Tactical Napping: What it is, and why you should try it.
By Allison Brager, O2X Sleep Specialist (PhD, Neuroscientist, U.S. Army)
Author of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain
In a perfect world of tactical operations, getting 8 hours of restorative sleep is often an impossibility. Whether you are sleeping adjacent to a flight line or on duty anticipating the next call during sustained operations, napping is the most effective fatigue management tool for preserving individual and unit safety. Napping is shown to yield significant cognitive and physically restorative benefits in healthy populations (reviewed in Milner et al. 2009 J Sleep Research).
Why Tactical Napping is so needed
Tactical Napping Time (TNT) is incredibly important for tactical athletes and shift workers. Take for example SFC Josh D., Green Beret, who says he’s stayed awake up to 48 hours continuously, and only got about 4-5 hours of sleep for months prior to that. Or SFC Anthony F., Army Infantry, who says he’s also spent 48 hours awake, after getting about 6 hours of sleep per night regularly. They, along with other military members, have realized the benefits of napping. “Naps are fantastic. They’re a tool I used when I was competing at the world class level,” SFC Anthony says. Whether they’re grabbing some shut-eye on top of a humvee (true story), or standing up in a .50 cal gun turret in an 1151 HHMVW, naps are no longer just for kids. “TNT (tactical napping time) is a real and necessary thing,” CPT John M., Army Ranger, Army Warrior Fitness Team member agrees.
For athletes, napping is common and shown to not disrupt nighttime sleep (Stephenson et al. 2020 J Am Coll Health). For first responders, napping can help sustain performance and minimize fatigue during shift work (Martin-Gill et al. 2018 Prehosp Emerg Care). In the military, the stigma of workplace napping has been challenged in recent years (Alger et al. 2020 Sleep).
In fact, the inclusion of “TNT” has been added to the new Army-wide FM 7-22 manual that is distributed to all 800,000+ active duty, national guard, and reserve Soldiers.
Here are 3 Keys to getting a quality nap that can sustain performance and not disrupt nighttime sleep quality:
- Keep it under 30 minutes. Naps of 20 minutes, even in sleep-deprived individuals, can help offset accruing “sleep debts” and not significantly shift the daily sleep-wake rhythm.
- Find a dark, quiet place. If you only have 30 minutes, maximizing sleeping conditions will maximize time spent in restorative stages of sleep.
- Consider multiple naps! One nap may not be enough for those doing extreme shift work. Multiple naps, of less than 30 minutes, in a day can again minimize sleep debt
So, what are you waiting for? Now’s the perfect time to add Tactical Napping into your routine to further optimize your performance.