Super Cities №270—Why We Should Nap

Brendan Hart

I’m convinced that, on an average day, most people I know are somewhere between tired and exhausted. At least in the US, it may have to do politics.

Persistent fatigue is somewhat strange. After all, we spend more time trying to sleep — almost a third of our entire lives — than on any other activity. If measured by time, people ought to be well-rested.

A new study explores the value of sleep, especially among people living in cities, and returns some interesting insights. It turns out that what most people know about sleep is only about half right.

Here is my major takeaway:

Increased night sleep had no detectable effects on cognition, productivity, decision-making, or psychological and physical well-being, and led to small decreases in labor supply and thus earnings ... In contrast, offering high-quality naps at the workplace increased productivity, cognition, psychological well-being, and patience

According to this research, people should consider several factors related to sleep:

  • Deep sleepers should sleep as much as possible; the three-sixty benefits of deep sleep are robust and clear.
  • Light sleepers should not force themselves to stay in bed. Why? Because of the economic concept of opportunity cost. By staying in bed, light sleepers are sacrificing something else — work, exercise, etc. — that is more valuable than a few more minutes of underwhelming sleep.
  • Instead, light sleepers would be better off splitting their periods of rest. They should sleep for a few hours at night, and they should try to take a nap during the day.
  • Yes, naps. High-quality naps lead to meaningful increases in productivity (+2%), wellness, and health.

It is easy to dismiss this research. Naps sound great, obviously, but are simply impossible for most working people. Companies do not pay people to snooze.

Yet I suspect our aversion to mid-day recharges is more about what we know – our routines – rather than what is smart.

The modern world is awash in incremental efforts to boost productivity. There’s an entire universe of apps, manuals, self-help gurus, and new technologies that try to make people one percent faster, better, or more productive.

What if the key to better health and wealth is not on our smartphone, though.

What if the best way to boost productivity — individual and collective — is to relearn something every child knows.

Naps are the best, and we should all take more of them.

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