Guest Column: In defense of naps

Erin Lengas

Sleep is a college student’s best friend. However, as often as we neglect it, it abandons us. Between classes, schoolwork, intramural sports, socializing and procrastinating that ends in an all-night cram session, college students seriously lack the sleep they need.

The U.S. is becoming significantly more sleep-deprived as a nation, according to Psychology Today. It’s probably safe to say that college students only add to this problem.

But like the convergent thinkers we were taught to be, give us a problem and we’ll find a solution. The solution for our sleep deprivation takes us back to the 1990s and the floors of our kindergarten classrooms. I’m talking about the classic midday nap.

Everyone has probably heard from some source or another that naps are good for you. Or they just assume a quick snooze is beneficial because they feel better afterward. But is this really true?

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, naps can increase relaxation and alertness, improve mood and cognitive performance and reduce fatigue. That’s quite the list of accolades for 10 to 30 minutes of shut-eye.

Sleeping does more than just rest our bodies and minds; it also clears out a region of the brain called the hippocampus, making room for the formation of new memories. The hippocampus is responsible for temporarily storing fact-based memories before other regions of the brain can process the information, according to Psychology Today.

Getting enough sleep can also positively affect the immune system and metabolic rates that help keep you healthy.

Experts agree, though, that while napping has its benefits, it can’t make up for a sleep deficit. One doctor, JoAnn Manson of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, never recommends naps for healthy young adults.

Manson told Glamour Magazine most studies which suggest benefits of naps are performed on sleep-deprived subjects like astronauts. Instead, Manson encourages healthy, young subjects to refresh by taking a walk or simply getting more sleep each night.

When I read this article, I was actually upset: Here’s a professional doctor telling me that naps are not the answer. That’s like telling young children not to ask “why.” Naps are just a part of my lifestyle.

I represent the tiny fraction of college students who go to bed before midnight and wake up before 9 a.m. But still, every day I crave a nap. Most mornings, the only thing that gets me out of bed is telling myself I can get back in later.

College students nap for many different reasons. I’m going to go ahead and assume most of us don’t lay our heads down thinking, “I better sleep so my hippocampus can empty.”

No, we nap because we were up all hours of the morning the night before studying. (Or most likely doing anything but studying.) We also nap to procrastinate on school work. Convincing yourself that you’re doing something beneficial for your learning while simultaneously not studying is like the golden ticket. Finally, we nap as a form of luxury and self-indulgence. Better yet, it’s free — if you don’t count the time you spend doing it.

Do what works best for you. Maybe naps make you drowsy; try cutting it down to less than half an hour, before you get into the deep, rapid eye movement cycle. Or maybe exercising and caffeine does the trick.

To be honest, it doesn’t matter how many doctors tell me taking a 20-minute walk would have more rejuvenating benefits than 20 minutes of sleep. We work hard, and we deserve to nap.

Minnesota Daily, U. Minnesota via UWIRE.