When you think about taking a daytime nap, what comes to your mind?
For many of us, we picture someone who’s consumed one too many drinks or ate a giant sandwich and is passed out on the couch. Naps are for the unambitious and lazy. Or, for retired people with a lot of time on their hands. The man or woman who falls asleep at their desk at work is scorned and laughed at. We feel guilty when we doze off during the day.
But, the stigma associated with taking a nap in western culture is terribly misplaced. Taking a timeout to snooze during the day does more than just give us a quick energy boost. It also confers some amazing cognitive and health benefits. Naps increase your health and well-being, as well as your productivity and intelligence, especially when you’re not getting enough shuteye at night. Great men have known this for a long time.
Famous people who took daytime naps
Famous leaders and thinkers from Napoleon, to Churchill and JFK were all ardent nappers. Great artists and inventors like Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison were also nappers. History is replete with famous nappers. Even contemporary pop celebrities like the power couple of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are proud nappers. In fact, your cat also seems to know something about the benefits of ‘power naps’ as it alternates sleep and wake cycles throughout a 24 hour period.
While the pace of our modern lifestyles may keep us from enjoying short sleep, the urge for a daytime siesta is still hardwired into our biology. We all feel sleepy sometimes during the day. It’s just that we suppress that feeling. Here are amazing benefits you’ll experience when you break away from the stigma and start taking power naps regularly as part of your routine.
1. You’ll boost your alertness and motor learning skills.
The length of your nap plays a big part in determining the brain-boosting benefits you get. If you break up your day with a 20-minute power nap (sometimes called the stage 2 nap), you’ll be as alert and energetic for the second part of your day as you were for the first. Moreover, your motor learning skills will get a significant boost, including motor learning skills like playing the piano or typing.
This short, 20-minute nap provides the benefits of improved alertness and performance without interfering with your nighttime sleep or leaving you feeling groggy.
So what happens if you nap for more than 20 minutes?
2. You’ll improve your working memory and decision-making skills.
Have you ever woken up suddenly knowing the solution to something that’s been bugging you? Well, you can thank slow-wave sleep or napping for approximately 30 to 60 minutes for that. This slightly longer nap (30 to 60 minutes) improves your working memory and sharpens your decision-making skills like recalling directions and memorizing vocabulary.
Working memory is the part of the brain responsible for working on complex tasks that require you to pay close attention to one thing, while also holding a bunch of other things in your memory. During sleep, recent memories are transferred to the neocortex in the brain where long-term memories are solidified and stored. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap specifically improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.
So, if you’ve got an interview or exam planned for the day, you might want to take a nap right before.
3. You’ll enhance your sensory perception and creativity.
Napping for 60 to 90 minutes helps the brain make new connections, which enhances your creativity and problem solving ability. According to sleep scientist Sara C. Mednick, napping improves your creativity by both loosening up the web of ideas in your head and fusing disparate insights together.
Moreover, this type of napping can improve your sensory perception as effectively as a night of sleep. This means that the sunset looks more beautiful, the flowers smell much lovelier and the steak tastes so much better after a good nap.
4. You’ll improve your mood and outlook.
A quick power nap is a well-documented mood booster. According to Mednick, “napping bathes your brain in serotonin.” Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, sleep and appetites. It produces feelings of well-being and contentment.
When we are sleep deprived and stressed, higher levels of serotonin are used and production of more is hindered. As a result we become irritable, anxious, depressed and easily distracted.
However, when you take a quick nap, you reverse those negative moods and create a more positive outlook. In other words, you combat and overcome sleepiness and associated crankiness.
5. You’ll boost your immune system and prime your sexual function.
When you are napping, your body releases the growth hormone that boosts you immune system, helps muscle repair, aids in weight loss and primes your sexual function.
Basically, a quick nap not only lifts your mood and feeling of well-being, but also actually enhances your good health. Napping regularly may even decrease your risk of heart disease. How cool is that?
6. You’ll have an easy way to relieve tiredness and get rest and rejuvenation.
Our busy modern lifestyles leave us feeling pretty tired and overwhelmed at the end of the day. Napping can be a pleasant luxury that helps us relieve tiredness and get much needed rest and rejuvenation during the day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends we start considering naps as “mini-vacations,” rather than merely “slacking.”
For example, most people are aware that driving while tired and sleepy is extremely dangerous. Although getting a full night’s sleep before a long drive is ideal, taking a short power nap before driving can also minimize the risk of having a drowsy driving crash.
In fact, sleep experts recommend that if you feel tired and drowsy when driving, you should immediately pull over to a rest area, drink a caffeinated beverage and take a20-minute nap. It can provide an easy, natural way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Evidently, naps are incredibly powerful “tools” for self-improvement. As comedian Carrie Snow once said, “No day is so bad that it can’t be fixed with a nap.”