Losing just one night’s sleep is enough to offset our brain. It causes neurons to fire more slowly than usual, meaning our brain takes longer to translate visual input into conscious thought.
But as a society, we are sleeping less and working more.
Our country labels a day by the pattern of the sun and the moon. We associate daylight with activity and darkness with sleep, but not before performing more activity after the sun has set. This habit tends to leave Americans with an average of 4-6 hours of sleep every night, not enough to function at an optimal neurological level.
While you should try to sleep for 7-8 hours consecutively each night, I understand that adulthood does not make it easy to do so. However, if you have the ability to clear space in your afternoon for a short nap, your body (and brain) will thank you. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve your mood, alertness and performance.
According to the Sleep Junkies,“Even a 20-minute power nap can clear our mind, help consolidate already learnt information, and allow our brain to pick up new material faster and more effectively. Even in the early stages of sleep, the brain starts to clear out adenosine – a chemical that gets created as we work and learn. This means that when we wake up, the brain is now able to collect more information, since it has additional free space. A slightly longer nap of 60 – 90 minutes has even more benefits; and mimics a good night’s rest that allows us to learn twice as fast. Research suggests that 20 – 40 minute naps can correct this problem; so that people who take a short nap are more alert, respond better and faster and make less mistakes. Brain scans show that people who take naps perform better at tasks.”
Naps can be typed in three different ways:
•Planned napping (also called preparatory napping) involves taking a nap before you actually get sleepy. You may use this technique when you know that you will be up later than your normal bed time or as a mechanism to ward off getting tired earlier.
•Emergency napping occurs when you are suddenly very tired and cannot continue with the activity you were originally engaged in. This type of nap can be used to combat drowsy driving or fatigue while using heavy and dangerous machinery.
•Habitual napping is practiced when a person takes a nap at the same time each day. Young children may fall asleep at about the same time each afternoon or an adult might take a short nap after lunch each day.
University of California psychology professor Dr Sara Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change your Life, goes even further in listing the benefits of napping.
She claims it “increases alertness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, improves perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhances your sex life, 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”
Even as the science shows that napping has many benefits, understand that every person is different. There is also researching showing that naps potentially increase the inflammation within the body, and they can cause an individual to feel more tired and groggier after waking. If you would like to start napping, try to make it a daily habit, and try to keep it just under 30 minutes to see how your body responds.
Here are a few items that might help you nap in your car, or in an empty dark room at work!