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 needed to clear the brain’s short-term memory storage and make room for new information.
- Research has shown that naps can improve performance, alertness, concentration, and judgment.
- Deep REM sleep not only boosts alertness and attention, but also allows the brain to work creatively on problems.
- Sleep deprivation leads to an excess of cortisol – the stress hormone – in the body, while sleep produces serotonin, which regulates mood.
Imagine a product that 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. Now imagine that this product is non-toxic, has no dangerous side effects, and, best of all, is absolutely free.
This miracle drug is, in fact, nothing more than the nap. According to research, a power nap – between 20 and 30 minutes, according to the US National Sleep Foundation – not only helps improve productivity but also physical and mental health. And, as a napper, you’ll be in good company: Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison are all known to have valued a quick 40 winks.
Here are some of the amazing benefits to be gained from an afternoon siesta:
1. Better Learning
In a sleep study conducted by researchers at the the University of California Berkeley, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups – nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels.
At 2pm, the nap group took a siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6pm, participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.
“These findings reinforce 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
Turns out longer naps are more beneficial than a quick shut-eye when it comes to creativity.
A longer sleep allows a person to drop into the deep phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This is the phase during which most dreams happen. Researchers, again in California, gave volunteers a series of creative problems in the morning and asked them to spend the day mulling solutions before being tested late in the afternoon. Half the volunteers were requested to stay awake during the day, while the others were encouraged to nap. Those whose naps were long enough to enter REM sleep for a while did 40% better on the test than nappers who didn’t get any REM sleep and the non-nappers. The researchers concluded that, rather than simply boosting alertness and attention, REM sleep allows the brain to work creatively on problems posed before sleep.
3. Greater Performance
A growing body of research also demonstrates that naps can improve performance, alertness, concentration, and judgment. Given these attributes are all critical for those on a space station orbiting the earth, it should come as no surprise that NASA became interested in learning about the benefits of napping. When NASA scientists conducted studies on astronauts, they discovered that a 25-minute nap improved judgment by 35% and vigilance by 16%. No surprise, then, that NASA encourages afternoon snoozes.
In another study, researchers pitted napping against 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, instead of napping, drank 150mg of caffeine, or about the same amount in a Starbucks grande-size coffee.
4. Improved Health
Sleep deprivation leads to an excess of the hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, helps us deal with fight or flight responses. But excess cortisol increases glucose intolerance and abdominal fat, weakens the muscular and immune systems, stymies memory and learning, and decreases levels of growth hormone and testosterone in our bodies. These effects can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
When you sleep, you release growth hormone, the antidote to cortisol, which boosts your immune system, reduces stress and anxiety, and aids in muscle repair and weight loss. Napping gives your brain a chance to rest and your body a chance to heal.
The proof’s in the pudding. A study done with Greek people, a nation of long-time napping fans, 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. Among working men their risk of death was reduced 64%!
5. A Mood Boost
The neurotransmitter serotonin regulates our mood, sleep, and appetites. It produces feeling of contentment and wellbeing. But when our bodies are stressed, higher levels of serotonin are used and the production of more is blocked. As a result, we can become anxious, irritable, depressed, 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 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.