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A Guide to Successful Napping: The Benefits of a Good Nap

 

Do you feel as if you walk through most of your days sleep-deprived? That feeling may be correct. Too many people today stay so busy that sleep becomes a secondary priority. Fortunately, there's a solution to those afternoon slumps or failures to get enough sleep at night. Yes, we need 7.5 or eight hours of sleep per day — but that doesn't have to come all at once. An afternoon nap could be the answer to your sleep deprivation.

Types of Naps

If you think of napping as something that's only for babies and preschoolers, it's time to widen your horizons. There are several kinds of naps, each of which is beneficial for different types of people at different stages of life.

  • Regular naps. These are the naps most often associated with young children. Babies need to nap several times a day, and even through kindergarten, most children benefit from a regular nap that occurs at the same time each day.
  • Emergency naps. These unplanned naps are vital during those times when you can't keep your eyes open for one more minute. A quick emergency nap can revitalize you for the rest of the day's work — and it can be a lifesaver if you find your eyes drifting closed while you're driving.
  • Preparatory naps. These are naps you plan in advance, typically taking them before you're actually sleepy. If you know you have an all-nighter coming up, for instance, you might schedule a nap to store up the benefits of sleep for the wakeful hours ahead.

Benefits of Napping

Taking a nap doesn't only help little children feel refreshed and at peace with the world. A midday nap can make a big difference to adults as well. Take a look at some of the many benefits associated with napping.

  • Reduced tension. Napping is a great way to let go of some of the stress of the day.
  • Improved performance. Naps enhance on-the-job performance while reducing the number of mistakes that employees make. NASA has studied the importance of naps for astronauts, learning that naps enhance working memory, which is the ability to remember what's needed for one task while simultaneously keeping the requirements for other tasks in memory (something that's crucial while piloting a spaceship).
  • Heightened alertness. Night shift workers typically experience a great deal of fatigue, which can impair their performance on the job. A 2006 study from St. John's Mercy Medical Center's Sleep Medicine and Research Center showed that the combination of naps and caffeine is highly effective at helping night shift workers cope with sleepiness.
  • Enhanced attitude. Being sleepy makes people cranky. Napping helps improve a person's mood, making it easier to deal with frustrating circumstances.
  • Improved memory. Taking that quick nap, as it turns out, can reboot your memory, making it easier to remember things you learned before your nap.
  • Expanded cognitive functioning overall. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is key to restoring the brain and body. When you nap, you spend more time in this valuable stage of sleep. The results? Proven improvement on cognitive assessments and overall brain function.
  • Renewed creativity.Sleep is when the brain processes what it's learned during the day, and it's absolutely necessary if you want to incorporate what you've learned into new creative thoughts and endeavors. Studies show that naps can be as efficient as overnight sleep to boost creativity.

Tips and Tricks for Successful Napping

Once you realize the powerful benefits of napping, how do you access them? After all, very few people can simply will themselves to sleep at any time of the day. These tips and tricks should help you take advantage of the benefits of productive napping.

Take a Nap Before a Road Trip

If you have a long drive ahead of you, take a short nap before you start to prevent becoming drowsy on the road. If you find yourself starting to fade away while you're behind the wheel, pull over to the side for a short nap of 20 minutes or so — then boost your alertness further once you wake up with some caffeine.

Enjoy a Preparatory Nap Before a Long Night

If you're working the night shift or pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper for school, the nap you take before your stressful night can make all the difference. Set aside enough time to make sure you're adequately recharged — as much as two hours — and put it in your calendar to give yourself permission to check out for that time.

Keep Emergency Naps Short

So-called "power naps" work best if you keep them to around 20 minutes. This type of nap refreshes your mind and body and boosts your alertness without creating sleep inertia, which is that groggy, disoriented feeling that you can experience as you emerge from a deep sleep.

Plan Naps for Early to Mid-Afternoon

If you nap too late in the day, you may find it difficult to fall asleep that night. If you try to nap in the morning, your body may refuse to sleep. An early afternoon nap — for instance, right after lunch — is the best time to reap the greatest benefits from napping.

Drink Your Coffee Before You Nap

This tip may seem counter-intuitive, but studies show that it takes a while for caffeine to produce its well-known energizing effects. If you're planning a 20-minute power nap, drinking your coffee before you settle down means that you'll wake up just as the caffeine starts to kick in, so you can skip any grogginess and get right back to work.

Nap in a Restful Environment

The ability to fall asleep quickly is often affected by your sleep environment. Look for a spot where you can lie down fully. Limiting the amount of noise (possibly by wearing earplugs) and light is key, as is napping in a room with a cool, comfortable temperature.

If you're able to get enough sleep at night regularly, napping may not be a necessary part of your life. But when you find yourself with a sleep deficit or need a little midday boost of energy and alertness, napping comes to the rescue with what you need.

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