Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison are all known to have valued a quick 40 winks. Here, the amazing benefits of a power nap.
- At a neurocognitive level, sleep is necessary to empty the brain’s short-term memory storage, making room for new information.
- Improved performance, alertness, concentration, and judgment are the proven results of a nap.
- Deep REM sleep increases alertness and attention and allows the brain to work creatively on problems.
- An excess of cortisol – the stress hormone – in the body is the result of sleep deprivation. On the other hand, sleep produces mood-regulating serotonin.
Research has proven that a good 40 winks increases alertness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, improves perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, helps you make better decisions, keeps you looking younger, aids in weight loss, reduces the risk of heart attack, elevates your mood, and strengthens memory. In addition to this naps are non-toxic with no dangerous side effects and no exorbitant costs.
When reviewing the above list one could easily be reading the effects of some miracle drug rather than a simple nap but, according to the US National Sleep Foundation, a power nap, between 20 and 30 minutes, improves productivity and physical and mental health. It’s therefore no surprise that Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were all fond of a good nap.
Here are some of the amazing benefits to be gained from an afternoon siesta:
1. Better Learning
The University of California Berkeley conducted a sleep study with the aid of 39 healthy young adults. Participants were divided into two groups – nap and no-nap. At noon, all 39 were subjected to a tough learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups showed similar levels of performance.
At 2pm, the nap group took a siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. At 6pm, on the same day, participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who went without a nap showed a decrease in learning ability. While, in contrast, those that napped performed considerably better and showed an increase in their actual capacity to learn.
“These findings support the researchers’ hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain’s short-term memory storage and make room for new information,” says the study’s lead, psychology professor Matthew Walker. “Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap.”
2. Enhanced Creativity
If you’re looking to improve your creativity treat yourself to a longer nap rather than a quick doze. The reason being that prolonged sleep allows a person to enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is deep sleep and it’s here that most dreaming occurs.
A study, again in California, saw researchers giving participants a number of creative problems to think over during the course of a day. Half of the group were instructed to stay awake throughout the day, while the other half were encouraged to sleep. At the end of the day, when it came to solving the problems, those that napped long enough to enter REM sleep performed 40% better than those that didn’t experience REM sleep or any sleep at all. Researchers therefore concluded that REM sleep increases both alertness and attention as well as allowing the brain to work on creative problems posed prior to sleep.
3. Greater Performance
Did you know that even NASA encourages an afternoon nap? A growing body of research clearly illustrates that naps improve performance, alertness, concentration, and judgment. All attributes required when planning a visit to the moon. When conducting studies on astronauts NASA scientists discovered that a 25-minute snooze improved judgment by 35% and vigilance by 16%.
All this is well and good for NASA, but how does napping fare when compared to the miracle drug for many, coffee? Well in another study, researchers compared the results of a nap with 150mg of caffeine (roughly a Starbucks grande-size coffee). They found that individuals who took a nap awoke with more alertness and went on to perform better during the remainder of the day than those who just drank their favourite cuppa joe.
4. Improved Health
Sleep deprivation leads to an excess of the hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is necessary when dealing with fight or flight responses. But too much cortisol can result in glucose intolerance and abdominal fat. It also weakens the muscular and immune systems, stunts memory and learning, and decreases levels of growth hormone and testosterone in our bodies. These effects can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
The antidote to cortisol, growth hormone, is released when you sleep. Growth hormone improves your immune system, reduces stress and anxiety, and aids in muscle repair and weight loss. Napping allows the body to fight excess cortisol, thus providing an opportunity for your brain to rest and your body to heal.
The above is evident when looking at a study done with Greek people, a nap loving nation. Researchers found that those that took a 30-minute nap at least three times a week had 37% less risk of dying from a heart-related condition and among working men their risk of death was reduced 64%.
5. A Mood Boost
When it comes to neurotransmitters serotonin is worth its weight in gold. It regulates our mood, sleep, and appetite. It produces feeling of contentment and wellbeing. When our bodies are stressed we not only use higher levels of serotonin but the production of more is severely restricted. This can lead to anxiety, irritability and depression as well as feeling overwhelmed and easily distracted.
“Napping bathes your brain in serotonin, reversing those effects and creating a more positive outlook,” says Dr Sara Mednick, a leading authority on the study of the nap and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.
While napping may not send you into space or turn you into Einstein or Picasso, there’s no doubt that it can help improve your memory, performance, wellbeing and mood – and that’s definitely something to sleep on.
The human brain is a fascinating device, is it not? To learn more about the inner-workings of the mind, study a course in psychology at SACAP. Programmes such as the Bachelor of Psychology (BPsych) and the Diploma in Counselling and Communication pave the way for a career in psychology, as well as providing invaluable skills that can be harnessed in other career paths. For more information, enquire now.