Do you find that by the afternoon you are getting weary and losing focus? You may even find yourself starting to nod off. Chances are you need a good afternoon nap.
Napping has been shown to aid in hormonal maintenance, cell repair and even promote better heart function. Napping can also help you live longer, look younger and keep more fit and active. By taking a nap you recharge your brain which leads to greater alertness, improved memory retention and creative insight.
Professor Jim Home from Loughborough University says that human beings are actually designed to have two sleeps a day; one in the early afternoon and a long one at night.
An article in The New York Times notes that napping is a common occurrence in many countries around the world:
The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.
“Emerging scientific evidence suggests that naps — even very short ones — significantly enhance cognitive function,” Jonathan Friedman, M.D., director of the Texas Brain and Spine Institute, in Bryan says. “Increasing understanding of how sleep improves brain function may someday allow us to harness this effect, and the current study may open one of many doors in this regard.”
Napping enhances brain power
Napping helps to clear out the brain’s temporary storage space so that the brain is ready to receive and retain new information, according to researchers in the US. This research was led by Dr Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California.
The researchers propose that a nap that lasts around an hour can refresh the mind and restore brain power and may even make you smarter.
39 healthy young adults participated in the study. The participants were divided into two groups: a nap group and a no-nap group. Both groups were given a task that required them to retain a lot of information and facts. This task was taken at midday. At 2 pm the nap group participants went to sleep for about 1.5 hours. The no-nap participants remained awake. A new lot of learning activities were undertaken by both groups at 6 pm.
The group that took an afternoon nap achieved better results in the 6pm exercise then the group who were forced to stay awake the entire day. Once more the nap group performed even better in the 6pm exercise then they had in the 12 pm task.
Thus, it was proposed by Walker that the process of napping cleared the brain’s short term memory storage so that the nap taking participants could retain more new information.
Studies have shown that the hippocampus temporarily stores fact-based memories. The hippocampus then transfers these memories to the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Walker says the hippocampus functions much like an email inbox, when it gets full you need to sleep in order to clear it out. If you don’t sleep the email box will be full up and won’t be able to receive any more emails or information.
Napping and creativity
Recent research, presented at an annual meeting of neuroscientists, showed that during rest the right side of the brain was stimulated while the left hemisphere remained relatively quiet. To achieve this findings researchers monitored the brain activity of 15 at-rest individuals. The right side of the brain is the area of the brain associated with creativity.
The studies’ author Andrei Medvedev, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging says: “The right side of the brain was better integrated”.
It is generally thought that the right hemisphere is associated with creative tasks, such as visualization and thinking about the broader picture. The left side is believed to be more analytic and focused on numbers and language.
Medvedev proposes that the right brain is “cleaning up” and consolidating memories when one takes a nap.
We have seen how napping positively effects the brain in various ways. Not only does it boost brain power but it also stimulates the right side of the brain which is thought to “clean up” our brains and consolidate memories. So next time you find yourself loosing focus or becoming less productive as the day progresses it may be worth your while to take a short nap.