Grab your pillows and cozy up to this great news: napping may have a beneficial long-term effect on overall health.
If you're like most Americans, you are probably somewhere on the spectrum from slightly sleep deprived to "I'll have a triple shot of espresso, please". If you're like me, you are absolutely worthless without at least 7 hours of good quality sleep. As a personal trainer, my work begins at 6am, which means my morning starts while most are still deep asleep. While this schedule makes for amazingly clear roads during my commute and the opportunity to witness the San Francisco sunrise each morning, it also lends itself to a pretty rough social life. I'm the girl leaving the party (yawning) at 9pm.
If I do happen to stay awake past my neurological curfew, I suffer the consequences the next day. My mind feels foggy, my face feels hot, I am easily irritable and as a result, much less myself. Trust me, this is not a fun way to show up for life. As an added bonus, I steer clear of caffeine, so I can't even fake alertness with a cup of coffee.
Not only does sleep deprivation cause irritability, poor memory function and grogginess, it induces an imbalance in metabolic, hormonal and immune function.
There are even implications that consistent sleep deprivation may have cardiovascular and cancer risks. (Yau, 2015)
How do I remedy this sleepy situation? Naps.
Remember when you threw a temper tantrum upon hearing the words "Nap time"? Do you also remember your mother, after taking away your favorite toy/stuffed animal/etch-a-sketch, telling you that, "when you grow up, you'll wish you had nap time"? As usual mom was right but naps, often being associated with laziness, have gotten a bad rap. Are you (or your boss) part of the anti-nap mindset? Maybe a deeper look into the body's biological mechanisms will persuade you otherwise.
Our internal clocks regulate the timing of when we feel sleepy and when we feel alert during the day. The circadian biological clock is controlled by a part of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), located in the hypothalamus. This group of cells responds to light and dark signals - signaling to the body when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. The SCN also signals to parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and melatonin release. This signal causes our circadian rhythm to rise and dip at different times during the day, with the strongest sleep drives occurring between 2:00am and 4:00am and between 1:00pm and 3:00pm (Gerber, 2015).
Ahhh, between 1:00pm and 3:00pm! There's that "2:30 feeling" explained by science. Ever been to a meeting that starts after lunch? Ever tried starting a project at 2pm? How do you suffer through it? Coffee? More coffee? Extra super triple grande espresso drinks? Slapping yourself awake? I have a better solution and it sounds like science is on my side.
An article published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggested napping, in addition to cognitive benefits, may improve stress and immune recovery (Faraut, 2015).
This means that you will be healthier, happier, and smarter just by indulging in a little siesta once your circadian rhythm dips during the day. Didn't get enough sleep last night? The benefits of napping are enhanced as sleep deprivation accumulates. Also, napping will not interfere with your nighttime sleep routine, as long as you don't nap within 6 hours of your normal bedtime.
So now you're convinced, but how do you go about making a positive change for your health? Studies have suggested napping for 30-90 minutes in order to recover from sleep deprivation. Feel groggy after waking from a nap? This is normal. Give yourself 30 minutes after waking** in order to recover and you will find that your memory and alertness has improved.
Ditch the mid-day latte and indulge in a little quality time with your pillow, or reclined front seat, or office desk, or sleep pod. Wake up with a reduction in stress, improved immune function and a sharper mind.
**Find that you are STILL feeling worse after napping? Napping is not recommended in the specific case of those suffering from depression that have responded positively to sleep deprivation. Oddly enough, it has been found that sleep deprivation may actually help to alleviate depression symptoms and subsequent napping could reverse these benefits.(Faraut, 2015)
Faraut B, Nakib S, et al. Napping reverses the salivary interleukin-6 and urinary norepinephrine changes induced by sleep restriction. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2015; 100(3):E416-26.
Gerber A, Saini C, et al. The systemic control of circadian gene expression. Diabetes Obes Metabl. 2015; 17(1):23-32.
Yau E, Wong M, et al. Rapid-Eye-Movement-Sleep (REM) Associated Enhancement of Working Memory Performance after a Daytime Nap. PLoS One. 2015; 10(5): e0125752.