I have taken two types of naps. One I wake up feeling refreshed, no sense of how long I was asleep and ready to conquer the day. The other I feel like I was run over by a train and more tired than before I went to sleep. As someone who works night shift work, naps and odd sleep schedules are part of my life, but what is the right way to nap and what benefits if any do naps offer? Napping is often associated with leisure, or even laziness, but all research actually shows the opposite may be the case if we can break the stigma that napping is only for children, the sick, and the elderly, then we may all be able to reap the benefits.
Boost Alertness And Productivity
The main advantage for power napping is that it promotes alertness, which increases productivity and even improves reaction time in all activities. A nap as short as six minutes long can also reduce fatigue and even assist in one’s overall ability in learning. NASA has even begun using power naps during their regular work days. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%
Improve Memory and Creativity
The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is associated primarily with memory. It plays a major role in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. It is known that memory content, specifically information that was previously flagged as being of high importance, is itemized and given priority during memory consolidation while one is asleep. It has been proven that one can retain those memory-boosting benefits even with very short sleep. Since the brain is never resting, even during these power naps, the brain’s hippocampus is consolidating all memories.
Reduce Stress/Improve Health
Sleep deprivation, caused by excess amount of cortisol, can cause a number of harmful effects on the body. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, helps us deal with fight or flight responses. But excess cortisol increases glucose intolerance and abdominal fat, weakens the muscular and immune systems, stymies memory and learning, and decreases levels of growth hormone and testosterone in our bodies. These deleterious effects can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
Specifically, staying awake all night can cause hormonal damage that is not corrected until sleep time is regained. Sleep deprivation is dangerous to both your mental and physical health and can dramatically lower your quality of life. However, it is not required to sleep for a whole night to pay one’s sleep debt. Even a short nap can help to alleviate most of the negative short-term side effects of lack of sleep such as irritability, lack of coordination and sleepiness.
When you sleep, you release growth hormone, the antidote to cortisol which which boosts your immune system, primes your sexual function, reduces stress and anxiety, and aids in muscle repair and weight loss. Napping gives your brain a chance to rest and your body a chance to heal. A study done with Greeks found that those that took a 30 minute nap at least three times a week had 37% less risk of dying from a heart-related condition. Among working men their risk of death was reduced 64%
Fight the Effects of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea can be extremely dangerous and is most often a sign of other more serious health conditions, like heart disease and stroke. It often causes serious fatigue and only occurs whenever the individual slips into deep sleep. Power naps solve both of those problems as it restores wakefulness, reduces fatigue and ends before deep sleep occurs. It is recommended that those suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea take power naps often to ease the symptoms.
What is the magic time frame for naps?
The length of your nap and the type of sleep you get help determine the brain-boosting benefits. The 20-minute power nap is good for alertness and motor learning skills like typing and playing the piano. Since the purpose of a power nap is to wake up before the brain enters a deeper sleep, try to limit it or you will wake up even more tired than before.
Research shows longer naps can have some medical benefits, but they also have a negative impact. Naps can leave people with sleep inertia, especially when they last more than 30 minutes. Sleep inertia is defined as the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come with awakening from a deep sleep. While this state usually only lasts for a few minutes to a half-hour, it can be detrimental to those who must perform immediately after waking from a napping period. Post-nap impairment and disorientation is more severe, and can last longer, in people who are sleep deprived or nap for longer periods.
Napping can also have a negative effect on other sleeping periods. A long nap or a nap taken too late in the day may adversely affect the length and quality of nighttime sleep. If you have trouble sleeping at night, a nap will only amplify problems.
Caffeine vs Sleep…. Why choose?
When you're fighting to stay awake, strong coffee or a nap can pep you up long enough to make it through your workday or safely get you through a long drive. A pair of studies suggests that combining the two just might give you a bigger boost than either can provide alone.
In 1997, researchers exposed three groups of people to a driving simulator. One group consumed 200 mg of caffeine before the experiment, while another group consumed the same amount of caffeine before also taking a 15-minute nap. A third group had neither caffeine nor a nap. While the caffeine group experienced 9 percent fewer driving-related incidents than the placebo group, the nap plus caffeine group experienced 34 percent fewer incidents than the placebo group.
To understand why this combination works, it's helpful to understand how both sleep and caffeine affect the body. When you're awake, a chemical called adenosine accumulates in the brain. This chemical not only slows down the nerve cells in your brain but also signals your body to go to sleep. As you sleep, your brain naturally clears the adenosine, allowing you to wake up alert and refreshed.
Caffeine has a similar effect on the brain. It binds to the adenosine receptors, helping to clear away sleep-inducing chemicals. The caffeine also speeds up nerve cell activity, which boosts blood sugar levels and heart rate, so you're primed and ready for action. If you drink coffee right before napping, you'll have time for about 20 minutes of shut-eye, as that's about how long the caffeine takes to bind with receptors in your brain and begin to work its magic.
In a 2006 study, researchers at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center affiliated with St. John's Mercy Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital in suburban St. Louis, MO, looked at the effectiveness of taking naps and consuming caffeine to cope with sleepiness during the night shift. They found that both naps and caffeine improved alertness and performance among night shift workers and that the combination of naps and caffeine had the most beneficial effect.
Are we behind the times?
In China workers often take a break after lunch and put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap. It’s considered a Constitutional right. In Italy, businesses shut down, and public venues like museums and churches lock their doors so their employees can go home for a leisurely lunch and a snooze. In Spain, siesta is deeply ingrained, as businesses often close for hours to accommodate the mid-day rest. While the siesta can span two hours, only a fraction of the time is actually spent napping; first, there’s lunch with family and friends, then a rest. Because of the mid-day break, people often work later into the evening.
According to research from the National Sleep Foundation, nearly half of Americans say that insufficient sleep affects their daily activities. The implications extend beyond health. Lack of sleep costs U.S. companies a staggering $63 billion in lost productivity, according to a September 2011 study from the Journal of Sleep. In the U.S., napping isn’t quite a cultural tradition, at least not yet. However, we are gradually moving closer to that. More and more companies are starting to look at the research and provide places for their employees to nap or rest in an effort to promote a healthier, more productive workplace. Businesses such as Google, Ben & Jerry’s and Uber Headquarters are just a few that have designated pods or rest lounge areas where their employees can rejuvenate.
Here’s hoping this trend continues and health and happiness become a priority in an effort to result in more productive and effective citizens.