Should You Start ‘Strategic Napping?’ The U.S. Army Says It Could Help Performance

Marine sleeping
Under the dimmed green cabin lighting, U.S. Marines Major Bret Hyla, age 41, sleeps during a military transport flight in southern Afghanistan in 2011. The Army has released a new physical fitness training manual that suggests strategic naps can help performance in soldiers. Brennan Linsley / Associated Press
Marine sleeping
Under the dimmed green cabin lighting, U.S. Marines Major Bret Hyla, age 41, sleeps during a military transport flight in southern Afghanistan in 2011. The Army has released a new physical fitness training manual that suggests strategic naps can help performance in soldiers. Brennan Linsley / Associated Press

Should You Start ‘Strategic Napping?’ The U.S. Army Says It Could Help Performance

Are you tossing and turning at night, feeling tired, cranky, unproductive in the morning? You might need to implement a new holistic health strategy that the military is trying out: strategic napping.

As first reported in The New York Times, the Army has released a new physical fitness training manual — the first update in eight years. And rather surprisingly, it’s moved away from strictly physical concerns — like pushups and long-distance running — to include mental health ones.

The Times reports that new topics the optimal soldier must consider include setting goals, visualization for success, spiritual readiness and “short, infrequent naps to … promote performance.”

WBEZ’s Reset talked to Dr. Lisa Medalie, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, to see if the military’s strategy could work for you. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s your reaction to the Army’s embrace of strategic napping?

I’m actually really quite impressed by the value in the discipline they have with sleep, that they are seeing sleep as important enough to make this something that they have a requirement on or at least they have parameters around.

Sleep is just such an important component of our 24 hour day. My hope is that sleep will kind of be the next thing on the cereal box along with exercise and diet.

Why take a nap?

In some of our recent research, there’s been more of a shift to an understanding and acceptance that everyone needs different amounts of sleep. And so adults might need as little as six hours or as much as nine hours, but most tend to need seven or eight.

As a behavioral medicine specialist, my goal is to get people more sleep. I want people to prioritize sleep. However, I also recognize and see that that’s not always accomplished. And then what? I think that strategic napping is something that can be used in those scenarios where despite their best efforts, people just aren’t able to make time for sleep.

We know that when you’re sleep deprived, there is a negative effect on cognitive function. So response time, processing speed are impacted. Concentration, executive function are impacted. The research does show that [napping] can actually help and support cognitive function in a way that optimizes daytime function and performance.

How often should we be napping and for how long?

Maybe one 20- or 30-minute nap [a day]. We really don’t want to go beyond 30 minutes. You just don’t want to kind of run into some of the sluggishness that can come from going overboard with the nap. You also don’t want to run into an impact on your nighttime sleep.

If you’re taking a 20- to 30-minute nap at a time, that’s usually before 2 p.m. That’s consistent with what the research shows [naps are] effective, that it can promote alertness and performance.

What’s the challenge to strategic naps becoming widely accepted?

The acceptance and execution is going to be the challenge. In the corporate world, they’ll have these little pods available for people to go ahead and take naps. I think it’s wonderful to take those steps, but the execution and the competitors for naps are always the biggest challenge.

So how do you make sure that the public understands that people are talking about strategic napping and people are placing nap pods in facilities — because it is important, because it is a value.

Nereida Moreno is a producer on WBEZ’s Reset. Mary Hall is a digital producer. Follow her @hall_marye.