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Published on March 26, 2021

9 Benefits of Napping (Backed by Science)

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9 Benefits of Napping (Backed by Science)

Continuous scientific breakthroughs over the past 20 years are enhancing our understanding of the mental and physiological processes affected by sleep hygiene and habits. To that end, the current data clearly demonstrates several benefits of napping—a practice that, as recently as 2009, even the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommended we avoid.[1]

Though it’s important to note that there can be risks for people who try to use napping as a substitute for adequate nightly slumber, the facts remain: short naps (ideally 20 minutes, and no longer than 30 minutes), taken with intention at least 7-8 hours before bedtime, can deliver a range of benefits. These include improved brain function, stress relief, and a multitude of other valuable perks.

In addition to the minimal scientific proof of these benefits (until relatively recently), napping has also been frowned upon by most of our society for countless generations. High achievers in particular often neglect to take breaks of any kind. They dismiss the benefits of napping in favor of “powering through,” aligning with the myth that this will result in bigger success and productivity gains. The idea that slowing down could actually result in a more effective work performance has long been defined by employers. It also clashes with the majority of beliefs so intricately woven into the fabric of our “hustle” culture.

Wearing our busyness as a badge of honor, Americans are among the last to embrace what many other cultures—including those of most Hispanic American countries, as well as Greece, the Philippines, and Nigeria—have practiced for centuries: the siesta, or afternoon nap.

Finally, science is catching up to what these societies have known all along. We’re learning that our brains and bodies really do thrive when we take pause and that napping restores and refreshes in ways no other method can.

Backed by science, these nine benefits of napping should help you release the outdated ideology that paints napping in such a negative light.

1. Beat the Afternoon Slump

Our brains naturally produce a mild spike in melatonin levels in the early-mid afternoon which is an oft-overlooked cause of daytime sleepiness. However, when we are aware of the cyclic nature of our sleep-wake patterns, it’s not surprising that evidence supports early afternoon as the ideal time for reaping the most benefits from napping.[2]

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Instead of slogging along at a snail’s pace, only able to give a fraction of your effort and energy, an afternoon power nap can help you to realign with your body’s natural rhythm. This short investment of time will pay off in spades when you return to your day feeling revitalized and back “in the flow.”

2. Pump up Your Problem-Solving Skills

Harvard sleep researcher Robert Stickgold says napping makes people more effective problem solvers.[3] His research group has shown that taking a nap seems to help people separate important information from extraneous details.

In other words, napping boosts analytical skills and executive functioning, promotes innovative and creative thinking, allows us to be more adaptable and flexible in our thought processes, enhances initiative, and supports resilience.

3. Enhance Brain Function

It’s common practice to rely on coffee to feel alert and focused, especially when we feel sleepy during the day. In fact, caffeine is used by approximately 90% of North Americans every day.

Believe it or not, naps are actually more beneficial and effective than that pot of medium roast, your mocha latte, or even a triple espresso. In contrast to caffeine, napping has been shown to enhance not only alertness and attention but also some forms of memory consolidation. In some cases, caffeine even impaired performance, whereas napping was shown to improve it.[4]

4. Boost Productivity

Tired brains are easily distracted, which leads to a lot of effort expended for little result. A study from the New York Times demonstrates that distraction lowers productivity by a whopping twenty percent![5] If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to stay on task after a night of poor sleep, you have experienced this firsthand.

Research shows that napping can actually counteract the decreased alertness and performance caused by nighttime sleep deprivation.[6]

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Note: It is important to remember that although napping can improve focus and alertness after a bad night’s sleep, relying on this consistently is not advised. If difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep persist, there may be an underlying sleep disorder that needs to be addressed.

5. Avoid Negative Mindset Traps

It is easy to fall into a trap of negative self-talk when we consider—or succumb to—midday napping, especially if we believe the stigma of “laziness” that our society has associated with rest, breaks, and napping.

Beating ourselves up with “should”s and guilting ourselves out of certain behaviors is damaging not only to our personal empowerment but also to our energy. We can therefore conserve energy by aligning with our body’s natural cycles rather than fighting them.

