How Long to Nap for the Biggest Brain Benefits
If you have ever wondered whether napping is good for you, I’m here to tell you that it is. Taking a nap is like restarting your brain.
Sleep technicians and scientists have correlated napping with major health benefits such as improvement of memory, creative thinking and learning. Studies also prove that regular nappers are efficient problem solvers.
And some of the most successful people in the world agree with these studies too.
Popular author Pete Hamill was quoted saying that one gets to experience two mornings when they take a nap, and that, according to him is replenishing.
Winston Churchill is reported to have taken a two-hour must nap every afternoon during his tenure as British Prime Minister.
Presidents J.F Kennedy, Reagan and George W. Bush were also great adherents of afternoon napping. Albert Einstein is also known to have combined his 10-hour sleep with other daytime naps.
Want to be a genius?
Maybe napping could be the key.
Vincent Walsh, Professor at UCL says that since the industrial revolution, we have strained to save all our sleep for the night. While most mammalian species are polyphasic in their sleep, meaning that they sleep for several short periods during their twenty four hour day, human beings are different.
Since the industrial revolution, human beings have developed to be monophasic, which means we have a twelve-hour period (day) when we are awake and another (night) in which we sleep continuously.
The National Sleep Foundation has not yet established if this is the normal sleep pattern for human beings.
Despite humans being monophasic, napping has always been a normal part of human culture. For instance, older adults and young children are known to take naps for short periods during their day.
In some cultures, napping is taken to be a very important activity for its people.
The practice of napping can be traced back to about 500BC. Napping was a part of the Roman and Greek cultures around the 6th and 8th Century. According to a feature by the Huff Post, the Greek Siesta began in the afternoon up to around 5.
During this time, businesses closed so that people could nap. They would then wake up at 5pm and continue working to almost midnight. According to the Greeks, it was a very pleasant practice.
Through napping, the Greeks were able to unlock the key to a long life. According to a New York Times feature, this culture continues to the present. The populations around Ikaria Island in the Mediterranean have reportedly the longest-living individuals in the world.
The communities have better health, lower rates of dementia and depression in comparison to other populations. The secret? Plenty of sleep and naps.
While napping is not a new thing and has been shown to have numerous benefits, napping at work has for a very long time been frowned upon by many organizational cultures. It is seen as a sign of low ambition, laziness, and unprofessionalism.
However, in the recent past, napping has started gaining acceptance as a way of preventing burnout at work and keeping oneself sharp.
With the benefits of napping becoming more apparent, more companies are embracing the concept of napping at work, with companies like Google even providing their employees with nap pods specifically for napping.
NAPPING AND SLEEPING
There is a great difference between napping and sleeping. While it’s recommended to sleep up to eight hours a night, a healthy nap should last from about 10 minutes to 90 minutes.
During a nap you get into the first and sometimes the second stage of sleep.
This is enough to recharge your brain cells, allowing you to get back to work feeling rejuvenated. When you sleep, on the other hand, you complete the five stages of the cycles of sleep.
Beware, however, that long naps are not advised as they increase grogginess and inactiveness, mainly because you will get into deeper sleep and then have to wake up without completing the sleep cycle.
The grogginess from an extended nap can ultimately affect your productivity, which is the complete opposite of what you are trying to achieve when taking a nap.
TYPES OF NAPPING
There are three types of napping according to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Planned Napping: This is the type of napping that you schedule for. Another term for it is preparatory napping. With planned napping, you nap not because you are feeling sleepy, but because you had scheduled the nap as part of your day. It is recommended by sleep technicians as a good option for when you are planning to burn the midnight oil.
- Emergency Napping: Just like the name implies, this is the kind of nap where you fall asleep because you are so tired and cannot continue working. This nap is recommended for example when you are feeling drowsy while driving. In this case, it is advisable to pull on the road side and sleep for a couple of minutes and then continue with your drive. This will refresh your brain and reduce the risks that come with drowsy driving.
- Habitual Napping: This is the kind where you have the tendency to take naps at a specific time every day. This is common for children and seniors when they have reached a certain age.
BENEFITS OF NAPPING
Napping has a lot of benefits.
The National Sleep Foundation even compared the effectiveness of napping on the body with that of reducing alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking.
Some of the benefits of napping include:
Enhanced Cognitive Ability
Researchers have contended that naps lead to higher brain performance.
Sixty-minute to ninety-minute naps have been associated with increased memory.
After a night’s sleep, people were able to remember visual work-related objects and tasks more than they did immediately after they learnt it.
The same results were co-related with a sixty-minute afternoon nap.
A nap on top of enough sleep at night can yield even better results. Associative memory – the ability to connect linked items together to solve a bigger puzzle – has also been reported to improve as a result of napping.
