Napping Really Is Good For You

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Dear families,

Dr. Mark Rosekind’s presentation on the science of sleep at last week’s annual Speaker Series event was anything but soporific! As the former head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, in addition to his work at NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board, Dr. Rosekind has conducted extensive research on the effects of sleep and fatigue on the human condition over the last 30 years, and his expertise and command of the material — as well as his great sense of humor — was on full display.

From the start, Dr. Rosekind argued that sleep, like air, food and water, is an intrinsic and essential component of healthy existence, not an optional one that can or should be manipulated. Forget the idea of “sleeping when you are dead”; if you follow that rule, you’ll die much sooner!

Dr. Rosekind explained the neuroscience of sleep cycles, including why the body experiences temporary paralysis during dreaming, and our natural circadian rhythms of greatest sleepiness and wakefulness. He also spoke about the effective way to use naps — either short naps of 20-45 minutes, or longer naps of around two hours — and why society is short-sighted to look down on people who take naps.

From his studies with Army tank crews firing hundreds of rounds a day, to long-haul pilots flying 777s from Hawaii to Tokyo, Dr. Rosekind definitely demonstrated that adequate sleep is closely tied to performance, as well as mood, safety and health. Sacrificing sleep for work may give an immediate benefit, but by day two of reduced sleep that benefit has disappeared, and it gets worse from there.

Dr. Rosekind provided great insight into the sleep needs of children and adolescents, and how they vary across stages of development. While adults need 8 hours of sleep per day, children need 9.25 or even more. Dr. Rosekind had a very direct piece of advice for parents to ensure this happens: “Parents, be the parents, and set bedtimes for your children.”

I was heartened to hear that sleep deficits can be remediated, and found the eight-point list of good sleep habits that Dr. Rosekind recommends succinct and helpful. These include:

Protect sleep time
Keep regular bed/wake times
Use a regular pre-sleep routine (15 minutes)
Avoid work and worry in the bedroom
Use relaxation techniques
Light snack or drink if needed
No alcohol or caffeine
Don’t toss or turn for more than 30 minutes

Dr. Rosekind closed by pointing out that American culture and society have taken an unhealthy view towards sleep. If we are going to guide our children to live healthy lives, we adults need to model good attitudes and habits towards sleep. So the next time you feel drowsy, give yourself permission to take a nap!

Interested in more? Here are a few great books on the subject recommended by Dr. Rosekind.

The Science of Sleep by William Dement

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker


Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School