THE SCIENCE OF NAPPING
If you’re sleep deprived you can’t learn, perform, or think as well. But, are naps a good thing? The perfect nap is a science based on circadian rhythms.
Let’s look at the science of napping, and how to nap, for the biggest brain benefits!
Louie loves to nap so he was far more enthusiastic about this post than our post about a new ocean mammal discovery!
Kidding aside, that’s an intriguing post.
Back to naps! The great news is that there are brain benefits to napping!
YES! WE CAN NAP FOR THE BIGGEST BRAIN BENEFITS. LIKE THIS BRAINY GUY!
ARE NAPS A GOOD THING? (okay, you are savvy, picked up on the subtext and know naps are a good thing, but I want to share why...not to mention the brain benefits)
Ovid thought so:
“There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than all the alcohol ever distilled.” –OVID
Ovid was a poet born in Sulmo, Italy on March 20, 43 BCE.
His most famous and revered work is “Metamorphoses,” considered a masterpiece alongside the works of Homer and Virgil.
Others may disagree that naps are a good thing, such as Rita Rudner’s (ex) stepfathers.
Ms. Rudner reports: My mother was a very tough woman. She buried three husbands and two of them were just napping.
WHY DO WE SLEEP for 6-9 HOURS AT NIGHT?
Which brings me to the interesting question: Why do we sleep for 6-9 hours, then stay awake for twice as long?
Most people get their sleep in a single long bout, for 6-9 hours at night. This is called monophasic sleep.
However, evidence is emerging that we may not have been programmed to sleep in this way.
DANGER OF SLEEPING FOR 9 HOURS?
Think about it.
How would it do for our ancestors to lie down under a tree, or even in a tree, and virtually be unconscious and vulnerable to predators for an 8-9 hour stretch?
In a word, that would have been dangerous.
Studies show that our brains may have been hard-wired for biphasic sleep.
Defined by the sleep foundation: Biphasic sleep is a sleep pattern in which a person splits their sleep into two main segments per day.
A person or animal may sleep longer at night, and then take a nap during the day. Someone may also split their nighttime sleep.
Researchers had to dig for anthropologic references to sleep patterns. We sure can’t find fossil evidence of sleep patterns!
It’s hypothesized that during the 18th century, progress in urban lighting in Europe & America–fueled by oil from the whaling trade–disrupted the biphasic sleep pattern.
Why are lights disruptive to sleep? Because of our circadian rhythms.
For years, researchers have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal, biological clock that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day.
Chronobiology is the study of circadian rhythms.
Take one, 24-hour period. I starve you. You’re hangry, of course.
What if I take away your water? You’re angry & thirsty.
But if I keep you awake for 24 hours straight, everyone will notice how compromised you are. The results could be dangerous.
BACK TO CIRCADIAN RHYTHM & THAT NAPS ARE A GOOD THING
Okay so we’ve got light affecting melatonin production via the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It’s not quite that simple, because of adenosine.
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE SCIENCE OF NAPPING?
A LOT! THE PERFECT NAP IS A SCIENCE
What can we do about this drop in cognitive performance & concentration?
5 hour energy shots? Coffee? (for the perfect cup of joe, I’ve got a great post here)
We can take a nap!
A 2008 study showed that naps are better than caffeine when it comes to verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning.
CAFFEINE & NAPPING
I would never bash caffeine or chocolate. I love both caffeine & chocolate but this post is about the science of napping!
What if we combine caffeine with our nap? How you ask?
Daniel Pink suggests this in his book, WHEN. Drink 200 mg of caffeine right before your 25-minute nap!
You’ll wake up without sleep inertia, right when your caffeine is kicking in!
NAP FOR THE BIGGEST BRAIN BENEFITS
Those boys are silly. Of course we care about brain benefits!
NASA PROVED THAT THE PERFECT NAP IS A SCIENCE
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU NAP?
According to NASA’s extensive research, the ideal nap is 26 minutes or shorter. Even ten minutes affords our brain great benefits.
Longer naps are associated with a loss of productivity and sleep inertia. (a period of reduced performance upon awakening from sleep.) Inertia is why you feel groggy after a long nap!
NAPPING & INSOMNIA
Speaking of disrupted sleep, napping isn’t for everyone. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, insomnia, or staying asleep at night, napping could interfere. Here’s a link for the national sleep foundation if you’d like a few tips on combating insomnia.
In brief, try lowering the lights in the evening, don’t eat after 7, no caffeine or naps (!) after 3, and no screens in your bedroom will help nudge your circadian rhythms. Using a happy light in the morning or sitting in a bright room upon awakening is another way to trick your body into better rest at night & awakeness during the day.
NAP FOR THE BIGGEST BRAIN BENEFITS
So the next time you’re feeling drowsy, you could pour a cup of coffee or black tea, exercise, or eat some dark chocolate! Not altogether bad options.
Remember that there is another cozier alternative, one that has many cognitive, emotional, & performance benefits.
PLAN YOUR INTERACTIONS WITH OTHERS!
Think about it! If you need to have a speeding ticket expunged or have an important job interview, don’t schedule it late morning or the end of the day, when others’ have a drop in their circadian rhythm!
THE PERFECT NAP IS A SCIENCE
This post took me far longer than usual because I had to take frequent nap breaks!
Do you recharge your brain by napping?