How to Tap into the Power of Napping for Better Health

How to Tap into the Power of Napping for Better Health

Recharge with a midday nap to reap the rewards of better health and a sharper brain.

Many cultures around the world have historically promoted napping, including Spain, Italy, Greece, and several Latin American countries. But, modern Western culture tends to promote the opposite, viewing napping as a lazy activity or something reserved for kids and elderly individuals.

The attitude toward sleep doesn’t stop at naps, either. Quite a few Americans miss out on rest regularly, and many others are chronically sleep deprived. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control actually estimate that one-third of American adults average less than six hours of sleep, while U.S. students are the most sleep-deprived of over 50 nations.

Sleep disorders like insomnia are to blame in some cases, but for others it’s a matter of prioritizing work and play over catching shuteye. Plenty of successful people talk about sleeping only a few hours to get ahead, and in many industries such dedication is seen as admirable. Add in smartphones and Netflix, and who has time for sleep?

As we continue learning about the importance of sleep for overall health, attitudes may be slowly changing, however. More than just rest, sleep is a time of renewal and healing for the body, and a lack of it can have some pretty startling side effects.

If your schedule doesn’t allow you to get a complete night’s rest or even if it does, one powerful way to harness the power of sleep is napping. When done right, napping can offer important health benefits for all ages, complementing a healthy sleep routine.

A brief snooze not only helps you catch up on sleep, but also works to reduce stress and fatigue while recharging your brain power.

See how taking a little time out of your day to recharge can improve your health and learn how to tap into the power of naps with expert sleep tips.

Why Nap?

If you think that naps are just for cranky toddlers, think again. People young and old can all benefit physically and mentally from napping.

Reduce Stress

Ever notice how a brief respite can make you feel more calm and less tense? Stress increases risk of heart disease and stroke, impairs immunity, affects digestion, affects moods and much more, so dropping your stress levels has many benefits. Naps or even a short meditation period can induce both physical and mental relaxation, reducing stress.

  • A long-term study on mortality and napping found that habitual siesta takers exhibited 37% less coronary mortality compared to non-nappers, due to reduced cardiovascular stress.
  • Daytime naps of 45 minutes or longer were linked with lower blood pressure and reduced psychological stress in a 2011 study.

Improve Creativity

Taking a break from the grind, even if it’s just to shut your eyes and relax, can help you bring new insight to a problem or refresh your perspective. If you work in a field that depends on problem solving, innovation or other forms of creativity, a short nap could make a big difference in your day.

  • One 2012 neurological study found that the brain’s right hemisphere (associated with creative tasks) showed increased activity during naps.
  • Ever had a dream where you solved a tough problem you were working on while awake? Dreams are a source of creative inspiration for many people, and a 2014 study found that people were significantly more likely to remember dreams after awaking from daytime naps compared with typical nighttime recall rates.

Increase Alertness & Performance

One of the more straightforward benefits of a siesta is the energy boost. To avoid lingering drowsiness and maximize alertness upon waking, a nap of 10 to 20 minutes is considered best. Since you are not sleeping long enough to hit deeper stages of sleep, you should awake easily and feel refreshed.

  • Australian researchers found 10 minute naps to be most effective at reducing fatigue and boosting performance, followed by 20 minutes. On the other hand, 5 minute naps showed little effect and 30 minute naps actually made people sleepier for a little while after waking (but still improved energy overall for a couple hours after).
  • Naps produce more consistent and longer lasting effects on alertness and performance than caffeine, according to both a 1995 study from the journal SLEEP and a 2008 study published in Behavioral Brain Research.
  • Other studies have found naps improve reaction times and vigilance, two traits important for many jobs and for activities like driving safely.
  • Studies of airline pilots and health professionals have also shown reduced drowsiness and better job performance with naps.
Young kids learning and coloring
Photo by Bigstockphoto

Boost Memory and Learning

It is believed that the brain consolidates and processes some memory and learning tasks while sleeping, so getting a short nap can help you process things you’ve learned in the morning and make you more receptive to new information in the afternoon.

  • A 60 minute nap dramatically boosts memory and the brain’s capacity to learn while sleep deprivation impairs these functions, according to a University of California, Berkeley study.
  • Working on something tough and getting flustered? When exposed to difficult tasks in one study, people who napped were less prone to frustration and impulsivity and stuck with the tasks for longer than non-nappers.