Learning was also shown to improve for people who took naps. Napping can enhance your retention ability and word-learning in young kids.
Lower Blood Pressure
Midday naps can significantly reduce blood pressure with the same effectiveness as other methods of lowering and preventing high blood pressure, such as reduction of alcohol consumption and salt intake as preventative strategies.
A famous study known as the Greek Study involving 23,681 Greek men conducted for six years showed that napping can result in great health benefits.
One group of men napped at least three times during the week over the time the research was conducted.
The findings showed that this group of men had a 37% lower risk of getting heart diseases and high blood pressure compared to non-nappers.
As a Resolve for Sleep Deprivation
The benefits of sleeping for waking performance have been researched on and proven by many scholars.
Many studies have proven that naps are beneficial in periods of sleep deprivation and for night shift workers.
There have been studies that have researched the impacts of napping compared to other methods of sleep deprivation.
The benefits of napping were found to be more and lasted longer compared to those associated with sleep depriving substances like caffeine.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan revealed that taking a mid-day sixty-minute power nap can increase your tolerance for frustration, and make you less impulsive than watching a one-hour documentary.
Naps have also been proven to be effective emotional regulators because they give you time to process your stressors, rather than having to deal with them immediately.
Working too much without taking some time out can overwhelm your brain and lead to burnout.
If you have been working too hard and feel like your brain is starting to get overwhelmed, taking a nap can give your brain the much needed time out and prevent burnout.
After the nap, your energy levels will be replenished, and you can attack the rest of your day with renewed vigor.
DIFFERENT NAP LENGTHS AND THEIR IMPACT ON THE BRAIN
While we have seen that taking a nap is good for you, different lengths of naps will have different impacts on your brain.
Taking a 10 minute nap won’t have the same benefits as a 30 or 60 minute nap.
You will also feel different after waking up depending on the length of your nap. So, for how long should you nap?
Figuring out the perfect nap length requires an understanding of what happens to your brain at different sleep stages. There are basically five stages of sleep.
When you take a nap, you enter part of the sleep cycle.
The first and second stages are usually referred to as light wave sleep, while the third and fourth stages are referred to as deep wave sleep. In the fifth stage – the REM stage – you dive into the dream state which is accompanied by rapid eye movements, hence the name.
A complete sleep cycle ranges from 90 to 120 minutes.
Below, let’s take a look at what happens at different nap lengths.
10 minutes: During this phase, you are in your slow-wave sleep. The temperature of your brain and your blood flow decrease from their normal rate, and your body enters a relaxed state. Napping for ten minutes has been shown to enhance alertness and improve cognitive ability with a half-life of 3 hours.
Half-life is the time it takes for the effects to wear off your body. When you nap for 10 minutes, your brain has not entered the deep-sleep zones and you will find it very easy to wake up from the nap. You will also be feeling very alert immediately after the nap.
20 minutes: A 20-minute nap is an ideal length of a powernap! The National Sleep Foundation asserts that a 20-minute nap will enhance alertness, performance, moods, and memory. After napping for 20 minutes, people can easily recall phone numbers and people’s names.
30 minutes: A study by Medical News Today showed that a thirty-minute nap can significantly enhance an infant’s learning ability on tasks. The study was conducted through a 4-hour lesson in which the infants napped in between the session.
While a 30 minute nap enhances your learning capabilities, by this time you will have entered the deep wave sleep. Therefore, you might find it much harder to wake up after a 30 minute nap.
In addition, you might wake up feeling groggy and tired, something that is referred to as sleep inertia. As a result, it might take you an average of about 30 minutes before you are fully alert.
60 minutes: An hour’s nap in the afternoon will reduce your impulsiveness, make you more tolerant and improve your memory.
On an ECG (electroencephalogram) test focused on sleep spindles happening in the hippocampus, it was proven that memory is enhanced up to five times when a person takes the sixty-minute nap.
When you nap for an hour, your brain is able to consolidate your memory and organize details so that when you wake up, you are able to retrieve information easily.
Dr. Sara Mednick author of Take A Nap, Change Your Life indicates that a during the sixty-minute nap, you enter the slow-sleep wave, you will have a higher chance of remembering facts, faces and places.
In another study, some researches had a group of participants try to commit a set of cards to memory.
The participants were then divided into two groups. One group was asked to take a 60 minute nap, while the other group did not take any nap.
After an hour, the two groups were tested to check their memorization of the cards.
The group that didn’t take a nap had 60% recall of the patterns on the cards, while the group that napped for one hour had 85% recall.
The researchers concluded that when we nap, information is pushed to the neocortex, which is responsible for holding long term memories. This is why you are more likely to recall information after a 60 hour nap.
