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January 29, 2018

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Guilty about that afternoon nap? Don’t be. It’s good for you. Naps have many benefits, including improving memory, reaction times and mood.

Nicole Lovato, Flinders University

You may be familiar with that feeling of overwhelming sleepiness during the mid-afternoon. It’s common, occurs whether you’ve eaten lunch or not, and is caused by a natural dip in alertness from about 1 to 3pm. So, if you find yourself fighting off sleep in the middle of the day and you’re somewhere where you can have a nap, then do it.

Taking the time for a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness almost immediately and improve alertness for several hours after waking. And there are many other benefits too.

Understanding why we nap

People nap for lots of reasons, some which are:

  • to catch up on lost sleep
  • in anticipation of sleep loss to avoid feeling sleepy later on
  • for enjoyment, boredom or to pass time.

Napping is relatively common. In fact, about 50% of us report taking a nap at least once per week.

Napping rates are greater in countries like Greece, Brazil and Mexico that have a culture of siesta, which incorporate “quiet time” in the early afternoon for people to go home for a nap. In such countries, up to 72% of people will nap as often as four times per week.



Read more:
Forget siestas, ‘green micro-breaks’ could boost work productivity


The perks of napping

Naps are not only beneficial because they make us feel less sleepy and more alert, but because they improve our cognitive functioning, reaction times, short-term memory and even our mood.



The benefits of having a nap are similar to those of drinking coffee.
Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

Our research (not yet published) has found those who regularly nap report feeling more alert after a brief nap in the afternoon when compared to those who only nap occasionally.

Another research group found that motor learning, which is where brain pathways change in response to learning a new skill, was significantly greater following a brief afternoon nap for regular nappers when compared to non-nappers.

In fact, the overall benefits of naps are similar to those experienced after consuming caffeine (or other stimulant medications) but without the side effects of caffeine dependence and possibly disrupted sleep at night time.



Read more:
Health Check: what are ‘coffee naps’ and can they help you power through the day?


How long should a nap be?

The amount of time you spend napping really depends on the time you have available, how you want the nap to work for you, and your plans for the coming night. Generally speaking, the longer a nap is, the longer you will feel rejuvenated after waking.

Long naps of one to two hours during the afternoon will mean you are less sleepy (and require less sleep) that night. This could mean it will take longer than usual to fall asleep.



A brief power nap is a great way to improve alertness.
from shutterstock.com

If you are planning to stay up later than usual, or if taking a little longer to fall asleep at bedtime is not bothersome, time your nap for about 1.5 hours. This is the length of a normal sleep cycle. You will experience deep sleep for about an hour or so followed by light sleep for the last half an hour.

Waking up during light sleep will leave you feeling refreshed and alert. However, waking during deep sleep will not. If you sleep too long and miss the light sleep at the end of a nap, chances are you will wake up feeling sluggish and drowsy. If you do experience feeling drowsy after a nap, don’t worry – this feeling is temporary and will go away after a while.



Read more:
Want to boost your memory and mood? Take a nap, but keep it short


Another option is to have a brief “power” nap. Brief naps of 10-15 minutes can significantly improve alertness, cognitive performance and mood almost immediately after waking. The benefits typically last for a few hours.

Power naps are great because you won’t experience any sluggish or drowsy feelings after waking. This is because you do not enter any deep sleep during this brief time.

Research suggests, a brief, early-to-mid-afternoon nap provides the greatest rejuvenation when compared to naps at any other time of the day. However, if you’re struggling to stay awake, a brief nap taken at any time can be help keep you alert.


The ConversationFurther reading: Did we used to have two sleeps instead of one? Should we again?

Nicole Lovato, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Share your comments below

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  • My Mum was told to have a rest during the day while we kids were asleep, at kindy or school. Even if you don’t go to sleep it relaxes your muscles. I know one Mum how can decide she is going to have a sleep for X number of minutes and automatically wakes up at that time. No, she definitely doesn’t use an alarm and gas never had a mobile phone. I have witnessed this on a few occasions when I have been staying at their place or just playing with their kids who were about 12 or older. Believe me, seeing was believing.

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  • Have never been able to do this and I usually do feel guilty just thinking of a nap when I am yawning, etc. Sleep so badly at night, not game to nap through the day.

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  • I Love that there is research about napping, all over it!

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  • Finally, research that proves having a nap is a good thing. In our family that’s called a Nanna Nap. Best thing if you ask me. I get more housework done after having a short nap.

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  • I love having an afternoon nap every Saturday. I stay up watching movies that night and must say that I still feel quite rejuvenated the next day and ready for a whole new week.

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  • I wish I could but I just can’t nap during the day.

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  • My kids know me by now that once we get home from school and had snacks, I go have a nap anywhere in the house I feel comfortable and they don’t disturb me unless its something important. I can nap for a good 1-2hrs depending on the need. Even my husband knows what time I nap so that he won’t send me messages and let me sleep while he is at work ????

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  • My kids know me by now that once we get home from school and had snacks, I go have a nap anywhere in the house I feel comfortable and they don’t disturb me unless its something important. I can nap for a good 1-2hrs depending on the need. Even my husband knows what time I nap so that he won’t send me messages and let me sleep while he is at work ????

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  • I love my nap as I love my coffee !! I do drink decaf though, otherwise there’s no nap and no sleep in the night. I nap every day and I love it. For me it’s really catching up on sleep

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  • An afternoon nap is something I am looking forward to wards when my twins go to school on Wednesday. At the moment hard to get both to nap at same time and quiet play they can still get up to things.

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  • I cannot nap, but I do find that just lying down for 5 to 10 minutes can make a huge difference to how I feel.

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  • I’m not a napper. I’ve tried, it just doesn’t happen for me. My hubby is a napper. He starts work at 5.30am most mornings so he will often have what I call a ‘Nana Nap’ when he gets home. It works for him. 20-30 minutes and he’s right to go.

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  • Sometimes napping just isn’t optional. I have a sit down and thats it, I’m unconscious.

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  • I’ve never been able to nap. Not while pregnant, not when my daughter was a baby… But just laying down and read a book, could help me relax and rest.

    Reply

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