Taking short daily naps can improve your life in so many ways…
Humans are one of the few animals on this planet that only sleep at night. Most animals follow a polyphasic sleep cycle – they alternate between wakefulness and sleep several times during the 24 hour day. Unfortunately for us, the way our normal days are structured prevents us from being able to sleep multiple times in a day.
People who are sleep deprived have higher levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. Higher cortisol levels can result in damage to the immune system. But taking a nap can lower levels of cortisol and reduce the level of physiological stress on your body.
Throughout history, it has been well known that armies fight better when they have been rested. In fact any kind of battle is easier won after a good night’s sleep – generals need to be on the ball and soldiers ready to fight. I never go on stage tired – I always get up late on show days and make sure I walk on stage fully fit to perform. I’ve found by experience that my concentration is sharper if I’m relaxed and in the proper state of mind to face an audience. No one in their right mind wants to be fighting fatigue when they should be giving their best.
Going to Court? Going for a job interview? Meeting someone important? Taking an exam? If you haven’t got all your answers ready or all your ducks in a row by now, then it’s a bit late! Last minute revision doesn’t serve you well I’m afraid. But being properly rested will, and it will have a greater and longer lasting impact on your performance! Trying to get some last minute revision done before an exam can be counter-productive – getting some sleep will do you a lot more good!
Please don’t misunderstand this advice… revising makes sense. Revising strengthens and consolidates knowledge. The more you recall a piece of information, the stronger the memory of that information will become. But sleep is also vital for memory retention and a good night’s sleep helps our brains consolidate what we’ve learned in the day. Conversely, trying to learn and remember something when you’re not properly rested is a lot more difficult.
There are many people who swear by a quick afternoon nap, so if you’ve got an hour free, is it better to nap or revise?
A team of researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore set out to compare the two options. The team created a real student experience, and recruited 72 volunteers to sit through lectures about 12 different species of ants and crabs. The participants were asked to learn all about these animals, including for example, information about their diets and habitats.
After 80 minutes of tuition, the students were given an hour to either watch a film, have a nap, or revise what they had just learned. This was followed by another 80 minutes of study. Then they all sat an exam in which they were asked 360 questions.
The group that used their downtime to take a nap achieved the highest scores. Not satisfied with this short-term result, the researchers called the volunteers back for another test a week later, and again, the group that used the time to take a nap scored the highest. Moreover, while the revisers significantly outperformed the group who watched the movie before the first test, they lost their advantage in the second test because there was no significant difference in the two groups scores a week later.
However, while those who took advantage of a nap did significantly better than the groups who watched the movie or did last minute revision, the difference between them was not statistically significant and the team will now conduct studies with larger numbers of people. In the meantime however, the evidence suggests napping is at least as effective as revising and might even be better.
No one is quite sure why taking a nap might be so beneficial. It’s possible that giving the brain a short rest helps it to absorb more information by freeing up space or because memories are better laid down during a short sleep. Or it could be that even a short rest makes the brain more alert and thus more ready to learn.
We already know that in the natural cycle of wakefulness, there is a natural dip in alertness at around 3pm, so that might be a good time to close your eyes and take a quiet break.
A nap can improve your mood. It can also increase your ability to manage information.
In another study, a visual test was given to participants, and a decline in performance was observed after having the participants perform for multiple rounds. When participants were asked to perform the same task, but allowed to take a half hour nap in the middle, their performance was significantly enhanced. A one-hour nap resulted in better performance all around in the same test.
Breaking up your day with a nap can dramatically increase alertness, as shown by a NASA studied that showed a 100% increase in alertness for individuals who took a 40 minute nap. In some cases, studies showed how 20 minute naps could provide equal or better increases in alertness as compared to 200mg of caffeine.
As exemplified by artists like Leonardo da Vinci, who took multiple naps during the day and minimized sleep during the night, creativity can dramatically increase if you take naps. This could be attributed to the sharpening of senses that may be associated with being well rested.
Working memory is more efficient when people are well rested, because it is involved in situations that require a lot of attention and it’s thought that taking naps can even help you retain memories long term.
Squeezing a quick nap into your day can help keep your senses of smell, taste, sight, and hearing in good condition. Allowing your body some sleep during the day has shown to benefit sensory perception almost as much as a full night’s sleep. For example, keeping senses sharp can make a big difference in how music sounds or how food tastes!
Think about it… How much better do you feel after a few Zzzz’s?
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.