Just like the 30 minutes nap, the 60 minute nap gets us into deep wave sleep, which means that you will experience some level of sleep inertia upon waking up.
As a result, it will take some time before you can start experiencing the benefits of the 60 minute nap.
90 minutes: A one-and-a-half-hour nap might seem to be too long, and it is unlikely that your employer will allow you to nap for all this time while at work. However, napping for 90 minutes has been shown to have the same benefits you would get from 8 hours of sleep. Actually, doctors recommend napping for ninety minutes compared to napping for sixty minutes.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, napping for 90 minutes helps improve your creativity, clears your mind, and helps improve your procedural and emotional memory, as well as your ability to learn. Napping for 90 minutes is also great if you did not get enough sleep at night.
Since a complete sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, you will probably wake at the end of your sleep cycle after a 90 minute nap.
This means that you will find it easier to wake up and will feel more alert, without the effects of sleep inertia.
However, if you extend your nap, you will get into another sleep cycle, making it harder for you to wake up.
NAPPING TIPS TO MAKE MOST OF YOUR NAPS
Having seen the benefits of napping, and how different lengths of naps affect your brain, below are some tips to help you get the most from your naps:
- A short nap (10 minutes to 20 minutes) is usually recommended to boost alertness and performance. It will also less likely affect your night time sleep.
- Sleeping on your office desk is highly discouraged. Your sleep environment can greatly impact the quality of your nap. Sleep technicians advise that you find a comfortable place, with a warm temperature to boost your nap. The lightning of the room and the noise can also impede your ability to nap. Try looking for a dimly lit and quiet place to improve the quality of your nap.
- Avoid napping if you are an insomniac. Our earlier discussions show that daytime napping can lessen your night sleep. The chances of this increase with the frequency and length of your naps.
- If possible, schedule a ninety-minute nap time as this will reap you great benefits like enhancing creativity and your learning capability. The 90-minute nap gives also you a full cycle of sleep with impacts that compare to an eight-hour sleep.
- Taking a short nap after your coffee can also boost your alertness when you wake up. Since coffee takes about 20- 30 minutes for its effects to kick in, taking a 20 minute nap just after a cup of coffee will improve your alertness when you wake up, since the effects of the coffee will be kicking in just as you wake up.
- Afternoon naps are advised compared to any other time. If you take a nap before noon, you increase the chances of feeling disoriented and irritable.
- An after-nap walk is advised to help you rid of the grogginess that might come after your afternoon snooze. For those who report feeling confused when they wake up, a short walk will help them feel more refreshed and ready for the afternoon slump.
- Napping after 4pm should be a no-no. Most naps should end at that time. If you nap after 4pm, there is a likelihood that you will sleep through the rest of the day. You might eventually fail to wake up and combine that with your nighttime sleep.
- A napping kit includes ear muffs, eye plugs, silence and an alarm clock. There is a possibility that you might oversleep when you tempt your brain with a nap. To beat this, you should carry an alarm clock to time your nap so that you wake up at the right time.
SIDE EFFECTS OF DAYTIME SLEEPING
While napping has massive benefits, it is not without its downsides.
Some studies show that excessive day time naps are correlated with increased levels of C-reactive protein.
This protein is an indicator of systemic inflammation which can be a risk factor for certain cancers, depression, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
The most evident downside of day time napping is the disruption of normal sleep pattern.
Excessive daytime naps can interfere with your nighttime sleep and leave you awake and irritable while you are supposed to be resting.
Remember, sleep deprivation is the number one cause for insanity, depression, high rates of burnout and heart diseases. Another health-related risk is Parkinson’s disease – whose common symptom is daytime sleepiness.
Naps that last between 30 minutes to one hour have been shown to cause sleep inertia.
The disorientation and grogginess you get from these types of naps can adversely impede your productivity, thereby defeating the purpose of the nap.
In addition, the impact of napping might vary depending on the individual. While a lot of people agree that daytime snoozes are rejuvenating, others have reported high rates of grogginess and bad moods following a nap.
Napping is a great way to refresh and re-energize yourself when you are feeling burnt out or lethargic.
Keep in mind, however, that different lengths of naps will have a different effects on your brain.
For a quick recharge, keep your nap between 10 to 20 minutes.
If you are really feeling burnt out and want to reap greater benefits from your nap, go for the 90 minute nap.
While 30 and 60 minute naps have their benefits, you will probably wake up feeling groggy and tired, something that might undo the benefits gained from the nap.
It is also good to keep in mind that while some companies have started giving nap benefits to their employees, not every company has embraced napping at work.
Therefore, before you decide to take a nap at work, find out whether your employer is okay with it. You don’t want to put your job on the line for 20 minutes of napping, do you?
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