The Latest in Nap Research

I’m well-known in a tiny (now broader) circle as a good napper. As few as five minutes of shut-eye and I’m refreshed and recharged. When the need arises I can nap briefly just about anywhere. I’ve napped at rock concerts and on all manner of surfaces and in contorted positions. But I’ve wondered, does nap location/position matter? A new paper in Biological Psychology, summarized at BPS Research Digest, suggests it does.

Even naps as short as ten minutes have been shown to provide psychological benefits in terms of reduced fatigue and improved concentration (pdf). But would-be nappers face some strategic decisions, most obviously – does it matter whether I nap in my chair or ought I try to find somewhere to lie down? And then … if remaining seated, is it okay to lean forwards and rest my head on a desk?

When it comes to napping while leaning back in a chair or car seat, past research has shown that the further you can lean back, the better, at least in terms of subjective fatigue and reaction times. Now Dayong Zhao and colleagues have addressed the leaning forward issue, comparing lying-down napping and leaning-forward napping, and they’ve found that the former is the most effective, but that the leaning-forward variety still has clear benefits compared with no nap at all.

Nowadays most of my napping–which isn’t much–occurs on my train ride home from work. The most important consideration for me is neck alignment. Leaning my head back may find a stable surface for it, but it can irritate my neck. Best results seem to occur with folded arms and head slightly slumped forward. But the new research suggests I’m giving something up with a forward-tilt.

One thing to note is the studies referenced are all very small. Why can’t researchers get more people to participate in napping studies?

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