Napping

I’m just reading a brilliant book about napping by Dr Sara Mednick.  It is called Take a Nap! Change your life.  She is a Harvard-trained research scientist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and a consultant with the military (one of the most sleep deprived cultures in the world) and private businesses.

Here are some juicy statistics that might motivate you to have a nap if you aren’t already.  (40% of Americans that say they nap already!)

  • Siesta cultures have a lower rate of coronary heart disease (CHD).  A 2007 study of about 24,000 Greek people showed that those who napped twice a week reduced their CHD by 12%.  What was really amazing was that if they napped three times a week their CHD reduced by a whopping 37%.  That alone would be enough for me to start catching some zzzs during the day.  But there is more…
  • Statistics support that a nap can be the equivalent of a whole night’s sleep to improve learning during the day!  “Learning from a nap is EQUAL to learning from a full night of sleep”.
  • Napping decreased daytime sleepiness by 10%
  • With napping it was 38% less likely that sleepiness interfered with with daytime activities.  That is HUGE!  Show it to your boss.  Tell her/him you will be more accurate, more creative, and be in a better mood in the office if she/he provides some zzz-time, or probably more importantly, a quiet room for people to go during their lunchtime.
  • Napping elevated mood by 11%
  • Napping improved the quality of interactions by 10%
  • Elevated alertness by 11%
  • Increased stamina by 11%
  • Enhanced mental abilities by 9%
  • Increased physical health by 6%

Does Napping Hurt Your Nighttime Sleep?

And for those that have been reading (like me) that napping during the day is not good for your best night’s sleep – here are some surprising statistics from the studies:

  • Napping decreased the time to fall asleep at night by 14%
  • Napping increased the ability to stay asleep through the night by 12%
  • Napping increased nighttime sleep by about 20 minutes
  • Napping increased the refreshed feeling upon waking by 5%

Benefits have been shown from as little as 6 minutes of napping during the day, with research now studying the differences between a 20 minute nap, a 60 minute nap, a 90 minute nap, etc.

Learning advantages require both SWS and REM sleep, which can be managed by some efficient nappers in a 60 minute nap, others require longer.

The Time you Take Your Nap is Important.

The most important factors in when you take your nap are the time you wake in the morning, and the result you want from the nap.  e.g. If you want to me more alert, for example, the nap can be timed to achieve that aim, and is a different process for people who want to use their creative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to creatively solve a problem.  Other strategies have been isolated by Dr Mednick and researchers for increased memory, better motor skills at the end of the day (e.g. reduced typing mistakes on your computer towards the end of the day), better learning, etc.  e.g. napping early in the morning will generally be REM sleep rich, whereas napping later in the day will have more slow wave sleep (SWS).

The Length or Duration of your Nap is Important.

The longer you are napping the more of certain sleep cycles you are likely to experience in your nap.  Different lengths of nap are more suitable for different benefits.

Here is a very valuable interview on You Tube that you will enjoy listening to, and covers the evidence based information that is contained in her book:

 

In this video you will learn:

  1. There are shadow sleep stages during the day that you may not have previously been aware of.  e.g. your natural circadian rhythm at 9-10 am would indicate that if you nap then you will have a REM-rich nap – good for creatively solving problems.
  2. How to use the nap wheel on the front of her book to calculate your best nap time, depending on the time you wake in the morning.
  3. A perfectly timed nap for you can consolidate the benefits of a full night of sleep into a single cycle.
  4. And explanation of the different stages of a nap, and what the different lengths of a nap will help with.  e.g. the Power Nap (20 minutes or less) is very good for improving alertness.  SWS during your nap will be very restorative, clear your mind of useless information, and improve your declarative and spatial memory.  REM in your nap will help with creativity, visual memory and dreaming.

Did you know that pilots are napping on the job too?  It is not generally publicized says Sara, because people are more freaked out by that than the fact that they are working too-long-shifts!  After hearing her presentation I’m very pleased they are.  (Just hope they have an alarm clock!)

Biphasic Sleep

And lastly, she also talked about biphasic sleepers – people who wake up very alert in the middle of the night, and do things before going back to bed for another phase of sleep.  This used to be quite common, apparently.  She doesn’t think that’s a great problem – especially if you combine your biphasic pattern with a nap during the day.  Interesting.  And helpful for those of you that get stressed and anxious about it – which never helps you sleep better, of course.

Can a Nap Replace your Nighttime Sleep?

There are some people who like playing around with their sleep, wanting to stay up longer and experiment.  Strategies for this are outside of this blog, because I don’t want people who are having difficulties stressing out more.  I will make mention of Dr Mednicks question time answer when she mentioned certain ‘macho’ attitudes, within the medical profession, for example.  She quoted a study that indicated that doctors who did 30 hour shifts were 700% more likely to make errors than when they worked the 10 hour shift.  And there are other studies of the driving home figures, etc.  Some of those situations are problems with our medical industry itself, actually, expecting professionals to work too-long-hours, sometimes from lack of staff, etc.

So we are NOT advocating skipping your sleep at night.  Napping should be used to enhance your sleep, not replace it.  And it has been proven to do just that.

Coffee Anyone?

The video also contains some great information about using coffee and whether or not it works when we are tired to help us concentrate, stay focused and accurate etc.  And the results aren’t too pretty!  Coffee is addictive, we know that – but there are very few times when it has much worth – it just makes us feel better because we have had our ‘fix’.

Placebo results were quite high for a number of trials, but only once did caffeine beat the placebo, and it never beat having a nap – in these studies.

I’m off for a nap now!

Elizabeth