Wednesday, April 16, 2008
10 Benefits of Power Napping, and How to Do It
“No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap.”
- Carrie P. Snow
College students and kindergartens love them. Now, there may be proof that catching a few zzz’s in the afternoon can be beneficial to your health.
Researchers have found in recent years that the human body requires only as much sleep as the brain will allow it. In other words, so long as the brain is functioning at full capacity, there’s no great requirement for sleep. The big thing is that the brain needs a rest every now and then, and apparently, the brain can refresh itself and go on “like with a full tank of gas” with just a short, 20-minute power nap.
These short 20-minute power naps for people who are really engrossed in their work, almost always provide a fresh burst of new ideas and energy. They tend to eliminate the need for caffeine boosts during the workday. And, they guarantee a reserve of energy so that the working day isn’t followed by an evening in which he falls asleep on the couch watching TV or at a social event.
Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of sleep and how a power nap can help you:
1. Less stress.
Curling up in a sunny patch on the floor or even lying your head down on your desk for a quick snooze brings relaxation. Research found that stress hormone levels were lower in those who took stress-reducing actions such as napping. Take a break each day from the stresses and reduce your risks, find a quiet, comfortable spot and take a nap. Even a short power nap can leave you feeling refreshed, renewed, and more focused.
2. Increased alertness and productivity.
If you have the opportunity for a power nap, particularly after a poor night of sleep, by all means, take one. You will feel more alert and energetic afterwards, and once rested after your mid-afternoon nap, your mood, efficiency, and alertness level will improve greatly. Scientists have even proven that taking a 20-minute nap approximately eight hours after you have awaken will do more for your stamina than sleeping another 20 minutes in the morning. Of course when you first come out of your afternoon nap, you will feel a bit groggy for around ten minutes, but once your decline in motor dexterity dissipates, you will reap the rewards of being well rested and ready to go for the rest of the day.
3. Improved memory and learning.
Naps aren’t just for the very young, old, and sluggish. Daytime dozing may enhance a person’s capacity to learn certain tasks. That, at least, is the eye-opening implication of a new study in which college students were challenged to detect subtle changes in an image during four different test sessions on the same day.
Participants improved on the task throughout the first session. The students’ speed and accuracy then leveled off during the second session. The scores of the participants who didn’t nap declined throughout the final two sessions. In contrast, volunteers who took a 20-minute power nap after completing the second practice session showed no ensuing performance dips. What’s more, 1-hour power nappers responded progressively faster and more accurately in the third and fourth sessions. It looks like napping may protect brain circuits from overuse until those neurons can consolidate what’s been learned about a procedure.
4. Good for the heart.
Taking 40 winks in the middle of the day may reduce the risk of death from heart disease, particularly in young healthy men, say researchers. They studied 23,681 individuals living in Greece who had no history of coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer when they first volunteered, and found that those who took a 30-minute siesta at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death. The researchers took into account ill health, age, and whether people were physically active. So go ahead and nap — a short daily snooze might ward off a heart attack later in life. It is known that countries where siestas are common tend to have lower levels of heart disease.
5. Increased cognitive functioning.
In a recent study, researchers at NASA showed that a 30-minute power nap increased cognitive faculties by approximately 40 percent! Tests carried out on one thousand volunteers proved that those who continued working without rest, made lower scores in intelligence tests like the IQ test. More importantly, their capacities to work and memorize decreased in comparison to those who napped after lunch.
In concordance with NASA’s work, biology students at Berkeley determined that the nap must be short in order to produce maximum effectiveness. Over forty five minutes, the beneficial effects of napping disappear and it is therefore suggested to take a fifteen to thirty five minute “power nap”. This is the time necessary for the organism to rest and enables brain neurons to recuperate.
6. Get motivated to exercise.
Sufficient sleep and naps help motivate exercise. Some 28 percent of adolescents say they are too tired to exercise, due to sleep. As adults, let’s not let tiredness ruin our jogs. You’re guaranteed to run longer, faster, more efficiently and mindfully when your body has it’s required amount of zzzz’s. So, store-up, shore-up and build-up your energy reserve with a power nap. It’s easy (free!) and proven effective.
