fatigue is a huge detriment to performance, even sometimes more than drugs.

But what has been found over the years if - some more, of course, remains conscious - for someone to take about a 20, 25-minute nap shows remarkable effect in bringing their performance level back up to par. And of course the problem with this is most people would not be comfortable thinking, you know, they're sitting in the back of an airplane…

CONAN: Yep, most people would include me, Jerry.

JERRY: But the problem is, if you have, you know, if you have two people that are tired, you're in a worst situation than if you have one person who's vigilant while the other person gets refreshed…

CONAN: So your co-pilot takes the wheel while you nod off?

JERRY: Yes. And in fact, modern aircraft years ago, cargo pilots had a dirty secret: they would set an alarm clock like for 45-minute increments just in case they both fell asleep on long flights. And now, most modern aircrafts, if no one touches anything in the cockpit for like a 10 or 15-minute period of time, it starts to sound an alarm. The…

Ms. MEDNICK: And this is also - it brings up a very important point. It's not just, you know, in long haul flights, but anything where you're actually traveling across time zones, you know? And pilots are really suffering from a lot of jetlags from, you know, the - going from Japan to Hawaii, to California, to New York, and just going all over the country, all over the world, and they really, their brain and body really suffers.

And to not allow them to nap because we have a little bit of sort of a misunderstanding of the benefits of napping, I think might - I think that that opinion should begin to shift hopefully. And I really hope that it will…

CONAN: I'm ready to let them nap. I just like them to nap on the ground before they take off.

JERRY: You're entirely correct. And also, as you probably know, from circadian rhythms, we are kind of set on - (unintelligible) more or less a 24-hour clock. And when you have someone who flies a 13, 14-hour duty day, even if it begins at daylight and ends, you know, at midnight or whatever, you are still kind of pushing someone through several periods where fatigue will cause their performance to fluctuate.

CONAN: All right.

JERRY: Thank you.

CONAN: Jerry, thanks very much.

Ms. MEDNICK: Can I just add one more note on that one.

CONAN: Go ahead. But thanks very much for the call, Jerry.

Ms. MEDNICK: If people have comments on that kind of idea, I actually have a website called takeanap.info. And on there, please write to me about any of these comments or questions because I'm always looking for different kinds of research ideas and collaboration. So I'm very interested actually in pilots in particular.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in there. This is Juan(ph). Juan is with us from Chicago.

JUAN (Caller): Hello. Good afternoon. Thank you for the program.

CONAN: Sure.

JUAN: And I wanted to talk because I come from the land that supposedly invented siesta. For many years, we've been regarded as lazy and unproductive, and now (unintelligible) the best thing you can do.

CONAN: It's funny, Juan, you don't sound Irish.

JUAN: Yeah?

CONAN: No, go ahead. I'm just joking.

JUAN: No, that's - I guess, I am marveled that also Americans are finding time to nap, because in this country where everybody has to have a second job or three lives(ph) living together, suddenly to find some time whatever you can do on your office or whatever, I find it amazing and I congratulate them and go ahead, there's nothing wrong. And I'm very happy to hear the doctor saying that they're not quite a contrary.

CONAN: And I'm sure Sara Mednick, you've heard before that you've manage to rediscover the siesta?

JUAN: Yeah.

Ms. MEDNICK: Yeah. And you know, it's interesting because I guess you probably heard about a study that came out in February looking at a Greek population over 24,000 people, and found that actually those who are napping three times or more a week were showing 37 percent decreases in coronary heart disease. And this is a, you know - I think last week, you had a program on exercise and showing the nurse's study about, you know, people who walk three times or more a week showed actually the same amount of decrease in coronary heart disease.

So we're actually talking about very similar preventive strategies for, you know, future benefits of health. And I guess that is, you know, what these -people who've been sleeping in the siesta cultures, taking their siestas daily or at least three times a day, they really do, you know, they do know something that we can be, that we can really learn a lot from.

CONAN: And Juan, have you had a difficulty getting people in Chicago to accept your cultural pastime?

JUAN: Yes. Yes. It's time and is not consider like something that you should do especially of you do it while you work. But, you know, it's so good and it feels so great, and I get so much done after I take like a - I mean, definitely not two hours - but you know, half an hour, 45 minutes.

CONAN: Hey, get what you can get.

JUAN: Yes. And you know, I do it and I work in the high school and I, you know, take my nap in the faculty lounge, we have some couches and La-Z-Boys.

Ms. MEDNICK: So that's great.

JUAN: And (unintelligible)

CONAN: Well, congratulations, Juan. Thanks very much for the call.

JUAN: Thank you. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: And Sara Mednick, thanks so much for your time today.

Ms. MEDNICK: Oh thanks for having me.

CONAN: Sarah Mednick, author of "Take a Nap! Change Your Life." She is a research scientist at the University of California San Diego and joined us today from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.