If you’ve ever hit that after-lunch “wall” where you have no energy, you know how difficult it can be to keep your eyes open. You fight through it anyway, only to be exhausted at the end of the day… so why not put on an eye mask and take a quick snooze?
You see, research shows that taking a power nap on a regular basis can be very healthy — here are a few of the benefits.1
Boosting the Immune System
Not getting enough sleep can throw your immune system out of whack. You see, sleep deprivation increases the production of stress hormones, such as norepinephrine and cortisol.2 It can also stimulate the production of cytokines, which are molecules that trigger inflammatory reactions.3 Excessive amounts of cytokines and stress hormones can increase your risk of illness.4
In one study, 11 healthy subjects agreed to be restricted to only two hours of sleep per night. Researchers took urine and blood samples. These samples showed that the participants had elevated levels of both norepinephrine and cytokines.
The next day, one group of participants took two 30-minute naps. The other group continued to sleep only two hours. According to the results of the study, the group that napped saw their cytokine and norepinephrine levels return to normal, while the other group’s levels remained elevated.5
Staying Alert at Night
If you work the night shift, you know how hard it can be to stay alert. It can have a major effect on your body’s internal clock, also known as your circadian rhythm. Not only does this affect your productivity, it could even cause a serious injury if you work around machinery.
Studies show that napping before your shift can help improve your alertness and your job performance. (Bonus: It can also help you stay sharp on your drive home!)6
Keeping You Alert During the Day
A power nap during the day also helps you stay alert and productive on the job. Studies indicate that shorter naps are better than longer ones when it comes to keeping you sharp. The most effective duration appears to be 10 minutes. According to research, a 10-minute nap does the best job of reducing fatigue, increasing vigor, and boosting cognitive abilities.7
Learning Something New
If you’re interested in learning a new skill, frequent naps might help you do a better job. A study was performed to determine whether regular napping could help improve motor learning. One group of participants napped on a regular basis. The other only napped sporadically. Both groups took naps before performing a reading task. According to the results, the frequent nappers did a better job than the sporadic nappers.8
Increasing Physical Stamina
It appears that napping not only improves your mental abilities, but also your physical stamina. Ten men participated in a study that involved performing a series of sprints before and after taking a 30-minute nap after lunch. Their sprint times improved substantially after the naps.
The researchers believe that naps could play an important role in helping to improve athletic performance. This is especially the case for those whose normal bedtime regimens are restricted due to competition or training.9
Improving Your Perceptive Skills
For most of us, bedtime is at night — but taking a 60- to 90-minute nap could be just as good as a full night’s sleep when it comes to our perceptive skills. Perception is the ability to interpret, or give meaning to, what we see. One study involved a group of people who were given a task measuring their perceptive skills. One group performed the task after waking up from a nap. The other group took the test after a full eight hours of sleep. According to the results, both groups performed the task equally well.10
Improving Your Memory
Could napping improve your memory? Researchers examined this issue. They conducted a study to determine if a nap could help improve memory — specifically, associative memory. Associative memory involves making a connection between two objects that are unrelated. The researchers split the 31 study participants into two groups. Both groups were asked to memorize pictures of faces with pictures of objects.
One group of participants took a 90-minute nap after the memorization task. The other did not. Four-and-a-half hours later, both groups were tested on the task. The group that took a nap performed much better than the one that did not.11
Getting the Most Out of Your Power Nap
There appear to be several benefits from taking a nap each day. It seems that a 10-30 minute nap will be the most effective when it comes to staying alert. But just like when you go to bed for the night, your environment will have a major impact on the quality of your nap.
You need to be in a room at a comfortable temperature, and find a good place to lie down. Wear an eye mask, if necessary, and limit your exposure to noise and light. Just make sure you don’t nap too late in the day, because it could have a negative effect on your ability get to sleep at night.12
The Power Of A Power Nap
Make time for naptime. Nearly 90 percent of all animal species, including dogs and cats, sleep for short periods of time throughout the day. The term for this is polyphasic sleeping. Humans, on the other hand, are typically monophasic sleepers. This means that most of us have a period where we’re awake and another period where we’re asleep. (And it’s not even a certainty that humans should naturally be this way… perhaps we’re supposed to be polyphasic sleepers, too!)13
So, mix in a nap as often as possible — you’d be surprised at how great you’ll feel and the benefits you’ll enjoy.