It’s been said that everything we ever really need to know we learned in Kindergarten. Think about it. We learned: how to count, write our name, how to share and how to whisper.
One aspect of Kindergarten that most adults have given up on is “Nap Time.”
Sadly, napping is often frowned upon in our workaholic culture. Naps have gained the reputation for being for the lazy and unambitious. The person falling asleep at his or her desk at work is ridiculed. And when we doze off, we feel guilty.
3 Benefits of Napping
The nap has earned a bad rap–and unfairly so. Research has proven that there are some benefits of napping. Taking a short snooze can actually be a powerful tool for self-improvement. Naps can also increase our health overall well-being, our intelligence and productivity. Below are some direct benefits of napping:
1. Increases alertness
A NASA study found that a 40 minute nap increases alertness by 100%. Other studies have found that a 20 minute nap is more effective than both 200 mgs of caffeine (a cup of coffee) and a bout of exercise.
Studies have shown that one of the primary benefits of napping is it’s restorative powers. In fact, if you break up your day with a nap, you will be refreshed and as alert and energetic for the second part of your day as you were for the first.
2. Improves memory and cognitive processing
One of the benefits of napping is that it improves your working memory and cognitive processing ability. So you remember more and think better. Working memory is involved when working on complex tasks where you have to process information and perform a myriad of tasks while still retaining a bunch of other information in your memory.
Researchers from Saarland University in Germany found that a short daytime nap significantly boosts brain function and that sleeping for about 45-60 minutes could improve learning and memory by fivefold.
3. Boosts creativity
A 2013 study conducted by scientists from Georgetown University’s Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging focused their research on examining the brain activity of participants who were napping. They found that the left brain—known for logic and analyzing (the “editing” side of the brain)—rested quietly. The right side of the brain, however—the side in charge of creativity and big-picture thinking (the “drafting” side of the brain)—chattered away to itself and the other side of the brain the whole time.
This showed researchers that the brain is able to engage in the creative process more efficiently and uninterrupted during sleep. And while you most likely won’t dream up the next big technological advancement during your 20 minute nap, researchers were able to determine that naps do assist in developing creative solutions for existing problems you’ve been grappling with. When you are awake your brain actively works on the problem–while performing many other functions–when you fall asleep, the creative center in your brain continues quietly mulling over the problem.
3 Ways to maximize the benefits of napping
Now that we understand the benefits associated with the mid-day snooze, here’s how we can make the most out of a quick session of shut eye.
1. Try to schedule time for naps
Researchers suggest keeping a regularly scheduled time for daily naps. The best time for a quick snooze falls in the middle of the day–between the hours of 1 PM and 3 PM. One study explains:
“Because of the natural cycles of our circadian rhythms, we are at our most tired twice during a 24-hour period. One peak of sleepiness is usually in the middle of the night, so the other, 12 hours later, falls smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon.”
2. Keep naps between 15 and 45 minutes
Napping for too long can cause sleep inertia–which is that groggy disoriented feeling you have when you wake up and sometimes you may feel even more tired than you did before your nap.
The optimal time for a nap is 90-110 minutes as it allows your brain and body to experience the optimal balance of all 5 stages of sleep, or a full sleep cycle.
The problem with this is most of us do not have a 90 minute period between the hours of 1 P M and 3 PM to get in a full sized nap. So experts say the next best thing is to take a quick nap 10-20 minutes so that we remain in stages one and two of the sleep cycle. This allows our brains to rest and recover but keeps us from moving into the deeper levels of sleep and waking groggy and tired.
3. Take a caffeine nap
Sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D is a genius. He introduced the concept of the “napalatte” in an interview with the Huffington Post. How it works is first you quickly down a cup of coffee and then immediately take a 20 minute nap. The caffeine will kick in right after you wake up and you will be refreshed, energized and mentally sharp. It is the perfect pairing.
After this dynamic duo, “you’re good for four hours, guaranteed,” says Breus.
Even if you don’t fall completely asleep and don’t make it past stage 1 of the sleep cycle, just a five or 10-minute power nap can still be beneficial especially if you’re feeling sleep-deprived. A 2002 study found that snoozing for just 10 minutes can result in greater feelings of alertness after a night of restricted sleep.