It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and you’ve had a busy day. You’ve managed to sit down for a bit to relax – and your eyelids are slowly closing. Your mind drifts off. It feels rather pleasant. Sleep is waiting just around the corner. But hang on a minute! You’re at work, and a nap is a no-no. Falling asleep at the office desk is generally not considered a great career move. Unless you are working for an exceptional organisation, the boss won’t be impressed. So you force yourself to get up, grab a coffee, and something sweet. After all, there is nothing like the two punch combination of sugar and caffeine to kick a tired brain back up a gear or two.
If that’s what you are doing, you are going to wear yourself out sooner or later.
The question is – is there a better way?
It’s really simple and will help your brain stays in top shape for the rest of the day. And it only takes a few minutes of your day: a nap.
There are different types of naps. Ranging from the often not so welcome micro-sleep (especially when you’re driving) to the hours long nanna-nap, and everything in between.
Let’s say you are, like me, in your fifties and well aware of the fact that nothing is as simple as it used to be. But you want to stay on top of things, physically and cognitively. Your memory, for instance, is not only precious but necessary to live a good life. The bad news is that memory loss in older people may be the direct result of not getting the quality and quantity of sleep necessary for learning. In particular the deep sleep phase is associated with memory consolidation and learning.
Some remedies have proven to boost deep sleep, like exercising during the day or going to bed earlier than usual.
But something much easier has a surprisingly big impact on memory and learning capacity. Enter the nap. Even a nap as short as a few minutes has dramatically improved recall in scientific experiments.
All it takes is a nap for a few short minutes to invigorate you and cause a significant improvement in:
If you’ve got a little more time, a study has shown that a 30 minute nap three times a week results in a 37 percent lower risk of heart related death. Is there a more pleasant way of reducing your risk of heart disease?
Not to worry – there is always the placebo effect: purely the expectation of a nap is good for you and will benefit your health. This is because you experience the biggest drop in blood pressure between lying down and falling asleep. So yes, you do have to at least lie down! This post explains more on the placebo effect and sleep.
For the most effective nap, find a dark and quiet place where you are not likely to be disturbed. If that’s not possible an eye mask and ear plus will do the trick. It’s also helpful to listen to relaxation music. It will help you switch off. Note that a nap is most effective when you are lying down, but if you’re in the office and nobody is watching, lean forward onto your desk – it will do the trick nearly as well. If your boss has concerns with this practice, assure him that you will be far more productive and creative than your non-napping colleagues. If he/she doesn’t believe you, it’s time to brush up on your sales skills.
Depending on your daily schedule and the amount of time you have to spare for a nap, you can do any of the following;
This takes about 5 minutes or less and is clearly the least beneficial for your brain and body, but it will reduce sleepiness due to lack of night-time rest.
This short snooze takes about 10 to 20 minutes. During this time most of your brain is in light sleep and you will feel much more refreshed and focused when you wake up. A short nap will lower your blood pressure and help with memory.
This will take you between 20 and 60 minutes. Because you will spend time in light sleep and deep sleep, it will improve your ability to learn facts and figures. From a longevity perspective, it also promotes the release of growth hormones which will make you feel more energized when you wake up. This will give you a burst of human growth hormone in addition to the night time boost.
If you can manage it, the benefits from a 60 to 90 minute siesta are outstanding. Your brain will have time to complete a full sleep cycle which lets you experience light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep states. You get all the benefits from the shorter naps, plus an enhancement of your creative ability.
Your circadian rhythm naturally makes you feel more tired in the mid afternoon (around 3.00pm), but this will depend on the time you wake up in the morning. According to Dr. Sara Mednick, inventor of The Nap Wheel – access it here , the best nap-time is at the junction of where REM sleep and short wave sleep overlap, giving you an equal amount of each. For example, if you wake up at 7.00am in the morning, a perfect nap time would be 2.00pm. Check the Nap Wheel for all other combinations.
To make sure you’ll wake up after your designated nap time, set an alarm. A gentle one 🙂
Take away Tip: drink a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage just before napping. The caffeine will kick in about 25 minutes later and help you wake up feeling wide awake and ready to go.