Can daytime napping be beneficial to health and happiness?
Our grandparents would tell us that daily cat-naps kept them happy, healthy and strong. But are naps an old wives tale, or do they have real health benefits?
Did you know that more than 85% of mammals nap during the day (polyphasic sleep)? In fact, it's not at all certain that our monophonic approach to sleep is natural, beneficial or best for us. Babies nap, yet by the time we reach childhood we are discouraged from napping by our daily routine and by society's expectations.
According to the National Sleep Council in the USA regular short naps can make you feel more alert, boost your brain performance at work, and help minimise the risks of mistakes or accidents. In fact, a NASA study carried out on military pilots and astronauts discovered that a short nap improved performance in these high-skill areas by 34%!
Habitual napping - making a habit of taking a short nap at the same time every day - is seen in some cultures where adults may take a siesta nap after lunch at the hottest part of the day.
How to get the most out of your daily nap:
- Make it routine. Nap at the same time every day
- Keep it short. 20-30 minutes is optimal, leaving you feeling alert and refreshed and not groggy or disorientated
- Have a peaceful, quiet and restful place to nap. Keep the room cool and as dark as possible.
- Don't wait until you're already too tired. Use napping as a plan to offset fatigue.
Taking a nap has something of a cultural bad name, at least in the UK and USA. People who nap can be wrongly thought of as lazy, unfocused, bored, or even self-indulgent. The truth is that short, regular naps are a treat, but are far from over-indulgent. They refresh the mind and body, leading to fewer accidents and mistakes particularly at work or whilst driving or operating machinery. They enable us to tackle chores and challenges with more patience and positivity. In a 2006 study into sleep and shift work (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19958/), scientists found that regular naps greatly assisted shift workers navigating the challenges associated with irregular work hours. Naps have even been shown to help tackle health issues and extend life span!
If you struggle with energy, low mood and nagging low level health complaints, it might be time to consider the power of the humble nap. Maybe our grandparents and babies had it right all along!