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The Art of Napping

As sleep and its importance have become more and more widely acknowledged, so have the various benefits of taking a restorative nap during the day. Though naps were once thought of as only for toddlers or the lazy, science has shown that it can be extremely helpful to take a short break and restore ourselves, especially since so many of us do not get the sleep that we need at night.

Though it would seem that taking a nap would be one of the most natural things you could possibly do, it turns out that there is a science to the proper way of taking a short snooze. According to Dr. Sara Mednick, sleep researcher and author, science has revealed that there are several important tricks that you can use to your advantage to make sure that you get the most possible benefit out of your siesta.

1. Watch the numbers.
If you’ve ever decided to take a nap and have found yourself awakening hours later, you know that you can end up feeling worse than you did when you laid down, or unable to fall asleep later that same night.. The truth is that when taken to an extreme, a nap can interfere with your sleep cycle and leave you feeling groggy. There are magic numbers to taking a nap, and the most important number you need to remember is ninety. That is the amount of time that it takes you to go through an entire sleep cycle. For those who are well rested, a ninety-minute nap is roughly the equivalent of a full night of sleep, and for those who are sleep deprived ninety-minutes can significantly chip away at your sleep debt. According to Dr. Mednick, “The reason for this is because in a 90-minute nap, you go through all the major sleep stages: stage two sleep, slow-wave sleep and REM sleep. You’re going to get the benefits of increased attention, memory consolidation, cardiovascular improvements, decreased depression and also better metabolism.”

2. Pay attention to the effect of your nap.

If you’ve had bad experiences in which naps leave you feeling sluggish and drugged, you may have given up on the whole idea of mid-day rest breaks. The truth is that everybody can benefit from a nap but you need to take the kind that your body responds best to. For some people, this means short power naps, or cat naps as they used to be called, of just ten, fifteen or even twenty minutes. According to Dr. Mednick, people who struggle with longer naps are letting themselves slip into slow-wave sleep, and pulling yourself out of that sleep cycle is a challenge. “Slow-wave sleep is very difficult to wake up out of,” she says. “For those people, I recommend they take ten to fifteen minute naps. That will allow you to have a lot of stage two sleep, which is really important for memory and health.”

3. Don’t discount the power of taking a break.

There are plenty of people who either say that they can’t nap during the day, or simply don’t want to because they think that they’re an indication of laziness. For those people, Dr. Mednick says that they should still take the opportunity to lie down for a bit during the day. “Even if we’re lying there for about twenty minutes and we think that we haven’t been sleeping, it’s quite likely you actually have gotten some sleep – it happens all the time in our lab. Because you’re not so good at detecting it, just lying down and taking a break is going to be really great to recover from some of the mental and physical exertion that we have during the day.” There is considerable research backing up the idea that taking a break from the high level of focus that is involved with most jobs will provide people with an improved performance level.

Everyone can benefit from a nap Everyone can benefit from a nap

4. Schedule Your Nap Time Carefully

Though some people would argue that any time is a good time for a nap, there is actually scientific evidence pointing to the fact that some times are more beneficial than others. Turns out that if you want to get the absolute most out of your nap, you should try to schedule it for approximately six hours after the time that you wake up in the morning. According to Dr. Mednick, “This is the time when you’re going to a decrease in your circadian drive and an increase in sleepiness. So it’s this … mid-day slump where you’re going to have a decrease in your core body temperature, in your cognitive processing and you’re just going to get a little sleepy. That’s a perfect time to take a break.”

Despite the negative associations that have been attributed to adult naps, they are becoming increasingly accepted in society, and some of the country’s biggest corporations are encouraging their employees to take advantage of wellness rooms and nap pods that are being installed in increasing numbers. The reason behind this shift in philosophy is simple – it’s rooted in profit. Statistics show that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on productivity, to the tune of over $60 billion dollars per year in the United States. It has become increasingly evident that by allowing employees to check out for twenty minutes organizations are able to get higher quality work out of their afternoons.

As for Dr. Mednick, she cares less about profit than about the health benefits offered by napping. “The most important thing is that you nap where it suits your schedule. So what I recommend is three naps a week of twenty minutes each. That’s going to give you all the benefits to health and cognition. And then every now and again, you throw in this ‘perfect nap,’ which is the 90-minute nap where you go through all the different sleep stages. That’s really going to outfit you with everything you need from napping.”

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