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A power nap is definitely not a three-hour nap to cut the time between lunch and dinner. Nor is it necessarily an hour long.
By power nap, I mean a short session at noon of 20 to 30 minutes. I know it doesn't seem like much at first glance, but trust me, after reading about the benefits of power naps below, you will become a believer.
Top 7 Benefits of Power Naps
1. Increase productivity and alertness
A short nap of around 30 minutes has been shown to improve alertness, productivity and even reaction times in all types of activities.
Naps are so good for the brain and body, in fact, that even NASA has taken notice. One study followed pilots who were allowed to nap for 25 minutes each day, finding that only this small amount of time resulted in better performance and alertness (1).
Another study found that planned naps in the workplace improved alertness and performance of emergency department doctors and nurses. The researchers followed 49 doctors and nurses who worked three consecutive night shifts in their department, and ordered them to nap for 40 minutes at 3 a.m.
Most of the participants slept for 25 minutes (there is that magic nap number) and then had motor tests done at 7:30 a.m.
The researchers found that the group that napped had fewer performance lapses, less fatigue, less drowsiness, and were able to insert IVs more quickly (2).
It seems like everyone should take a 20-30 minute nap at work, but especially first responders, pilots, and other professionals who have their lives in their hands.
2. Improves memory and learning.
Power naps have also been studied extensively for their ability to improve memory and learning ability.
Researchers have found that, regardless of your age, power naps of as little as 6-10 minutes can increase alertness, promote wakefulness, and improve learning ability.
On the other hand, napping for more than 30 minutes has been associated with an increase in mortality. So take that for what it's worth and set a timer (3).
In the meantime, if creativity is what you're after, napping may be your right brain's best friend. A study conducted at the Georgetown University Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging found that while we are resting, the right hemisphere (which is involved in creative tasks) is actually very busy chatting about itself.
Researchers theorize this could be the reason for the nap's ability to enhance creativity and learning, but so far this is just speculation.
3. Improves heart health
If there was a way to lower your blood pressure and become less dependent on your heart prescriptions, would you do it? Turns out, you could just take daily naps.
Research by cardiologist Dr. Manolis Kallistrato found that noon sleepers experienced a drop in blood pressure and less damage from high blood pressure to their arteries and heart (4).
Interestingly, another study also found that just the expectation of having an afternoon nap lowered blood pressure (5).
4. Prevents cell damage
We often don't take into account the type of damage that occurs when we are sleep deprived. Not only do we lose focus and become agitated, our body is affected down to the cellular level as well.
Researchers have found that lack of sleep actually damages cells, and is particularly harsh on cells in the liver, lungs, and small intestine.
Of course, this type of cell damage causes an increased risk of developing diseases. Fortunately, the researchers found that recovering sleep after sleep deprivation heals the damage (6).
5. Increases testosterone
The following is something of a reverse finding, with researchers finding that lack of sleep results in a marked reduction in testosterone and growth hormone.
On the other hand, testosterone levels are constantly increasing in correlation with the amount of sleep you get. Look at this study, which found that men who slept for four hours had about 60 percent less serum testosterone than men who slept for eight hours (7).
This is also a very important point if you are looking to burn fat and build muscle, as testosterone plays a giant role in both circumstances.
6. Relieves stress and boosts the immune system
In addition to being able to lower blood pressure, as we've learned earlier, naps have also been shown to lower markers of stress and boost the immune system.
According to a study by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, naps can reverse the hormonal impact of a bad night's sleep.
This includes restoring neuroendocrine and immune health biomarkers to normal levels in as little as 30 minutes (8).
One reason this may be happening is due to norepinephrine levels. Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that plays a role in our "fight or flight" response, and is highest in stressful situations.
In the study, norepinephrine increased 2.5 times in participants who had slept little. The participants who had napped, however, showed no change in their norepinephrine levels, even with limited sleep.
7. Elevate your mood
Of course, almost everyone loves a good nap.
But now, science is backing up this feel-good effect of naps, showing that regular naps improve mental and cognitive health. In the elderly, naps can also reduce frustration and confusion, as naps have the power to increase coordination and reaction time in adults (9).
Why the nap is so beneficial
Interestingly, the benefits we see associated with naps may lie in the fact that researchers don't yet know exactly what the optimal sleep pattern is for humans.
Take, for example, the fact that 85 percent of mammals (like us) are actually polyphasic sleepers, which means they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans, of course, divide our days, sleep at night, and stay awake all day.
Considering the beneficial effects that we are now seeing in naps, the question arises as to whether we are really cut out for a mid-afternoon nap.
In any case, it appears that the benefits of naps come from making up for lost sleep, allowing the brain and body a few more moments of precious downtime to regulate hormones and improve cognitive function.
How to take a nap
Ideally, you should aim for a 20 to 30 minute nap (take about 40 minutes total because it will be some time before you fall asleep) between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. If you nap no later than 4 p.m., you could be setting yourself up for an interrupted night's sleep.
How to take a perfect nap
Also, napping for more than 30 minutes can lead to something researchers call "sleep inertia." You've probably felt it before, an extreme groggy sensation that's almost impossible to shake, even with coffee.
Find a cool, quiet, dark place to sleep so you don't waste time trying to fall asleep to noise and light. Set a timer if necessary.
Relax, let go of any guilt you may feel for taking a nap, and enjoy.
The future of naps
Fortunately, modern companies are beginning to see the positive effects that power naps have on their employees, and are adjusting accordingly.
For example, MetroNaps, a company that provides "sleep at work solutions," has been hired by high-profile companies like Google, and even the Savannah College of Art and Design, to install specially designed sleeping pods for employees.
Nap for your health
As you can see, calculating 20-30 minutes for a daily nap can be one of the best things you can do.
Increases productivity, alertness, mood, and overall health, especially if you feel sleep deprived.
Original article (in English)