What do Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, Morgan Freeman and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte have in common? They are (or were) all habitual nappers!

According to a new study published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory by Saarland University, a mid-afternoon snooze isn’t just for your grandma anymore. It can dramatically boost your memory, increase cognitive function and develop your overall alertness.

A research team led by Alex Mecklinger conducted a controlled experiment with 41 participants, measuring their ability to memorize 90 single words and 120 unrelated word pairs.

After learning the words, half of the participants were given a one hour nap, while the other half were told to watch a DVD. The results showed that the nappers performed considerably better at recalling the words. In fact, they experienced a fivefold memory boost over the non-nappers!

3 Awesome Benefits of the Nap

1. Napping does a system reboot & boosts memory

In the relentlessly driving pace of culture today, it’s easy to wallow in adrenaline, running out of momentum and eventually running out of steam. Crash and burn. A sensible nap, however, brings your body, mind and soul back into alignment, allowing you to once again face the nonsense of the day.

A short, solid nap–confirmed by Saarland University–has a significant effect on our ability to retain and recall information. Putting this all together, a nap is like pushing the reset button, furnishing you with enough new energy and fresh memory to tackle the six billion other tasks on your to-do list. Ctrl+Alt+Del for your body!

2. Napping lowers your blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease

Another study in 2007 found “acute changes in cardiovascular function” after a nap, thus lowering blood pressure–and with it stress, frustration and anxiety. While studying 23,000 Greek adults who regularly “siesta”, this study discovered a 37% lower risk of coronary mortality and heart disease. Nap more; live longer!

3. Napping makes you more productive and alert

That little bit of rest and reset allows your strength to return and your senses to be re-tuned. According to Dr. Sara C. Mednick, sensory perception is heightened and refocused post nap. When coupled with the other benefits of general relaxation, this rise in sensory perception results in much better focus and a broader alertness.

What’s the Real Power Behind a Power Nap?

Unlike 85% of all mammals, humans only tend to sleep once a day. It’s not clear whether this is how we are supposed to sleep, or whether this is a drastic byproduct of modern society. Considering the health benefits of napping, the latter seems more likely.

A nap of up to 60 minutes allows you to enter into slow wave sleep (that’s the deep bit before you start dreaming). It’s during this time that your brain works on removing toxic byproducts while strengthening synaptic connections. This cements new memories and secures recent thought processes.

As you enter this period of sleep your heart rate and breathing slow down and your blood pressure drops. This gentle relaxation allows your heart, liver and digestive system to subtly adapt their routines toward stabilisation and recovery.

As if all this wasn’t enough, your body also produces less adrenaline and cools down a couple of degrees. This helps it to produce and release specific growth hormones that aid in muscle repair and cell restoration.

None too shabby for a bit of sleeping, right?

How to Master the Nap

Now that we understand a bit more of the science behind the nap, how should we get on and do it?

Length

You don’t want to sleep too long or you’ll wake up groggy and potentially do damage to your nighttime patterns. You do want to sleep long enough, however, to allow restorative slow wave sleep to take effect. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 20 to 30 minutes of sleep, and the Saarland University study would suggest no more than 60.

Environment

Make sure that your space is warm, comfortable and free of bright lights and distractions. Light tells your brain that it’s supposed to be awake, so closing your curtains and shutting off that computer screen is a must. For a short nap, a comfortable chair or office sofa is better than getting into bed, with perhaps a light blanket to keep you warm when your temperature drops.

Routine

It’s important not to mess up the rest of your sleep cycle, so keeping your nap consistent and near the middle of your day is probably a good idea. You could do worse than to nap around lunchtime after a bite to eat and a warm drink. The key is consistency; aim for the same time and the same length every day.

Waking up

Waking up on time is a big deal, especially if you want to keep your job! Rather than setting a blaring alarm, consider a waking light clock or phone app that brightens up the space around you gradually. Another option is waking up to the radio, or a soothing sound that gently increases over several minutes. Michael Hyatt likes to fall asleep holding his keys, knowing that when they drop and hit the floor he will wake up.

Don’t Underestimate the Nap

This little afternoon habit could greatly increase your productivity and even add years to your life. So nap more and live better.

Featured photo credit: Meagan Jean via flickr.com

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