Naps. Kids hate them, parents love them, our pets can’t live without them. They aren’t called cat naps (or being dog tired) for nothing. Dogs and cats are the reigning kings and queens of naptime. Dogs sleep 12 to 14 hours a day and cats sleep 12 to 16. Puppies and kittens need 18-20 hours of sleep each day. Frankly, I think our cats and dogs have it right. A nap is just what we need to improve our daily outlook.
Research shows that naps are beneficial for our health. Sleep helps regulate heart rate, meaning a nap of even 20-30 minutes can reduce your risk for heart disease. People who nap regularly have increased awareness, focus, and alertness. While you may feel groggy and inattentive following a four hour nap, a short nap can boost your energy and help you finish your day on a more productive note. That energy boost you get from a nap doesn’t just make you more productive, it actually improves the quality of your work. All the more reason to send a memo to your boss and let them know just how much more you could accomplish if you had an afternoon siesta during your workday.
By and large, adult humans are sleep deprived. We are more likely to push through our exhaustion and delay rest/sleeping in favor of eating or drinking things that will give us a temporary jolt of consciousness, without a lot of thought to the inevitable crash that will come when our lack of sleep catches up with us. Napping is a natural behavior for all mammals with more than 85% of known mammals engaging in daily napping behavior. What’s more, up to 20% of vehicular accidents can be attributed to tired/fatigued drivers, indicating that while we may be one of the biggest brained mammals, we aren’t the smartest when it comes to knowing when to rest and when to avoid operating heavy machinery.
National Napping Day is celebrated on the day after Daylight Savings Time returns, given that we all miss an hour of sleep as we “spring forward.” Other cultures embrace the power of napping, including Spain and Mexico where midday siestas are still a regular occurrence. Ancient Roman physicians would prescribe naps for their patients, believing that a midday snooze led to higher productivity and more creativity. While many of us may view adult nap time as nonsense or a silly luxury for people with free time to waste crashed on the couch, research would seem to indicate otherwise. The long term health benefits afforded to those who give their bodies and minds a brief respite during the day are factual.
So what constitutes an ideal nap? Well, it’s short in length. Think catnap, not a marathon snooze. If you find yourself dreaming while you nap, then your nap has either run too long or you’re actually sleep deprived and making up for that time lost during your nightly sleep. Aim for 20-30 minute naps; those naps of an hour or more will often leave you feeling groggy and disoriented, rather than rejuvenated.
The bottom line is this: dogs and cats have the right idea. Naps are good for you! A brief power nap on a regular basis will leave you feeling better able to cope with the stressors in your day, boost your mood, increase your productivity, and help prevent heart disease. So, add that afternoon nap into your busy schedule. Your brain and body will thank you for it. And extra credit for those who nap with their dogs or cats as snuggling with your pets also reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), leading pet owners to feel more loved, accepted, and happy.