The Science of Napping
21 Jul 2014

The Science of Napping

I love a nap. Even a nap

21 Jul 2014

I love a nap. Even a nap as short as a few minutes always makes me feel rejuvenated. I’ve been listening to my body and taking naps for years, convinced they improve my health and mental alertness. Now the science is starting to back me up…

More effective than caffeine?

Research has shown that a nap could be a better way to wake yourself up than a cup of coffee. Researchers compared the effectiveness of getting more sleep at night to drinking a cup of coffee or taking a nap, and the nap came out on top.

Naps help to refresh your body and mind and will have a longer lasting impact than a caffeinated drink.

Can napping boost your learning capacity and memory?

Research from Berkeley suggests that napping in the afternoon can dramatically boost and restore brain power, making it easier to learn and retain new information.

Sleep clears out short term memory, leaving room for new information and priming us to be a learning sponge.

Napping also has a positive effect on memory. Research at Harvard Medical School found that napping, especially when accompanied by dreaming, was an effective tool for improving memory and learning ability. They even found that the onset of sleep may trigger active memory processes that remain effective even if sleep is limited to only a few minutes.

Is it any wonder then, that companies such as Google and Apple are allowing employees to take naps on the job? If the result is a workforce with an improved learning capacity and an increased efficiency, it’s a no brainer.

Planned naps have been shown to improve alertness and performance in emergency department physicians and nurses, along with first-year medical students. What these and other studies are showing is that naps can restore our attention, the quality of our work, while also helping us reduce our mistakes. It also improves our ability to learn while on the job. What’s more, the effects of napping extend a few hours into the day.

A NASA study from 1995 (pdf) looked at the beneficial effects of napping on 747 pilots. Each participant was allowed to nap for 40 minutes during the day, sleeping on average for 25.8 minutes (which is just about right). Nappers’ demonstrated vigilance performance improvements from 16% in median reaction time to 34% in lapses compared to the No-Rest Group.”

All in all, plenty of reasons to persuade your boss naps at work are a good thing..

Health benefits

Napping can help us manage our blood pressure. Daytime sleep can confer heart-related benefits by accelerating cardiovascular recovery after bouts of psychological stress. Researchers discovered that a 45 minute nap literally lowers blood pressure.

An extensive 2007 study came to a related conclusion. For over six years, a research team tracked 23,681 people in Greece, none of whom suffered from coronary heart disease, stroke, or cancer. People who napped at least three times per week for an average of 30 minutes a day had a 37% lower chance of dying from a heart-related disease.


How to take a perfect nap

1. Watch the time.

10-20 minutes: This power nap is ideal for a boost in alertness and energy, experts say. This length usually limits you to the lighter stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, making it easier to hit the ground running after waking up.

30 minutes: Some studies have shown that sleeping this long may cause sleep inertia, a hangover like groggy feeling that lasts for up to 30 minutes after waking up, before the nap’s restorative benefits become apparent.

60 minutes: This is the best length of time to help the brain remember facts, faces and names. It includes slow wave sleep, the deepest type. You will, however, experience some grogginess upon waking up.

90 minutes: This is a full cycle of sleep, meaning the lighter and deeper stages, including REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, typically likened to the dreaming stage. This leads to improved emotional and procedural memory (i.e. riding a bike, playing the piano) and creativity. A nap of this length typically avoids sleep inertia, making it easier to wake up.

2. Plan your naps

Pick a time of day where you will be undisturbed, able to lay down somewhere quite, and able to relax. Remember to put your phone on silent!

3. Set an alarm.

Don’t sleep until you wake up! Set an alarm, allowing a bit of time for you to drift off.

4. Practice!

It may feel strange at first, and you may struggle to drop off, but persevere. It will be worth it! It’s my secret weapon when it comes to dealing with 18-hour work days. It could be yours too..


A note of caution here. If you’re feeling tired and sluggish in the afternoon following your lunch, it could be because of plummeting blood sugar levels after a poorly planned meal. If you are eating too little, or you are choosing a meal that is high in sugars and other carbohydrates, and low in protein and good fats, then this is the likely cause for your tiredness. Address your nutrition first!

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