The health benefits of napping
For some people, taking a nap during the day isn’t an option, either because of work, having energetic kids or even lacking the ability to fall asleep. But for the rest of us, taking a nap may be a simple pleasure that we look forward to.
However, do you know what happens to your body when you nap? Studies show that a short nap each day can help to boost memory, improve job performance, lift your mood, make you more alert and ease stress.
To get the most out of a nap, you need to time it right. Most people consider an afternoon snooze to be the most natural and helpful. Some prefer to take a nap between two and three pm. The time that works best for you will depend on how rested you are. If you are well-rested, a slightly later nap is better. If you’re behind on sleep, you’ll want to nap earlier.
Small naps can also bring big benefits. A nap as short as ten minutes can be beneficial, but keep your nap to 30 minutes or less so that you don’t wake up feeling more tired. That grogginess you might feel after a nap is called sleep inertia. The longer you nap, the more likely you are to have that feeling.
Here are some ways in which a daily nap can benefit your body:
Improving your memory:
Napping can bring a better memory and easier learning. It can help you remember things learned earlier in the day as much as a full night’s sleep. Studies have shown that sleep plays an important role in sorting memories. Napping works to keep you from forgetting things, and it also helps with motor skills, sense perception and verbal recall.
Boosting your mood:
A short nap may make it easier to regulate your emotions and ward off depression. Additionally, napping or even just resting for an hour without falling asleep can brighten your outlook. Experts say that the relaxation that comes from lying down and resting is a mood booster, whether you fall asleep or not.
An increasing sleep drive is felt as a sense of fatigue, sleepiness, or drowsiness, and when extreme it prevents us from focusing and functioning properly during the day. A quick 15-to-20-minute nap can help you stay alert throughout the day.
If you’re under a lot of pressure or struggling to focus when you’re at work, a nap can release stress and improve your health. Experts believe that a 30-minute nap can do the trick.
Improving heart health:
A nap can help your body recover from pressure-filled situations. One study found that people who napped for 45 to 60 minutes a day had lower blood pressure after going through mental stress.
Sleeping better at night:
Taking a nap during the day can help older adults to improve their sleep at night. Studies show that a 30-minute nap between one and three in the afternoon combined with moderate exercise like a walk and stretching helps improve night-time sleep in addition to mental and physical health. If you have insomnia, don’t take a nap every day, however, as this may lead to a later bedtime, an earlier wake-up time, or even disrupted sleep with night-time awakenings.
Benefitting the brain:
Naps of 20 to 40 minutes can improve psychomotor performance and alertness, improve reactions and reflexes and reduce confusion. Less than ten minutes and more than 30 to 40 minutes of napping have lower benefits.
Improving job performance:
It can be pretty tough to work these days, whether you’re working from home, with challenging family members and kids who are learning virtually, or outside of the home. A short nap can allow the brain to quickly rid itself of metabolic waste and more efficiently use glucose. The end result is a faster working brain that performs better.
Helping the little ones too:
Frequent naps are critical for learning and development at pre-school age. Children who nap regularly are also better able to recall things they have learned.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly