Forget feeling sluggish and wasting time cyber-loafing today. Instead, celebrate National Napping Month, an unofficial holiday -- really, a gift -- that acknowledges that, yes, we all feel a little sleepy from time to time, and that's okay.
Of course, sleep in general has a wide range of health benefits, from protection against heart disease and obesity to stronger bones and memory. But napping has some particular perks all its own. Below are six healthy reasons to indulge in a siesta today. It doesn't have to be long -- even just 20 minutes of daytime shut-eye can make a world of difference.
Napping Boosts Alertness
Once you blink away those first few seconds of grogginess after a nap, you're likely to benefit from a boost of alertness. A NASA study found higher measures of alertness in pilots after a 40-minute snooze, compared to pilots who got no rest. Even just 20 minutes has been shown to perk up shift workers, according to Harvard Men's Health Watch. One very small study found that even after just a 10-minute nap, study participants reported at least feeling more alert.
Napping Improves Learning And Memory
It's the deeper rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that's been linked with the cognitive process, so it's no surprise that it takes a longer nap to reap real brain benefits. But if you can squeeze in an hour, or even 90 minutes, you may find your mental fatigue has vanished upon waking. A longer nap is likely to leave you slightly more groggy, but can have a longer benefit to brain power after the fact, according to a 2010 Australian study. In fact, fMRI scans have shown that brain activity remains higher in nappers all day compared to people who don't take a rest, according to a 2008 study.
Napping Increases Creativity
Ever woken up suddenly knowing the solution to what's bugging you? A team of researchers set about monitoring the brain to attempt to figure out why the lightbulb turns on after napping. They discovered a burst of activity in the right hemisphere, the side most strongly linked to creativity, Health.com reported. An earlier study found that longer naps that allowed sleepers to enter REM led to better performance on a series of creative word problems, National Geographic reported.
Napping Boosts Productivity
Experts agree that an afternoon nap is in fact the opposite of laziness in the workplace: That siesta can actually improve work output. A short power nap can be just the right pick-me-up for sleep deprived, worn-out employees, sleep researcher Sara Mednick told Businessweek, maybe even more so than an afternoon cup of coffee, Prevention reported.
Napping Lifts Your Spirits
Think back to the last time you were around a toddler who hadn't napped. It's not a pretty picture, is it? Sleepiness and the associated crankiness doesn't feel good, even as adults (we've just learned not to throw tantrums about it ... for the most part). A quick nap is a well-documented mood booster, not that you needed any scientific research to tell you so.
Napping Zaps Stress
Part of the reason a nap can get you smiling might be related to relaxation. The sheer luxury of escaping for a nap can be a great stress-reliever, even if you don't sleep for long (and as long as you don't let the stigma against napping get to you). The National Sleep Foundation recommends considering it "a mini-vacation." And don't stress if you can't actually doze off in your allotted 10 minutes: A 2007 study found that asleep or not, a short period spent resting in bed is just as relaxing.
Convinced? Here are some expert tips for how to take a nap at work from Dr. Lawrence Epstein and James Maas, Ph.D.: