More people have hectic schedules and stressful lives and more people are sleep deprived. Insufficient sleep is now an epidemic and it is not surprising how more people, both adults and adolescents, rely on naps to make it through the day. Some workplaces have made sleep deprivation a health priority and have implemented nap rooms for their employees.
People who nap during the day perform better throughout the day. A midday nap allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and energized for the rest of the day.
Though napping has numerous health benefits, it is still perceived as a habit for the lazy by our fast-paced society. Despite the stigma, some of the most famous leaders in history were nap-takers, such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci.
The benefits of napping
Sharpens memory and prevents burnout
Napping reverses information overload and prevents burnout. When you nap, information in your brain is reorganized and stored in your hippocampus, the area of the brain linked to memory. When you wake up, your brain has more space to process and retain new information.
When you nap, your body produces serotonin, a hormone manufactured by your brain. With a serotonin boost, you feel content and less anxious. You have that extra positive energy to problem-solve, cope and move on with your day.
Georgetown University researchers found that during a nap, the right hemisphere linked to creativity, visualization and big picture thinking, stays active while the left side is more still. After a nap, take notice on how you have better ideas and original solutions to problems.
Increases alertness and restores muscle function
There is evidence that visual perception and fine motor skills are at optimal levels following a nap. A NASA study found that pilots who took a 40-minute cockpit nap were more alert than non-napping pilots. Napping increased overall pilot performance by 34% and mental alertness by 100%.
Protects your heart
Studies show that napping can reduce the risk of heart disease in both men and women. According to the University of Athens Medical School in Greece, a 30-minute nap at least three times a week reduces the risk by 37%.
Understand your sleep stages
There are five stages of sleep: 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and you repeatedly cycle through all five stages as you sleep or nap. Each cycle lasts 90-100 minutes.
Different sleep stages enhance different types of memory and skill. For example, a 20-30 minute power nap in stage 2 enhances motor skills. In stages 3 and 4, the slow-wave sleep, a 60-minute nap improves memory that requires conscious thinking (e.g. studying for an exam or word lists). A 90-minute nap completes an entire sleep cycle, from stage 1 to REM (Rapid Eye Movement). In REM, complex information goes into permanent storage and memory that doesn’t require conscious thinking (e.g. brushing teeth) is enhanced. REM restores creativity and visual memory. A morning nap will give you more REM sleep while an afternoon nap, more slow-wave sleep. If you are dreaming to ace an exam, plan for the 90-minute nap.
The ideal nap
Sleep expert Sara C. Mednick, Ph.D., author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life proposes the following:
- For REM sleep, nap any time within six hours after you wake up.
- A 20-30 minute power nap is sufficient to restore mental alertness. Napping beyond this can cause sleep inertia – that groggy feeling upon awakening.
- If you are sleep deprived, a 90-minute nap might be necessary. At least sleep beyond slow-wave sleep (stages 3 & 4) to avoid sleep inertia.
- There is usually no benefit to napping longer than 90 minutes, as you will only begin another sleep cycle.
- Naps taken too late in the day can interfere with nocturnal sleep and when taken too early, your body may not be ready for sleep. After lunch, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. is the best time to nap.
Sleep in a quiet and dark place with comfortable room temperature. We are all different when it comes to napping. Find the setting and ritual that work best for you. Some people take one nap during the day; others may take two short naps a day. Some wear eye masks or earplugs; others like the sound of a clock or soft music.