One vital building block of effective self-leadership is the ability to shut down negative self-talk. By practicing self-acceptance with regard to our mental, emotional, and physiological requirements for rest, we move into constructive thought management, thus enhancing both individual and organizational performance.[7]

6. Connect With Our Intuition

Regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs, intuition is a faculty of our minds to which we all have access. One of the most well-known scientists of all time, Albert Einstein, said that:

“the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that has created a servant but has forgotten the gift…. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

Our intuitive mind taps into our subconscious, allowing us to access what some call our “sixth sense” or a “gut feeling.” It enables us to see the big picture beyond logical reasoning. This ties in with the problem-solving benefits noted in benefit #2, as well as leading to an increase in our self-awareness.

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Stress, lack of sleep, distractions, and refusing ourselves “downtime” are all factors that dim our intuitive light. Napping for brief periods can help us relax into connection with this underrated superpower.

7. Improve Our Health

As mentioned previously, taking a short daytime nap supports the body’s natural rhythms. In doing so, we boost our health by nixing the need for the “band-aid” energy boosters that we crave (e.g. coffee, sugar, simple carbs) but which throw our entire sleep-wake cycle out of whack.

Caffeine is a major culprit in this, especially when consumed later in the day because it blocks adenosine receptors and obstructs our natural circadian rhythm.

Food and drinks containing these substances are often used in an attempt at boosting energy but result in flash-in-the-pan energy bursts that can cause a multitude of health issues including cardiovascular disease, susceptibility to cold and flu, diabetes, weight gain, and depression, to name a few.

Energy quick-fixes aside, it is also known that insufficient sleep itself wreaks havoc on our health by contributing to risks of anxiety, dementia, and stroke. Napping, then, is a much healthier alternative.

8. Relieve Stress

Any time we unplug from the sensory input of our external world, we open ourselves up to a stress-relieving calm and inner peace. Napping is a very obvious way to unplug and helps our brains to process and clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to stress.

Interestingly, falling asleep is not even necessary in order to feel the benefits: the simple act of closing our eyes reduces cognitive load or “brain drain.” In fact, more than 50 percent of the surface of the brain is devoted to processing visual information. [8] When we close our eyes, we literally free up the energy associated with that 50 percent, allowing our brains much-needed recovery and reduction in stress.

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9. Improve Learning

Learning is not limited to our time in grade school. Our personal growth, success, and even happiness are influenced by lifelong learning.[9] [10]

One aspect of learning is the assimilation of new information into our long-term memory banks. After all, what good is learning new information if we are unable to access that knowledge later on?[11]

Several studies and experiments show the learning benefits of napping, demonstrating that it helps transfer newly learned information onto long-term memory.[12][13]

Redefining the Nap

We can easily reap the benefits of napping when we remember that it is not, in fact, lazy.

We can uproot the stigma of break-takers and rebel against that “always-on” attitude that actually leads to reduced productivity, decreased happiness, and yes, even less monetary affluence.

It’s high time our collective mindset of misconceptions catches up to science and embraces the plentiful benefits of napping. Then, and perhaps only then, can we see intentional napping breaks for what they truly are: a power play in our daily schedule, and a critical part of our strategy for living life on purpose.

Featured photo credit: Adrian Swancar via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

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Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

Immunity truly does encapsulate the entire physiology of a person.

When you target your immunity by eating a variety of immune boosting foods, then you really can improve your entire body, both physically and mentally.

The immune system of a human being involves all aspects of one’s physiology and one’s daily experience. Eating certain foods can boost your health in a variety of ways. Below I outline several foods that will get you back on track if you’re feeling under the weather.

In order to even broach the topic of foods good for one’s immune system, it’s important to consider all aspects of the human body and experience.

What I mean by the human experience is one’s day to day mood, energy levels, and many other factors that signify how one engages with themselves and the world around them.

Before indulging in these foods below, I suggest striving for consistency with diet, activity levels, rest, and incorporating the practice of meditation or spending time in nature as part of your daily routine as well.

If you’re ready to feel better, not just when you’re under the weather but all the time incorporate these foods in your diet regularly.

Be sure to stock up on these foods if you’re in need of a boost.

1. Water is a Wise Choice

Yes I know I’m starting things seemingly simple, but one of my most popular YouTube videos discusses the importance of water!

