As the Roman poet Ovid once said, “There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.”
With over two thirds of people in the UK now getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, it’s no wonder Brits are following in Ovid’s footsteps and discovering the joy of the quick power nap. But why does napping work for some people and not for others? And what’s the best way to nap to make sure we enjoy all of the benefits and none of the grogginess?
What are the Benefits of Napping?
We all know the delicious feeling of waking up from a perfectly timed nap, but did you know that daytime sleeping has other positive effects on the mind and body too?
Naps boost productivity - According to tests carried out by NASA, pilots who napped for 25 minutes a day were found to enjoy a boost in alertness and motor performance, increasing productivity.
Naps are good for the heart - If you have high blood pressure, you could well benefit from a midday nap. Studies have shown that daytime sleeping, or even just the thought of having a nice nap, lowers blood pressure and reduces damage to the heart and arteries.
Naps attack stress and improve the immune system - If you’re tired, your immune system is weakened and your body produces more of the hormone associated with stressful situations. Research has shown that napping can restore your hormones and immune health to normal levels in just 30 minutes.
Naps are brain-boosting - A 2008 study showed that afternoon naps resulted in improved memory, learning and problem-solving skills, with napping participants seeing better results than those who relied on caffeine instead.
Napping is great for little ones - Children are apparently napping less and less these days, but research has shown that daytime sleeping is crucial for learning at a young age. Napping reinforces memory and learning, helping children retain more information and skills, as well as lowering the risk of anxiety.
Napping reduces risk of disease - As you may already know, sleep is a vital time for the human body when it comes to healing. But, not only can a lack of sleep take away this function, it can actually go as far as to damage cells instead. Studies have shown that ‘recovery sleep’ or napping when tired can go a long way to preventing and reversing this damage.
How to Power Nap
Understanding how best to power nap first requires an understanding of our body’s natural sleep cycles. We sleep in three stages: stage one, which is what we’d call dozing and involves the body starting to relax; stage two, where your brain starts to shut down external stimuli; and stage three, where we enter deep REM-sleep.
We reach stage two after about 20 minutes and stage three after about 30 minutes, so scientists reckon 25 minutes is the golden number when it comes to power napping; it’s long enough to relax and power the brain without being so long that you wake up feeling groggy.
Here are some top tips for achieving the perfect power nap:
Choose your nap environment wisely - Trying to fall asleep in a bright room with music or the TV on is obviously going to be more difficult than in a room that’s set up for sleep. Make sure you’ve got a comfy bed, low or no lighting, and that it’s nice and cool, as this will signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.
Good timing - The perfect nap is all about timing; too soon after breakfast and you won’t be tired, too close to bedtime and you won’t be able to sleep at night. About an hour after lunch seems to be the best time as we naturally start to tire at this time, and it’ll give you an energy boost to get through the rest of the day.
Set an alarm - Napping is no good if you sleep through and wake up feeling rubbish. Remember to set an alarm before you doze off to ensure you’re getting the perfect amount of nap.
Wake up right - To maximise the efficiency of your nap, it’s important to make sure your body knows it’s time to wake up afterwards, rather than staying cosy and sleepy. Get some fresh air, have some water or turn the lights up to make sure you’re properly awake before you get back to your day.
With so many of us suffering from sleep deprivation on a daily basis, power naps do seem to be the best solution to make sure we stay happy and healthy. So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and happy napping!