Written by Isabelle on December 8, 2020

The US Army's strategic napping strategy

After more than a century with an image problem, napping is getting a rebrand, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Not only have naps been historically associated with weakness, but they’ve also been viewed as indulgent or lazy — only for those who had the extra time to devote to sleep. So when the Army released the latest version of their Holistic Health and Fitness manual, the inclusion of the term “strategic and aggressive napping” stood out.

For ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher, this messaging represents a significant cultural shift, “when you see a big organisation that is very mission-focused, and in many ways quite traditional and hierarchical – when you actually get them looking at the science, they can recognise that the data doesn’t lie when it comes to naps,” he says.

A section of the updated manual that addresses improving and sustaining readiness says the following about naps:

When regular nighttime sleep is not possible due to mission requirements, Soldiers can use short, infrequent naps to restore wakefulness and promote performance. When routinely available sleep time is difficult to predict, Soldiers might take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available.

“Essentially, if it fits in, do it. If you stay safe by napping, do it. If you’re sleep is getting messed up because of operating environments and you can use a nap beforehand, after, or safely in the middle of, that’s all good,” Adam explains.

Napping is also recommended to promote alertness:

Although the circadian rhythm of alertness generally promotes a 24-hour cycle of daytime wakefulness and nighttime sleep, there is also a temporary afternoon “dip” in alertness. This dip becomes especially noticeable in individuals who have a significant sleep debt (for example, not regularly obtaining adequate sleep). For those able to take advantage of it, the afternoon dip provides an opportunity for obtaining good quality daytime sleep to help pay down any existing sleep debt. Soldiers can generally take these naps without significantly disrupting the circadian rhythm of alertness — provided that the naps are not so long or so frequent that they begin to impair the ability to initiate sleep at night.

“I think in practical terms, people in the military and other similar operating environments (i.e., on-call and emergency workers) have known for a very long time that naps can be awesome! They can be a total gamechanger, and I think that people at the front-line people are very aware of the value, the power, and the minute-for-minute bang for your buck when it comes to naps,” Adam says.

From a messaging point of view that is a cultural shift, because a lot of the culture historically has been very macho. “I don’t need to sleep; I’m just going to power through and get it done”. This is essentially saying – you can be more effective, more powerful and more safe by using napping as a tool.  

You can read more about the napping rebrand here.

Blog post written by Isabelle

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