Thursday, October 26, 2006

Top 5 Reasons To Take Naps

Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Salvador Dali, Winston Churchill, and Presidents Kennedy and Reagan had something in common? In fact, each of them enjoyed a regular nap.

While small children typically take naps in the afternoon, our culture generally frowns upon mid-day sleep; however, many people feel a mid-afternoon slump in mood and alertness, especially after a poor night of sleep. Many believe that this slump is caused by eating a heavy lunch. However, in reality, this occurs because we were meant to have a mid-afternoon nap.

Several lines of evidence, including the universal tendency of toddlers and the elderly to nap in the afternoon and the afternoon nap of siesta cultures, have led sleep researchers to the same conclusion: nature intended that we take a nap in the middle of the day. This biological readiness to fall asleep in the mid-afternoon coincides with a slight drop in body temperature and occurs regardless of whether we eat lunch. It is present even in good sleepers who are well rested.

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of sleep and how a power nappower nap can help you:

1. Increased Alertness And Productivity

Although many people believe that midafternoon drowsiness is caused by eating a heavy lunch, the new research shows that is not the case. The midafternoon dip in alertness and intellectual ability occurs whether or not people eat lunch, said Roger Broughton, a professor of neurology at the University of Ottawa. He said it depends purely on the time of day rather than on eating.

“It seems nature definitely intended that adults should nap in the middle of the day, perhaps to get out of the midday sun,” said William Dement, director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center at Stanford University.

Also David Dinges, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, found that “If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, an afternoon nap will improve your alertness and give you a feeling of more energy, so you can take on more tasks”. Among the mental abilities sharpened by naps are the capacity to pay sustained attention to a task and to make complicated decisions.

2. Less Stress

Curling up in a sunny patch on the floor or even lying your head down on your desk for a quick snooze brings relaxation.

So find a quiet, comfortable spot and take a nap. Even a short power nap can leave you feeling refreshed, renewed, and more focused. Studies have shown that people who spent 30 minutes each day napping had one third less heart disease than those who didn’t nap.

3. Improved Memory And Learning

Naps aren’t just for the very young, old, and slothful. Daytime dozing may enhance a person’s capacity to learn certain tasks. That, at least, is the eye-opening implication of a new study in which college students were challenged to detect subtle changes in an image during four different test sessions on the same day.

Participants improved on the task throughout the first session, says psychologist Sara C. Mednick of Harvard University and her colleagues. The students’ speed and accuracy then leveled off during the second session. The scores of the participants who didn’t nap declined throughout the final two sessions. In contrast, volunteers who took a 30-minute nap after completing the second practice session showed no ensuing performance dips. What’s more, 1-hour nappers responded progressively faster and more accurately in the third and fourth sessions.

“Napping may protect brain circuits from overuse until those neurons can consolidate what’s been learned about a procedure,” says neuroscientist Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School, a coauthor of the new study.

4. Increased Coginitive Functioning

In a recent study, researchers at NASA showed that a thirty to forty-minute power nap increased cognitive faculties by approximately 40%! Tests carried out on one thousand volunteers proved that those who continued working without rest, made lower scores in intelligence tests like the IQ test.

Also Dr. Sara Mednick (scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies) has found through MRIs of nappers that brain activity stays high throughout the day with a nap; without one, it declines as the day wears on.

5. Better Health

Napping in general benefits heart functioning, hormonal maintenance, and cell repair, says Dr. Sara Mednick who is at the forefront of napping research. A power nap, says Mednick, simply maximizes these benefits by getting the sleeper into and out of rejuvenative sleep as fast as possible.