When I ask people how much water they drink a day, the majority of time the answer begins with ‘not enough’.

So if you know you don’t drink enough water, why continue this pattern of behavior?

Now if you’re one that does hit that 5+ and more (pending activity levels) 8oz glasses a day – good for you! Water is life, and that’s where I’ll leave it.

2. Eggs — The Most Complete Protein

Widely regarded as the universally most complete nutritional protein source, eggs are packed with Omega-3 Fatty Acids and 9 essential amino acids.

Egg whites are rich in Vitamins D/E/K, B2, B5, B6, B12, and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.

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Meanwhile, egg yolks pack the calories and fats along with cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and lecithin.

It’s important to note that the average medium egg contains 76 calories, 7.5g protein, 5.1g fat, 1.4g sat fat – so consider this while integrating this near perfect super food in your next dish!

3. Raw Spinach Supports Immunity

This leafy green is a personal favorite of mine due to its versatility and great taste!

Spinach is loaded with vitamin C which helps fight cold, flu, and reinforce the immune system.

It’s also quite high in antioxidants and beta-carotene, which supports our immune system in fighting infection and viruses.

When enjoying this plentiful plant, do so raw. Its nutrients are best absorbed when the vegetable is raw; consider adding spinach as a fresh salad, rather than to a cooked dish, to reap the most immune system rewards.

4. Turmerics Benefit on T-Cells

Gaining popularity for its delicious taste, this powerful spice is also gaining notoriety for its anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin (which also creates the vibrant orange-yellow color).

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology notes that curcumin activates the production of T-cells, which are of the primary cells fighting on behalf of your systems immunity. [1]

5. Garlic is Really Good for You

This popular food not only tastes great but packs quite a punch.

Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which boasts a variety of medicinal properties. Garlic is also not very calorie dense; 1 ounce yields about 42 calories with 1.8g protein and 9g carbs.

Garlic also boasts Vitamin C, B6, Fiber, and Manganese.

The properties mentioned above helps maintain healthy bones, prevent diabetes and epileptic seizures, regulate thyroid, combat osteoporosis, reduce inflammation, boost metabolism, improve cognitive function, and regulate glucose metabolism!

So, forget about garlic breath–eat this food in abundance!

6. Wild Salmon is Wonderful

A personal favorite of mine, wild Alaskan salmon is one of those super foods that covers all your nutrient bases!

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Salmon can be cooked a variety of delicious ways, and yields some of the highest immune system boosting benefits.

Salmon contains fish oil Omega-3’s, which protect against developing heart disease and heart attack. Oils contained within such fish are quite unique in that they have Omega-3 fatty acids that are not present in any other food.

Also consider that wild salmon contains (per 4oz) 128% Vitamin D, 95% Vitamin B12, 94% tryptophan, 62% selenium, 53% protein, 53% omega 3’s, 45% Vitamin B3, 37% phosphorus, 32% Vitamin B6, 19% choline, 14% potassium, and 8%(157) calories.

This is one of those super foods that you could stand to have in your diet several times per week. Beyond the incredible taste, its nutritional benefits make it well worth seeking out.

7. Essential Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Many home cooks consider this an essential ingredient in preparing dinner. But it’s also quite good for you!

Extra virgin olive oil is widely regarded as being a healthy addition to any kitchen, with modest amounts of Vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids.

Per 100g of olive oil you can expect 14% saturated fat, 73% Monounsaturated fat, 10% Omega-6, 1% Omega-3, 72%, and 75% Vitamin K.

It also boasts an impressive antioxidant profile. This includes the anti-inflammatory oleocanthal, as well as oleuropein, a substance that protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation.

8. Natural Greek Yogurt Has Many Benefits

When I talk about natural Greek yogurt, I mean the type that is not flavored in any way. Those added sugars won’t help boost immunity.

Many people have convoluted the immunity and health benefits of natural yogurt with the all too popular sugary treats that flood grocery stores. But it’s the plain stuff that’s the best to include in your diet.

Natural Greek yogurt not only goes great with many dishes, but it contains vast amounts of protein which will leave you feeling satisfied.

The reason why I’ve specified ‘Greek yogurt’ is because one cup of plain, low-fat conventional yogurt typically has 5 to 10 grams of protein, where Greek yogurt averages about 13 to 20 grams of protein.

Greek yogurt also contains essential probiotics (live microorganisms). These are bacteria microbes that help improve digestive function, the immune system, and overall gut health.

Add natural Greek yogurt to your diet, whether as a breakfast food, a substitute for sour cream, or as an addition to a healthy smoothie.

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9. Ginseng Tea — Chock Full of Ginsenosides

Ginseng tea’s primary health benefits are due to the naturally occurring chemicals called ginsenosides present in the root.

One of ginseng’s most widely understood benefits include it’s rich anti-cancer properties. [2]

Studies also indicate that people who drink ginseng tea have a lower risk of developing cancer.

Ginseng tea can also help relieve menstrual cramps, lower blood pressure, and improve brain function; and it has also been shown to help with sexual (erectile) dysfunction in men.

10. Green Tea Fights Aging

Just as powerful as ginseng tea, this extremely popular tea is rich in polyphenols that have effects like reducing inflammation and aiding in the fight against cancer.

Green tea is in fact 30% polyphenols, including large amounts of a catechin called EGCG. Catechins are natural antioxidants that aid in the prevention of cell damage and provide several other benefits.

EGCG, and substances like it can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, helping protect cells and molecules from damage.

Free radicals such as these are commonly known to play a role in aging and all sorts of other diseases.

This wonderful also tea contains small quantities of minerals that are important for overall health, so it may be worth picking up some green tea when visiting your next local tea shop.

11. Dark Chocolate — The Delicious Superfood

Don’t get too excited with this one – everything in moderation, of course!

And I’m not just referring to any chocolate — I’m talking specifically about dark chocolate and cacoa nibs, which are both immune system boosting super foods.

We’ve already covered free radicals in this article, and dark chocolate is one of those wonderful super foods that helps fight against such free radicals.

It does this with its high antioxidant profile which is believed to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from their damage.

Dark chocolate’s antioxidants include vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – helpful plant compounds. Much like other immune boosting foods on this list dark chocolate will also help balance cholesterol, blood pressure, and improve heart health, and cognitive function.

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You now have a healthy excuse to eat some dark chocolate; but, go for the lowest sugar and highest cocoa content varieties you can find to reap the most rewards.

12. Frozen Blueberries for All!

Personally I love adding frozen blueberries to smoothies; however, sometimes I’ll pop over to the freezer just to grab a small handful as a treat!

Frozen blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, which come from compounds called anthocyanins; these give blueberries their purple hue.

One really neat fact about the ice crystals that form when the berries are frozen is that they disrupt the structure of the plant tissue and make anthocyanins even more available – how cool is that? Talk about hacking blueberries!

Even if not frozen, blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits. They have been known to boost memory, cardiovascular system, and eyesight. The fruit also encourages a process called authophagy, or ‘cell clean-up’.

Berries in general (raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries) are extremely high on the ORAC scale. This means they contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals.

Frozen blueberries in particular may aid in defending colds and flu, as they are high in pterostilbene.

Next time you visit your local grocery store, consider how ideal blueberries are for your immune system and general health.

13. Raw Honey — A Natural Antioxidant

Saving the sweetest for last!

Pure natural raw honey follows the rest of this super food list with its antioxidant profile, however it also contains antibacterial and anti fungal properties.

Raw honey contains antioxidants called phenolic compounds, and certain types contain just as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables.

Raw honey can help the body kill-off unwanted bacteria and fungus as it naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, which is a strong antiseptic. Raw honey also contains phytonutrients, commonly found in plants, which provides both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Aside from these wonderful benefits, raw honey can also aid with digestive issues, however this typically varies person to person.

Indulge in Better Health

But also, don’t forget to rest! When considering one’s overall health, it’s important to not only incorporate these immune boosting foods, but also to ensure adequate sleep, and take efforts to reduce stress.

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Eating these immunity boosting foods will enable you to take back control of your health and prevent illness… all while satisfying your cravings!

Featured photo credit: Joanna Kosinska via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Journal of Immunology: Curcumin
[2] NCBI: Ginseng for Fatigue

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