PHOENIX -- Did you get a complete and restful night's sleep last night? If not, and if right now you're reading this article rather than focusing on work, your time might be better spent on a short nap to boost your focus and productivity.
That's what the National Sleep Foundation says, and it's a message that health education professionals at the University of California at Davis have been spreading to their students over the course of a four-year campaign, encouraging napping to boost academic performance. They shared their strategies here Thursday at the annual meeting of the American College Health Association.
"We're familiar with the benefits of sleep," said Amelia Goodfellow, a student assistant in sleep and stress at the UC Davis health center. "We're not as familiar with the impacts or positive effects of napping, which are very similar." For students, the benefits of increased productivity and concentration will translate to better academic performance, the presenters argued -- even though they acknowledge having no data to back that up.
However, research has repeatedly shown that when supplementing 7-9 hours of sleep, 20-30 minute naps do offer these benefits, particularly when taken between the hours of 10 to 11 a.m. or 2 to 4 p.m., when human sleep rhythms trigger a natural slump with grogginess and lack of focus.
So for Goodfellow and her co-presenter Jason B. Spitzer, a health educator at Davis, encouraging students to take naps and improve their state of mind -- not to mention stay awake and alert during classes -- was more important than proving through research that they correlate with better grades. (They also haven't tracked whether more students have started napping over the years, saying the focus up to this point has been more on perfecting the message. But now they're starting to "think creatively" about how to track campaign outcomes, Spitzer said.)
Gathering data from the National College Health Assessment and a 9-question assessment called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, they discovered that while 33 percent of Davis students didn't nap at all, three-quarters of those who did nap did so for too long -- more than 30 minutes, to the point where they'd wake up groggy and negate the whole point of the nap. (Although males napped more than females -- about 80 percent versus 70 percent -- the gender proportion of students who napped for the appropriate 30 minutes was about even.) That told the educators that a napping campaign would have to address two distinct populations: non-nappers and long nappers.
While each subset would need its own targeted themes -- for non-nappers, focusing on the reasons why they should and the lack of time and effort required to do so; for long nappers, strategies to limit sleep and suggestions for nap locations other than bed -- the key message was the same: take naps, get better grades.
The campaign has evolved over the years, and today involves multiple platforms and strategies. Health educators hand out "nap kits" at the cost of $2.75 apiece; they include earplugs, an eye mask and a tip card with directions to additional resources online. They advertise with fliers and advertisements in the student newspaper featuring napping tips and benefits, and they team with the student government to spread the word on napping during National Sleep Awareness Week. And tapping into social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter gets the educators "a bigger bang for our buck," Goodfellow said.
Napping campaigns are far from common; the only other two the Davis educators know of are at Oregon State and San Diego State Universities, the latter of which pioneered the idea and inspired the Davis "nap map," which records the best places to nap on campus, "rated and evaluated by students, for students" Goodfellow said.
The nap map is a key component to the campaign (it's received more than 16,000 hits online) because students can be resistant to napping on campus, and this resource includes photographs and descriptions of dozens of prime napping spots, both indoors and outdoors.
The best locations have comfortable furniture and low light, and aren't too loud. However, one should not sacrifice safety for the sake of privacy. "You have to kind of weigh both of those criteria," Goodfellow said. "You want someplace that's private where you won't be near too many people, but isn't so private that it's unsafe."
Goodfellow and Spitzer said departments across the campus have bought into the campaign, and some -- particularly offices like the Student Academic Success Center, which is designed to support struggling students -- even distribute materials themselves. The only resistance was anecdotal, Goodfellow said. "We've had a couple interesting encounters with librarians not wanting people to nap." (She jokingly noted that she herself at first resisted the nap map: "I was kind of reluctant to share my own napping spots because I didn't want them publicized too much," she said.)
The Davis campaign is still being revised every year, as student barriers to napping either emerge or don't break down. "Again, we're seeing that students are napping for too long, and we want to improve their napping and their sleep quality," Spitzer said. Hence the next step for Davis: a campaign on good sleeping habits, because napping is only beneficial as a supplement to -- not a substitute for -- a good night's sleep.