Napping Can Dramatically Increase Learning, Memory, Awareness, and More

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Duane Townsend

Daily Health Post - November 2019

Siesta. In some countries, an afternoon nap is part of the culture; to escape the afternoon heat, rest, and re-energize. Science has found that a short nap in the middle of the day can not only provide rest but improve mood, physical performance, memory, and the ability to learn.

At most places of work in North America, there is no place for a mid-day snooze and taking a nod at your desk is frowned upon. More progressive companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Google recognize that optimum performance comes from healthy, well-rested people and provide nap spaces in their offices.

When a baby’s life begins, naps are frequent and absolutely necessary for growth and development. Elderly people (who often find that they don’t sleep as well or as much during the night as they used to) often catch a few Zs during the day as well. Everyone in between is expected to rise in the morning and power through until late night, excelling in a variety of roles and activities. We may, however, do better with a break like the youngest and oldest among us.

Benefits Of Napping

A 2009 study looked into the benefits of a mid-day nap for the purposes of learning and memory based on age, experience with napping, and timing and length of sleep. What they found is that once you get into the habit of napping, your naps become more beneficial and productive.

“Sleep inertia” (the groggy time before becoming fully alert after sleeping) is also less intense and of shorter duration as your body gets used to short naps. The length of the nap is also a significant factor in reaping the benefits: a 10-minute nap is more effective than a 30- or 90-minute sleep for quick rejuvenation. Sleeping longer than 10 minutes means that waking up is more difficult due to the deeper levels of sleep, reducing the benefits of the nap (1).

Another study on nap duration a year later found that “Naps can reduce sleepiness and improve cognitive performance. The benefits of brief (5-15 min) naps are almost immediate after the nap and last a limited period (1-3h). Longer naps (> 30 min) can produce impairment from sleep inertia for a short period after waking but then produce improved cognitive performance for a longer period (up to many hours). Other factors that affect the benefits from the nap are the circadian timing of the nap with early afternoon being the most favourable time…Those who regularly nap seem to show greater benefits than those who rarely nap.” (2) ...
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