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Health & Wellness

How to Nap Smart

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It wasn’t long ago that taking an afternoon nap might have been seen as a tad lazy. Not anymore.

A body of research shows that a well-timed brief nap can be restorative, boosting memory and learning.  Catching some midday shuteye might also reduce mistakes and accidents among the sleep deprived. The National Sleep Foundation points to a NASA study on sleepy military pilots and astronauts that found a 40-minute snooze improved their performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent. 

These days, it’s even become acceptable to sleep on the job. According to Inc. Magazine, dedicated nap rooms, some with self-enclosed “nap pods” that have built-in speakers, are a perk at a growing number of companies, including Google, Uber, Zappos, and Ben & Jerry’s.

A power nap may have benefits that go beyond improved concentration and productivity. Some research suggests that taking an afternoon nap may help lower blood pressure. One study that looked at people with an average age of around 61 who had elevated blood pressure found that midday sleepers had an average four percent lower systolic blood pressure when they were awake and six percent lower blood pressure when they were sleeping.  While those decreases may seem modest, the researchers noted that even small dips may be able to reduce the risk of heart problems.

Far from being only for toddlers, naps may be especially beneficial for seniors. As the Harvard Health Letter points out, our sleep patterns change after about age 60, with less deep sleep, more rapid sleep cycles, and more frequent awakenings. In all, we may sleep an average of two hours less at night than we did as young adults.

“Naps can be a great way to get the extra rest you may need,” says psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep and is the author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan and The Power of When.

If you are going to nap, says Breus, nap smart. Here are some of his top tips:  

If you nap regularly, create a napping kit that includes eyeshades, earplugs, and a soundtrack of light music.

Choose the right time to nap so you don’t sabotage your nighttime sleep. For young adults, that’s typically between 1 and 3 pm. As you hit age 60 or so, there’s a shift in the body’s circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle, that makes napping between 11 am and 1 pm most advantageous.

Set a timer when you nap. It’s best to nap for either 25 minutes – so it’s easy to wake up – or for 90 minutes, which is a full sleep cycle. Anything in between may leave you groggy. If you’re looking to boost your daily energy, focus, and mental performance, the shorter “CEO nap” is the best option for you.

Consider a “nap a latte.” This is a good strategy for those occasional days when your energy is lagging and you need a quick lift. Here you drink a small cup of coffee or tea, find a quiet place to lie down, and take a 20-minute snooze. You’ll wake up just as the stimulant effects of the caffeine are kicking in. Confirm with your doctor that caffeinated beverages are appropriate for you. You may also want to avoid doing this later in the day to minimize affecting your night-time sleep.

Keep in mind that napping isn’t a solution for poor sleep. If you’re suffering from depression, you’re likely experiencing some type of sleep issue, and your circadian rhythms may be disrupted. Napping can make your depression worse. People with insomnia also shouldn’t nap. For insomniacs, a daytime nap can make it harder to fall asleep on schedule at night. Naps should work with your nighttime sleep routine, not undermine it.

As the National Sleep Foundation points out, if ongoing sleepiness is interfering with your ability to function during the day, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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