Power Napping – Improved Mental and Physical Performence
While small children typically take naps in the afternoon, our culture generally frowns upon mid-day sleep. However, even in those who get enougth sleep, many people experience a natural decrease in drowsiness in the afternoon, about 8 hours after waking.
Reserch shows that you can make yourself more alert, reduce stress and improve cognitive functioning with a nap. Mid-day sleep, or a “power nap”, means more patience, less stress, increased learning, better health, better reaction time, more efficiency and also many athletes find a daytime nap further increases their body’s ability to build muscle. Napping also benefits heart functioning, hormonal maintenance, and cell repair, says Dr. Sara Mednick, a scientist at the Salk Institute for Biologicak Studies.
A power nap, says Mednick, simply maximizes these benefits by getting the sleeper into and out of rejuvenative sleep as fast as possible. No surprise that Lance Armstrong’s coach, Chris Carmichael, says that “naps were critical in his overall training plan.” In Manhattan, napping has become a lucrative business: MetroNaps in the Empire State Building provides darkened cot-like redoubts that attract Broadway actors between shows as well as investment bankers who otherwise would fall asleep at their desks. And in Iraq, U.S. Marine commanders have mandated a power nap before patrols.
Christopher Ketcham at Men’s Journal has written a great article on power nap. And here’s how he explains power nap works:
Here’s how the power nap works: Sleep comes in five stages that recur cyclically throughout a typical night, and a power nap seeks to include just the first two of them. The initial stage features the sinking into sleep as electrical brain activity, eye and jaw-muscle movement, and respiration slow. The second is a light but restful sleep in which the body gets ready — lowering temperature, relaxing muscles further — for the entry into the deep and dreamless “slow-wave sleep,” or SWS, that occurs in stages three and four. Stage five, of course, is REM, when the eyes twitch and dreaming becomes intense.
The five stages repeat every 90 to 120 minutes. Stage one can last up to 10 minutes, stage two until the 20th minute. Extenuating circumstances, like manning the controls of a jet, aside, experts believe that the optimal power nap should roughly coincide with the first 20 minutes in order to give you full access to stage two’s restorative benefits. In addition to generally improving alertness and stamina, stage two is marked by a certain electrical signals in the nervous system that seem to solidify the connection between neurons involved in muscle memory. “It’s like a welding machine,” says Mednick. “When you wake up, your neurons perform the same function as before, but now faster and with more accuracy,” making the 20-minute nap indispensible to the hard-working athlete looking to straighten out his putter or baseline shot.
The only catch is that you have to carefully time your nap to avoid waking in slow-wave sleep (third stage), which can produce sleep inertia. So it’s better to use an alarm clock in the beginning.
So, how to get the perfect nap? Everyone, no matter how high-strung, has the capacity to nap, but the conditions need to be right. Here are some helpful hints by Dr. Sara Mednick:
1. The first consideration is psychological: Recognize that you’re not being lazy; napping will make you more productive and more alert after you wake up.
2. Try to nap in the morning or just after lunch; human circadian rhythms make late afternoons a more likely time to fall into deep (slow-wave) sleep, which will leave you groggy.
3. Avoid consuming large quantities of caffeine as well as foods that are heavy in fat and sugar, which meddle with a person’s ability to fall asleep.
4. Instead, in the hour or two before your nap time, eat foods high in calcium and protein, which promote sleep.
5. Find a clean, quiet place where passersby and phones won’t disturb you.
6. Try to darken your nap zone, or wear an eyeshade. Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep- inducing hormone.
7. Remember that body temperature drops when you fall asleep. Raise the room temperature or use a blanket.
8. Once you are relaxed and in position to fall asleep, set your alarm for the desired duration (see below).
How Long Is A Good Nap?
THE NANO-NAP: 10 to 20 seconds Sleep studies haven’t yet concluded whether there are benefits to these brief intervals, like when you nod off on someone’s shoulder on the train.
THE MICRO-NAP: two to five minutes Shown to be surprisingly effective at shedding sleepiness.
THE MINI-NAP: five to 20 minutes Increases alertness, stamina, motor learning, and motor performance.
THE ORIGINAL POWER NAP: 20 minutes Includes the benefits of the micro and the mini, but additionally improves muscle memory and clears the brain of useless built-up information, which helps with long-term memory (remembering facts, events, and names).
THE LAZY MAN’S NAP: 50 to 90 minutes Includes slow-wave plus REM sleep; good for improving perceptual processing; also when the system is flooded with human growth hormone, great for repairing bones and muscles.
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