Do you wonder why you feel an uncontrollable urge to take a nap lately? It’s no mystery. As we get older, our sleep needs don’t lessen as once believed. We still need between seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep to be at our best, regardless of age.
As we move into our sixties, however, the structure and quality of our sleep changes. We spend less time in deep sleep and more in rapid sleep cycles, we wake up more often, and we sleep about two hours less per night than we did as young adults.
Is there a way to make up for this lost sleep? Yes. Make like a cat and take a nap.
What are the benefits of a nap?
There are tremendous benefits to taking a catnap.
- You will feel more rested and energetic, more alert and creative.
- Naps also boost productivity, enhance performance, reduce mistakes, and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.
- Napping reduces stress, so common to our busy lifestyles. Research shows that the stress hormone cortisol dramatically drops after napping, especially if you didn’t sleep well the night before.
- And a short catnap is a better choice than having an afternoon espresso–caffeine in the afternoon or evening can disturb nighttime sleep. Napping is a natural way to sweep the fog from your brain and regain that feeling of clean energy and sense of purpose.
You’ll be in good company, too: Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher were committed nappers, as were Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, John F. Kennedy, and many others.
Length of nap determines its benefits
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the length of your nap determines the benefits you’ll reap.
- A 20-minute nod—called a stage two nap—is best for improving motor skills and attention.
- Slow-wave sleep—napping for between 30 to 60 minutes—is good for decision-making skills, like memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions.
- An hour to 90 minutes of sleep supports Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This helps make new connections in the brain and can support creative problem solving.
Tips for getting the best nap ever
The Mayo Clinic offers the following tips for effective napping:
Take naps in the afternoon
The most effective time to nap is between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm, after lunch, when your blood sugar and energy start to dip. Naps during this time are also less likely to interfere with nighttime sleep or level of alertness. Keep in mind, however, that individual factors — such as your need for sleep and your sleeping schedule — can also play a role in deciding when you should nap.
Make it a regular habit
Naps are most helpful if they follow a regular schedule.
Create a restful environment
Nap in a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions.
Use a cooling blanket
If it’s a warm (hot) day but you need some weight to sleep well, try using a cooling blanket. A sleeping environment that is too hot can make it uncomfortable for a person to fall asleep. A cooling blanket can help absorb body heat and therefore help a person feel more comfortable. Cooling blankets are often lighter and made of more breathable material than usual blankets so better regulate body temperature.
Set an alarm
If you wake up hours later than intended, you will be stressed all over again, wiping away all the benefits of your nap. And if you nap longer than 90 minutes you will be more likely to feel groggy afterward.
Afternoon naps are a great way to regain energy and alertness and to banish fatigue, says Sara C. Mednick, PhD, sleep expert and co-author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. “You can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping. You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.”
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