Opinion | In defense of the nap

By Leah Mensch, Senior Staff Columnist

When I moved away from home to start my first year of college, people warned me about three dangers: underage drinking, walking alone at night and napping.

There is a well-known narrative of the college student who falls into an insidious napping pattern, stops attending lecture and then fails all of the semester’s classes. The moral of the story is to be mindful of your sleeping habits. But over time, the narrative of college students napping has stigmatized the nap into an act of laziness, and also thrown napping as a whole under the umbrella of things to avoid.

It makes sense that many perceive resting during the day as an act of laziness. And the Harvard Business Review conducted a study in 2013 and found that people generally perceive a higher level of busyness with a higher status level of a person.

But napping isn’t inherently bad or lazy. It’s only harmful if it’s done carelessly and ineffectively. When done right, taking a nap is not only harmless, but it can increase alertness and productivity. It’s time to stop equating napping with laziness.

A Brown University study conducted in 2010 found that 73% of college students show signs of sleep problems. On college campuses it might seem like the norm, but it’s actually quite unnatural and dangerous. In the short term, sleep deprivation manifests as decreased focus, attention and irritability. In the long term, sleep deprivation can inhibit the immune system, making fighting off illnesses and healing difficult for the body.

The solution to sleep deprivation for some might be simple: sleep more. But for college students, it’s often more complicated. Even if a student plans and sticks to their schedule down to the last event, their bedtimes are still sometimes out of their control. For students like first-year chemistry major Delaney McCarthy, napping is the best way to stay productive.

“Sometimes I have no choice but to stay up late and study,” she said. “Especially if I’m working on a group project or studying with friends. Then I have to wake up for my early labs the next morning. If I didn’t nap sometimes, I would honestly be too tired to keep up with any of my work.”

Perhaps the reason people so often see napping as unproductive is because of the fatigue they feel upon waking. It’s true that napping for periods longer than 40 minutes can prolong sleep inertia, the groggy feeling we often get upon waking. This can interfere with our ability to productively do work and pay attention in lectures. In order to avoid this, sleep expert Michael Breus suggests we set an alarm to keep naps from extending longer than 30 minutes.

“The [30-minute] nap is particularly important for people who are tired during the day and didn’t sleep enough that night, and want to supplement their sleep a little bit,” Breus said in an interview with HuffPost. “If you take it longer than 30 minutes, you end up in deep sleep … you’re sleeping too long and you’re going into a stage of sleep that’s very difficult to get out of.”

Breus also suggests napping before 4 p.m. to avoid spoiling your sleep at night. Most college students have experienced the repercussions of an evening nap, leaving them wide awake at bedtime and at the mercy of overpriced coffee to power through their classes the next morning. Luckily, timing the nap efficiently shouldn’t be too difficult. You’re most likely to fall asleep between noon and 4 p.m. anyway, since the body is at its low point in the circadian cycle, according to a Harvard study.

Sophomore actuarial mathematics major Emily Zukowski is a dedicated student who also loves to nap. She is convinced that she could not be one without the other.

“I used to power through the day because I didn’t want to be the person who naps, but I’ve found that it helps me so much,” she said. “It bothers me how stigmatized it is. People always associate napping with laziness, but it allows me to take a healthy mental break during the day and gives me more energy to accomplish tasks in the evening before I go to bed.”

Since napping is shown to increase alertness and productivity in the form of creative problem solving and enhanced logical reasoning, one of the best things we can do when we are tired is take a 20- or 30-minute nap. In fact, studies suggest that napping could enhance memory processes, making a nap a productive and helpful break from studying. It’s the opposite of lazy or unproductive. In fact, it’s quite responsible.

Napping is one of the most efficient, not to mention easiest, solutions to the epidemic of sleep deprivation amongst college students. It’s completely free and accessible to almost everyone. Whether it’s scrolling through social media or standing in the never-ending line at Einstein’s for a bagel, chances are, every student spends at least 30 minutes a day doing something unproductive. Why not fill that space with something productive, like a nap?