Napping: Your Way to Increased Intelligence, Memory, Creativity and Health

We have mentioned in the last several blogs that napping is not only great for you, it is one of my favorite times to work on Lucid Dreams and to get my dream journal going. In this blog we are going to look more at napping. First I am to say, if you haven’t already guessed by now, I am a big believer in naps. I feel they can make a person much more productive, being a time of great insight.  A nap can help a person be more creative, increase memory and intelligence.

There is lot of research that supports my love of the afternoon nap. So don’t feel guilty, just do it! In a fascinating study, Stickgold and colleagues asked 99 college students to memorize a computer maze. The students were put inside a virtual, 3-D version of the maze and asked to navigate to another spot within it. Then half the students had the opportunity to take a 90-minute nap while the other half stayed awake and watched videos. Five hours later when the students were given the maze test again, those that napped did at least 10 times better than the students who stayed awake – even if those students had reviewed the maze in their head. Even more dramatic results where gotten from those nappers who dreamed about the maze (one reported being lost in a bat cave); the dreamers performed 10 times better again than the nappers who did not dream!

In a Georgetown University Medical Center research project, they monitored brain activity during nap session, finding that the right hemisphere of the brain was more active, communicating not only with itself, but also with the left hemisphere. According to researchers, this was true whether the napper was right-handed or left-handed.

The study suggests the right hemisphere “is doing important things in the resting state that we don’t yet understand,” said Andrei Medvedev, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging at Georgetown.

The right hemisphere is well known to be involved in creative tasks, and could be daydreaming or processing and storing previously acquired information, he said.

“The brain could be doing some helpful housecleaning, classifying data, consolidating memories. That could explain the power of napping,” he said. “But we just don’t know yet the relative roles of both hemispheres in those processes and whether the power nap might benefit righties more then lefties.”

As the day goes on, learning ability, alertness, and focus degrade. A nap can help counteract that effect and give those mental faculties a boost. A short nap, even just 15 to 20 minutes, can greatly increase the capabilities that increased the odds of survival in ancient times, so it’s only natural that we’re predisposed to want to sleep. We have probably achieved an evolutionary advantage by doing so.

Most mammals sleep for short periods throughout the day. Have you ever looked at your cat’s or dog’s sleeping habits? Most pets love naps even more than I do. Humans have consolidated sleep into one long period, but as I have stated in other blogs, many find it more beneficial to sleep in 2 sessions, like most other mammals do. We are programmed to desire that afternoon nap. This midday wave of drowsiness is not only due to heat or a heavy lunch (it occurs even if we skip eating) but also from an afternoon quiescent phase in our physiology, which diminishes our reaction time, memory, coordination, mood, and alertness.

Naps are more effective than caffeine

If you are thinking of pouring yourself a giant cup of afternoon coffee, consider a nap instead. Research has shown it can be a better way to wake you up. When researchers compared the effectiveness of getting more sleep at night to drinking a cup of coffee or taking a nap, the nap was the clear winner. Naps help to genuinely refresh your body and their impact can be much more long-lasting than that of caffeinated drinks.

Even a short nap can have a marked effect on your health

There are many research studies that show napping can have pretty amazing health benefits. A study of Greek adults found napping at least three times a week for 30 minutes or more was associated with a 37% lower risk of death from heart disease. A British study suggests that just knowing a nap is coming is enough to lower blood pressure. Other benefits of napping include: reduced stress and a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and excessive weight gain.

How to Take the Perfect Nap

There are many ways to get a good afternoon nap. For me it is just natural, so if I have a chance, I slip it in. But many of my patients have had a hard time getting started, so I found the following guidelines to be useful:

These tips can help you maximize the benefits of napping, and may just have you making naps a part of your everyday schedule.

1. Watch the time. The most beneficial naps during the day according to sleep experts are relatively short. This is because short naps only allow individuals to enter the first two stages of sleep. Once you enter slow wave sleep, it’s much harder to wake up and you may be left feeling groggy for hours afterwards. Ideally, keep your naps under 20 minutes. Naps of this duration are short enough to fit into a workday but still give the benefits of improved mood, concentration, alertness, and motor skills. If you’ve got more time, a nap of 45 minutes can also have benefits, including boosts in sensory processing and creative thinking. If you go longer, aim for at least 90 minutes so you’ll work your way through all the stages of sleep and won’t wake up disoriented.

2. Find a quiet and dark place. Noise and light can disrupt your ability to sleep (though if you’re really tired neither may really faze you) so it’s best to limit them to get the most rest out of your nap. To limit distracting sounds, put in earplugs or listen to white noise. To cut out light, darken a room or employ an eyeshade.

3. Lie down. While it might be possible to fall asleep sitting up, it’ll take significantly more time; about 50% longer. It’s best to lie down so you’ll get to sleep quickly and make the most of your time.

4. Get in the napping zone. If you want to fall asleep quickly and actually enjoy the restful benefits of napping, you need to shut out the nagging voices in your head that are reminding you of all the things you need to get done. Meditation techniques are a great way to do that, researchers advise. Concentrate on your breathing, relax your muscles, and even use visualization techniques to take you somewhere calming.

5. Coordinate your caffeine. If you need a little extra boost besides your nap, you should coordinate the two. Caffeine takes about 20 to 30 minutes to take effect, so if you drink a cup of coffee before you nap, it’ll be kicking in just as you’re waking up. The practice is called a “caffeine nap” and studies at Loughborough University showed that the combination can actually leave individuals feeling more refreshed than just one or the other alone.

6. Plan to nap. Ideally, you want to take a nap before you get to the point that extreme sleepiness can become dangerous or uncomfortable. So, plan naps into your day so you’ll know one is on the horizon and you’ll never be left feeling incredibly out of it as you work, drive, or do other tasks.

7. Set an alarm. I find I never need this one, but many find it important, as you don’t want to sleep longer than you intend. If you feel you need to set an alarm to ensure that you wake up within the time frame you set for yourself and don’t drift into sleep cycles that could leave you drowsy.

8. Cut out the guilt. Science has shown time and time again that napping is not only natural, it’s extremely beneficial. Don’t guilt yourself out of a nap by focusing on what you need to get done or worrying what others might think. Instead, enjoy the nap and reap the benefits of improved productivity, energy, and mental capacity that it offers.

Are you a lark or an owl?

To determine the best time to nap, it helps to know your “chronotype”. What time would you get up and go to sleep if you were entirely free to plan your day? If you’re a lark, apt to wake as early as 6am and go to sleep around 9pm or 10pm, you’re going to feel your nap need around 1pm or 1:30 pm.

If you’re an owl, preferring to go to bed after midnight or 1am, and to wake around 8am or 9am, your afternoon “sleep gate” will open later, closer to 2:30pm or 3pm.

I hope this has given you enough rationalization for you to get napping and enjoy it without guilt.