Naps: good, bad?

A nap in the afternoon does more for your energy, health, even for your memory and your brain.

It’s a fact of life that, many decades after small children stop taking daily naps, they again pick up the habit. Many of our site visitors take a nap daily. They are getting great value out of their naps.

The following is a guest post from Sarah Cummings, a sleep research working in a Calfornia university. Here’s what Sarah has discovered.

‘Naps are Just for Lazy People’ Right? Wrong!

If you’re fond of a good afternoon nap and tired of your family and friends calling you lazy then this article is for you. Arm yourself with enough facts and figures to put the nap naysayers firmly back in their place!

Firstly, lets get this out of the way, napping is normal. A full one third of the American population engages in the habit during the average day.

Some of history’s greatest individuals have been prodigious nappers. Winston Churchill for one. The cigar-chomping British Prime Minister who faced down a seemingly overwhelming Nazi threat during World War II, had a non-negotiable afternoon nap as part of his daily schedule.

For Winston the nap was such an inviolable a part of his day that he even kept a bed in the Houses of Parliament. The great man believed that without the “refreshment of blessed oblivion” he wouldn’t be able to keep up with stresses of leading a country fighting for its survival. Well, it worked!

If having a nap during the Battle of Britain wasn’t considered lazy then your quick afternoon refresher on the couch certainly isn’t. And now we’ve busted that myth let’s get down and look at the actual physical and mental benefits of having a mid-afternoon snooze.

Napping helps memory and thinking

All of us could do with a boost in our ability to remember details, whether you are a student studying for a test or a recent retiree looking to keep mentally sharp now that work isn’t such a large part of your life. Well, napping can be the answer.

The link between sleep, memory and cognitive performance has long been known to neuroscience, and guess what? Having a nap counts as sleep. Scientists have stated that having a one-hour nap after lunch can help the brain perform like that of much younger individual.

A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied 3,000 elderly people and found that those who frequently took afternoon naps performed consistently better on mental ability tests. So much so in fact that their performance was akin to individuals five years their younger. Now I don’t know about you but anything that help me perform like I was just six months younger would be hugely welcome!

Now the researchers were careful to add that the duration of nap time was quite important stating that:

“Older adults who did not nap or napped longer than 90 minutes (extended nappers) were significantly more likely than those who napped for 30 to 90 minutes after lunch (moderate nappers) to have lower overall cognition scores.”

Naps help combat fatigue

There are many forms of napping and many forms of nappers. Some adherents of what is known as biphasic and polyphasic sleeping have shunned the usual block of 7-8 hours sleep during the night and replaced it by either two longish, or multiple short naps throughout the day.

The adherents of polyphasic sleep argue that the sleeping in one solid block is not normal. They point to how widespread daytime napping is in the animal community, especially amongst the great apes. They also highlight the well-known dip in our circadian cycle that happens in the early afternoon, also known as the post-lunch slump.

Now, there are many pros and cons of adjusting your sleep cycle like this and it certainly isn’t suitable for most. But while the polyphasic lifestyle takes a lot of work to get right, many individuals, especially those of advancing years who find that don’t sleep as soundly during the night anymore may actually find themselves engaging in it without realising.

There is a myth that we need less sleep as we get older. This is a fallacy, the need for sleep remains constant throughout adult life. Changes in our patterns of sleep, or ‘sleep architecture’ mean as we age we find simply find it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.

If you do find that as you age your nighttime sleep simply isn’t as satisfying anymore, napping during the day allows the body to get the rest it requires.

Naps are better than coffee

Chances are the same individuals who might give you grief for your propensity to nap won’t think twice about having one or two cups of coffee during the day to bump up their own energy. Do you know what they call taking drugs to improve performance in sport – cheating that’s what!

Having a nap is a natural energy boost and it gives you a far healthier energy boost than caffeine. What’s more while a cup of coffee may feel like it wakes up the brain it can actually negatively impact the performance of your memory, the exact opposite of a nap.

So, the next time your buddies ask you out for a coffee, you can proudly hold your head up high and shamelessly say, “not today thanks, I’m going for my nap!”

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