Get More Overall Sleep

If you don’t always get a full 7-8 hours in at night, a midday nap can help you catch up a little and prevent fatigue and sleepiness.

  • A large survey of Americans’ sleeping habits found that the average person had a sleep debt of about 26 minutes during work days. One short nap takes care of a significant portion (or all) of that, and could make a big overall difference.
  • A French study found that a 30 minute nap was able to reverse the hormonal effects of a poor night’s sleep in a small sample of men. If you stayed up late, making time for a nap may be a good way to avoid accumulating sleep debt and its cumulative side effects.

Napping 101

When done right, napping offers many benefits, but there is a science to getting a good nap, from time of day, to length, and other factors.

We’ve put together the latest expert tips to help you optimize napping benefits and avoid drawbacks like sleep inertia or missing sleep later in the night. Note that for those who have insomnia, daytime naps are usually not recommended until sleep patterns normalize.

Keep Naps Short

Most experts suggest naps between 10 and 30 minutes. Any longer than 30 minutes, and you risk being groggy as your body will have entered deeper sleep cycles.

Naps of 60 to 90 minutes can be good occasionally if you are overtired and need to catch up on missed sleep or if you have something important to cram for, but for daily power naps shorter is better. Some studies have also linked longer naps with health issues (but it’s not known if long naps are to blame, or if those with health issues were simply more likely to take long naps).

If you don’t feel any benefit from a short nap, extend it 5-10 minutes at a time until you find what works for you. Conversely, if you’re feeling too groggy after your nap or too wired at night, make your naps shorter.

An alarm clock in bed
Photo by Bigstockphoto

Follow Your Natural Sleep Clock

Alertness naturally dips in the afternoon, and many people know the feeling of the post-lunch lag. For most of us, this happens around 2PM (give or take an hour).

Try to pay attention to when your body naturally feels drowsy in the afternoon, and plan your nap shortly before that time if possible. Timing should be at least 8 hours before your regular bedtime.

This helpful “Nap Wheel” from Dr. Sara Mednick can also help you determine your ideal siesta time. According to her metrics, someone who wakes at 7AM should nap around 2PM, while someone who wakes around 10AM should nap around 3:30PM to get the greatest benefit.

Find a Comfortable Place

Choose a nap spot where you can relax undisturbed and feel comfortable. While not all offices have the perks of a nap room like Amerisleep, you can retreat to your car, take a break in your cubicle or find another sleep spot that’s ideally cool, quiet, and dark.

Several big companies even have private “nap pods” and a few major metros also have trendy “nap centers” like New York City’s MetroNaps and YeloSpa that you can retreat to for a midday snooze. Another helpful tool is Google Naps, a crowdsourced effort to highlight nap-friendly spaces.

Keep sleep-friendly accessories in your bag or at your desk: Sunglasses or an eye mask can help keep the light out, while earplugs or headphones can help dim noise and a loose sweater can help you feel comfortable.

Create Consistent Nap Routine

Your internal sleep clock functions best when it has a consistent and predictable program to follow. We know that keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule is associated with less sleep problems and healthier body weight.

Try to nap around the same time every day, and for about the same length. Keep up the same schedule on the weekend as well when possible.

Benefits of rest and short naps are becoming clearer all the time, and many top companies like Google and the Huffington Post have even began incorporating nap rooms or encouraging rest in order to boost employee performance and health.

Take the Nap Challenge

Benefits of rest and short naps are becoming clearer all the time, and many top companies like Google and the Huffington Post have even began incorporating nap rooms or encouraging rest in order to boost employee performance and health.

Try setting aside 10 to 15 minutes in your day for at least two weeks and see what the power napping can do for you! It might take a little while to get into the routine and to get used to napping if it’s been awhile, so don’t get frustrated if you’re not dozing off right away.

Keeping a sleep journal is also a good idea. Jot down when you nap, where, for how long, and how you feel after. After a couple weeks, you should have a little insight into where, when and how long your ideal nap should be.

There are few other activities you can fit into 10 minutes proven to offer an effective and healthy way to improve your mental performance, reduce stress, and feel more alert.

Do you have any secrets for napping better? How do naps tend to affect you, or what is the biggest benefit you see?

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