Napping is a tool as old as time itself.
— A. Roger Ekirch, Historian
The practice of a mid-day nap can be found in countries around the world. The siesta in Spain is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. In Bengal, the word which describes a similar concept is bhat-ghum, literally meaning “rice-sleep”, a nap after lunch. In particular parts of mainland China and Taiwan, schools have a half-hour nap period right after lunch. This is a time when all lights are out and one is not allowed to do anything other than rest or sleep.
Usually, these breaks occur when the sun is at it’s highest point. The mid-day heat and post-meal drowsiness create the perfect recipe for a nap. However, research has shown that there are biological benefits to naps as well. This informative article at The Art of Manliness outlines key benefits of the nap including:
- Improved learning and working memory
- Heightened sense of creativity
- Improved mood do to increased level of seratonin
- Increased alertness
In research published in the journal Current Biology, Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, states that that learning ability degrades as the day wears on. However, shut-eye not only reverses those effects, it provides a memory boost: Napping test-takers in his experiment did about 10 percent better on a test given in the evening, after their nap, than they did on a test given before the nap.
In an article by Live Science, Walker says that “somewhere between infancy and early adulthood, we abandon the notion that sleep is useful,” Walker said. That needs to change, he said: “Sleep is doing something very active for things like learning and memory. I think for us as a society to stop thinking of sleep as a luxury rather than a biological necessity is going to be wise.”
So, what are the keys to a successful nap? If you’d like to start utilizing a bit of rest during the day, here are some helpful hints by Dr. Sara Mednick, author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life” and Assistant Professor of Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside:
- The first consideration is psychological: Recognize that you’re not being lazy; napping will make you more productive and more alert after you wake up.
- Try to nap in the morning or just after lunch; human circadian rhythms make late afternoons a more likely time to fall into deep (slow-wave) sleep, which will leave you groggy.
- Avoid consuming large quantities of caffeine as well as foods that are heavy in fat and sugar, which meddle with a person’s ability to fall asleep.
- Instead, in the hour or two before your nap time, eat foods high in calcium and protein, which promote sleep.
- Find a clean, quiet place where passersby and phones won’t disturb you.
- Try to darken your nap zone, or wear an eyeshade. Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep- inducing hormone.
- Remember that body temperature drops when you fall asleep. Raise the room temperature or use a blanket.
- Once you are relaxed and in position to fall asleep, set your alarm for the desired duration
Here’s to more refreshing and comfortable naps for all!