7. Boost your creativity.
Rest and relaxation isn’t only vital to your health — it might also make you a more creative person. People tend to be more imaginative after a good night’s sleep. Other experts agree that taking a nap or stepping away from a problem or project refreshes the mind and could lead to better ideas later. Power napping allows your brain to create the loose associations necessary for creative insight and opens the way for a fresh burst of new ideas. So if you feel stuck, then you might want to take a nap. Return to the problem after diverting your attention for a while. The best part is that there’s no need to feel guilty, because taking some “me time,” in this case, could help your business in the long run.
8. Make up for midnight tossing and turning.
Some of the most recent research suggests that a bad night’s sleep can stress the body as well as the mind. One such study, suggests that missing sleep throws the body’s metabolism off kilter. Scientists at the University of Chicago studied physical changes in 11 young men who slept four hours per night for six nights in a row. They found that sleep deprivation seemed to trigger a diabetes-like condition, harmed hormone production, and interfered with the ability to use carbohydrates.
According to some studies, power napping is clearly beneficial to someone who is a normal sleeper but who is getting insufficient sleep at night. Researchers still don’t understand the underlying neurobiology, but it looks like sleep time is cumulative. They compared the alertness of people who slept eight hours a night to that of people who slept less but took a nap during the day. Both groups were equivalent.
9. Protect yourself from sleepiness.
Scientists had also found benefits in the “prophylactic” nap for people who have to stay up late. It can protect you from sleepiness. If you have to be up all night, a two-hour or a four-hour nap does provide additional alertness the next day. Research conducted by NASA produced similar results. Naps are clearly useful for some people, including shift workers, students, and anyone doing long-haul work, such as pilots on transcontinental runs.
10. Better health.
Napping in general benefits heart functioning, hormonal maintenance, and cell repair, says Dr. Sara Mednick who is at the forefront of napping research. A power nap, says Mednick, simply maximizes these benefits by getting the sleeper into and out of rejuvenating sleep as fast as possible.
Everyone, no matter how high-strung, has the capacity to nap. But the conditions need to be right. Here are some helpful hints from Dr. Sara Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.
Getting the perfect nap
The first consideration is psychological: Recognize that you’re not being lazy; napping will make you more productive and more alert after you wake up.
Try to nap in the morning or just after lunch; human circadian rhythms make late afternoons a more likely time to fall into deep (slow-wave) sleep, which will leave you groggy.
Avoid consuming large quantities of caffeine as well as foods that are heavy in fat and sugar, which meddle with a person’s ability to fall asleep.
Instead, in the hour or two before your nap time, eat foods high in calcium and protein, which promote sleep.
Find a clean, quiet place where passersby and phones won’t disturb you.
Try to darken your nap zone, or wear an eyeshade. Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep- inducing hormone.
Remember that body temperature drops when you fall asleep. Raise the room temperature or use a blanket.
Once you are relaxed and in position to fall asleep, set your alarm for the desired duration (see below).
How long is a good nap?
THE NANO-NAP: 10 to 20 seconds. Sleep studies haven’t yet concluded whether there are benefits to these brief intervals, like when you nod off on someone’s shoulder on the train.
THE MICRO-NAP: two to five minutes. Shown to be surprisingly effective at shedding sleepiness.
THE MINI-NAP: five to 20 minutes. Increases alertness, stamina, motor learning, and motor performance.
THE ORIGINAL POWER NAP: 20 minutes. Includes the benefits of the micro and the mini, but additionally improves muscle memory and clears the brain of useless built-up information, which helps with long-term memory (remembering facts, events, and names).
THE LAZY MAN’S NAP: 50 to 90 minutes. Includes slow-wave plus REM sleep; good for improving perceptual processing; also when the system is flooded with human growth hormone, great for repairing bones and muscles.
Contrary to popular opinion, napping isn’t for the lazy or depressed. Famous nappers have included Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison. The moral of the story: to be ultra-productive, just rest your head. You snooze, you gain. Give it a try for yourself and see if you aren’t amazed at the results!