Nap-taking as an adult was modeled for me by my dad. Whenever we would drive from the Chicago suburbs to my grandma’s house in the city, as soon as we arrived, Dad would head for the recliner. With his long legs stretched out before him, within seconds he would be sound asleep, no matter what was going on around him. Then, in a span of 10-15 minutes, he would wake up refreshed and ready to engage in whatever fun was planned for that day. Without fail, he would take these naps – a “power nap” he called it. And soon, I learned the technique and power-napping became my routine as well. Working long (and late) hours on deadlines during college, I pretty much perfected the art.
On this National Napping Day, I wanted to share a few tips and some of the science behind the benefits of catching a few winks. It’s easy to quiet your mind and allow the zzzzz’s to overcome you if you can recline. Sometimes that isn’t possible, but if you can at least rest your head on the back of your chair, putting yourself in a position of relaxation will help you to breathe deeper and slower. Breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth with a few deep breaths, will slow your heart rate as well. Closing your eyes or wearing an eye mask, maybe a lavender-scented one, creates an atmosphere of complete zen. I’ve even used a soft fabric headband over my eyes to block out the light. You might like to use earplugs, too, though I’ve never had a problem falling asleep with sounds around me (like father, like daughter).
Did you ever wonder why your body seems to cool down a bit at midday, followed by an afternoon slump or dip in energy? According to Michael Breus, PhD, in his book The Power of When, “It’s your body telling you to shut down all systems for a periodic recharging of your battery. Biologically speaking, we see a small drop in everyone’s core body temperature, which releases melatonin (the key that starts the engine for sleep) between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm.” Now you know why that midday coffee craving hits you – to warm you up and wake you up. But instead of caffeine, try to find a quiet space (your office? your car?) where you can get some shut eye. Or just lay your head over your crossed arms on your desk, that works, too!
How long should you nap?
Like my dad discovered, no longer than 15 minutes. That’s because napping for longer than 15 minutes will put you into a deep sleep and you won’t wake up feeling energized. Instead, it will have the opposite effect and make you groggy, even disoriented. Dr. Breus suggests setting your alarm for 10 minutes to nod off with resulting increases in alertness, creativity and learning abilities.
You’ve probably had the experience where you went to sleep and woke up with a brilliant idea that had never occurred to you before. The same can be had with a short siesta. In a 2012 study at Georgetown University, the movement of oxygenated blood in the brain was monitored in 15 subjects. While napping, they tracked communication between the right hemisphere (home of creativity) and the left hemisphere (home of logic) and found more activity between the two than while they were awake. The study showed that while asleep their brains were active and processing (see our blog on the glymphatic system).
When should you nap?
Sara Mednick, PhD, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life has determined through her research that the ultimate nap should occur approximately seven hours after you wake up. So, if you’re rising at 7:00 am, catching a catnap at 2:00 pm will leave you feeling refreshed. If you nap before the seven-hour mark, you’ll reach REM sleep and find your creativity boosted. Or, if you doze off after that seven-hour sweet spot, your nap will restore you physically.
Take a nap to learn more
Another great insight shared by a team of Harvard researchers: The benefits of napping last for 24 hours! So, if you nap on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll not only amp up your creativity, but you’ll also stimulate your learning capacity for the following day.
Coincidentally, as I was writing this, my college roommate Dianna called, and I told her what I was working on. She said, “Oh, I remember those power naps. You were out cold, then up and raring to go!”
Need a quick refresh to your mind, a boost to your creative genius or an education acceleration, napping is the way to go!
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