by Austin A. Deray
Fun Fact 1: Question, can you guess who wrote the following in his memoir?[i]
Nature had not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning until midnight without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.[ii]
Yes, you are correct: it is Sir Winston Churchill. He napped daily during World War II. Why can’t we as graduate students? We need to nap, too! During graduate school, when we are trying to balance the multiple demands of school, work, and personal lives, it can be tempting to think of sleep as an optional activity (instead of an essential biological function), just to squeeze a little more reading, writing, or lab work in. In actuality, consistent, sound sleep can be a key to success in grad school.[iii]
A number of researchers have studied the value of napping and the optimal sleep cycles. While Buckminster Fuller’s “Dymaxion Cylce” is not right for me (where you sleep 30 minutes every 6 hours, sleeping 2 hours a day in total), it might work for you. The “biphasic/siesta cycle” calls for a 4- to 5-hour sleep schedule at night, with a midday 1.5-2-hour nap or siesta. I, personally, think the “everyman cycle” would be best for me, as well as other graduate students who are lucky to have an assistantship on campus. With the everyman cycle, three-hour work/awake sessions are followed by 20-minute naps, with one longer 4-5-hour sleep period following the sixth work session. [iv]
Instead of focusing on naptime, Nick Meyer focused on good practices of napping, or “hacks” as he calls it, in his “Guide to Optimized Napping.” While Meyer mentions five hacks, I suggest focusing on his first and second hacks, as they focus purely on napping and are things graduate students can control. First, if you are going to nap, nap after lunch. Meyer suggests that whether we have lunch or not, a person’s energy level goes down after the lunch period.[v] Second, Meyer suggests finding a dark and quiet place.[vi] If you are lucky enough to have an office, close the door and turn off the lights after lunch for 20-30 minutes. If you don’t have a private office, try to find a dark and relatively quiet place at your work, home, or school. I, personally, have seen students, grads and undergrads alike, nap in SUB 1, the JC, or in an empty lecture hall/auditorium at Mason’s Fairfax campus.
Fun Fact 2: Napping is cheaper and more effective than caffeine fixes. Matt McFarland suggests that “[t]he average American… spends $1,092 a year on coffee.” He goes on to quote Sara C. Mednick, a sleep expert:
While it appears caffeine can keep you awake when sleep deprived, complex cognitive processes do not fare well on this drug. A study compared caffeine with napping and placebo conditions on three memory domains: visual, motor and verbal. On caffeine, verbal and motor skills decreased, whereas napping enhanced performance across all three tasks. Furthermore, a study of caffeine withdrawal showed that the immediate enhancements seen after caffeine abstinence completely disappear with regular use. It appears the perceived benefits of caffeine may be more related to release from withdrawal symptoms rather than actual performance enhancement.[vii]
So by choosing to nap, you will be improving your cognitive functions and improving performance in the short term, as well as enhancing your physical and emotional well-being in the long term.
In sum, nap whenever you can! It’s healthy for your mind and body and healthier for your wallet. I may or may not have researched napping in defense of my own habits, but I fully believe this is a good answer to graduate students’ lack of sleep. I hope the above information encourages you to a) nap, b) have reasons to support that decision, and c) focus on your well-being in graduate and professional school. As always, remember if you need help with well-being-related issues while in graduate school, check out Mason’s office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC). Both offices can help you find ways to sleep better, as well as support well-being and mental health related issues graduate students may face.
Have a great week and remainder of your semester.
This blog post has been edited and updated to reflect current changes in information.
Edited by Sydney Glass, 02/13/2019
Edited by Nikita Thadani, 1/28/2022
[i] Fun Facts in this blog are coming from a Washington Post article on Napping. McFarland, Matt. “Why You Should Be Proud to Sleep on the Job.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Mar. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2014/03/05/why-you-should-be-proud-to-sleep-on-the-job/?utm_term=.593555c2307c
[ii] Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm. Vol 1, “The Second World War,” Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
[iii] Lantsoght, Eva. “Why Depriving Yourself of Sleep Is a Terrible Idea | Inside Higher Ed.”GradHacker, , 23 Apr. 2013, www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/why-depriving-yourself-sleep-terrible-idea
[iv] Kosner, Anthony Wing. “Hack Your Naps For Productivity And Health Via An MIT And Harvard Med School Researcher.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 2 Feb. 2014, www.forbes.com/sites/anthonykosner/2014/02/02/hack-your-naps-for-productivity-and-health-via-mit-and-harvard-med-school-researcher/#164ba4b35b99
[vi] Myer, Nick. “A Guide to Optimized Napping.” Priceonomics, 25 Jan. 2014, priceonomics.com/a-guide-to-optimized-napping/