Surprising Benefits Of Naps
Naps have gotten a bad rap. But it turns out that naps offer many health benefits. And if you’re not taking advantage of naps, you could be causing yourself to miss out on things like improved learning and creativity as well as a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, as an added benefit, naps can improve your mood. So read on and I’ll share with you both the benefits of naps and how you can take naps to meet your individualized needs.
The History Of Naps
Although naps aren’t especially popular in our culture today, that’s a recent change. For all of recorded human history we have evidence that people have napped frequently. And in some places in the world napping is still common place. For example, in Spain it is common for people to take a siesta after the midday meal. Similarly, in parts of Italy people take a riposo. These naps are so much a part of the culture that in many such places shops close during those midday hours.
History is also full of famous nappers. Examples include John F Kennedy and Winston Churchill. Napoleon Bonaparte was famous for his negative attitudes toward soldiers who slept long hours, but he was also famous for napping. He could nap in the middle of battle if necessary. And Thomas Edison was famous for napping and crediting naps with much of his success.
We can also take some cues from non-human animals who nap frequently. Cats, for example, are famous for napping, and how often do you hear of cats having heart attacks? In fact, the high stress conditions that are so common place among modern humans are unheard of among animal populations who regularly nap.
One of the most well documented benefits of naps is improved heart health. For example, study after study shows that men who regularly nap have significantly lower risk of developing heart disease or dying from heart disease.
One of the ways in which naps may improve heart health is by lowering stress hormones such as cortisol. And lowering cortisol produces a lot of benefits. In addition to reducing heart disease risk, lowering cortisol also reduces the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and many types of cancer.
When cortisol is elevated growth hormone levels are low. That means that under stress you’ll have less muscle, less strength, less stamina, and less ability to recover from injury. Naps reverse that negative trend. Getting regular naps can help increase growth hormone levels naturally, helping you to feel more youthful.
Naps Are Manly
When cortisol levels are up, testosterone levels are down. Men with chronic stress have low testosterone. And as a result, they are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, lack of motivation and drive, low sex drive, and other such symptoms.
Yet something as simple as regular naps can help to reverse that trend and increase testosterone levels.
Improve Memory, Learning, and Creativity
Sleep is an important time for the brain to process all the information from the waking state. Studies show that without adequate sleep the brain quickly becomes overloaded, cluttered, and inefficient. Plus, all that information doesn’t get stored properly.
But regular naps are shown to improve working retention and recall. They also prevent mental fatigue and improve productivity. If you’ve ever been hard at work on something only to feel you’ve hit a wall in your ability to continue, you may have experienced how a nap can restore your enthusiasm and interest in a project. In fact, studies have shown that 30-60 minute naps during breaks in working sessions can actually improve productivity.
And naps have long been used by some of the creative legends of all time. Some stages of sleep are shown to provide an important link between consciousness and the unconscious sources of creativity.
Sleep researchers have identified different stages of sleep. The stages are 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement). Each stage occurs in predictable patterns and for predictable lengths. And each stage corresponds to different brain activity and benefits.
Sleep experts say that the ideal nap is 90 minutes in the middle of the day around 1 to 3 PM. The 90 minute nap allows you to cycle through all the stages at least once, offering maximum benefits.
Of course not everyone can take a 90 minute nap. So if you want to benefit from a shorter nap, experts recommend a 15-20 minute nap to avoid waking in the middle of slow wave sleep and feeling groggy. Many people refer to this sort of nap as a power nap. Power naps can give you creative benefits and leave you feeling more alert, attentive, and interested in whatever you are working on. However, they won’t give you the same degree of cortisol-lowering benefits as a 90 minute nap.
Getting To Sleep
Some people avoid naps only because they feel that they are unable to get to sleep quickly enough. Unlike Napoleon, who was able to fall asleep within minutes even with the sound of bombs exploding, many men find that falling asleep takes 20 minutes or more. For those who only have 30 minutes during which to nap, it may seem impractical to try and nap under those circumstances.
The first thing to consider is that even if you don’t actually fall asleep, relaxing still has many benefits. So it is well worth lying down for that time.
The other thing to consider is that learning how to fall asleep is a skill that you can improve. The more you practice allowing your mind and body to relax and drift into dreamland, the better you will become at napping. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation is one strategy that works very well for some people. For other people paying attention to the breath and allowing the breath to relax is an effective way to improve in the skill of falling asleep.
As we’ve seen in this article, there are a lot of benefits of naps. If you ever find yourself feeling irritable or suffering from brain fog in the afternoon - or if you find that you feel just plain tired - try a nap. Giving yourself the option to nap regularly could do wonders for your health, your outlook, and your whole life.