In the best news we've ever heard — ever — napping is 100 percent good for you! Not something reserved only for tiny babies and toddlers, everyone should be napping more because the benefits of a little shut-eye throughout the day are enormous. Master sleep coach (yep — that's a job!) Elina Winnel agrees, adding that naps have shown to:
- increase alertness
- improve working and learning memory
- heighten your senses and creativity
Longer naps can:
- reduce stress hormone levels
- boost our immune system
- result in a reduction of excess weight
- improve our heart health
But that's not all, "A NASA study on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness 100 percent," says Elina. "Even nap scientist [another awesome job] Sara Mednick found that napping bathes your brain in serotonin . . . creating a more positive outlook." If that's not enough convincing, keep reading!
Why should we nap more often?
According to master sleep coach Elina Winnel a nap can be likened to putting your computer on standby mode, whereby all other external stimuli is not accepted, but internal processes are still functioning. "If you've ever used your computer for eight hours straight without letting it rest, it will begin to heat up and will perform slower — just like the human body. If you use it without letting it rest, your performance level drops as well," says Elina.
What are the signs our bodies need to nap?
The tell-tale signs are fairly obvious either you feel tired or drowsy, you can't focus, you lack concentration, performing simple tasks is troublesome, you're moody, cravings are an issue or you're generally low on energy. Listening to your body is key to picking up on the signs you need to nap. But Elina admits, identifying the signs can be difficult if you consume excessive amounts of coffee throughout the day (more than two will do it). Coffee is a stimulant and can drown out your body's messages, which isn't ideal if you want to become the ultimate nap queen.
How long should a nap last?
Elina will be the first to tell you there's a science to the perfect nap. What you want to receive from your nap, will influence how long you should nap for. "A short nap of 20 minutes yields mostly stage two sleep, which improves alertness, concentration and mood — in other words, it refreshes us at a mental level," says Elina.
To repair and restore on a physical level, we need a longer nap somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. "This is because we enter slow wave sleep later in the sleep cycle. This slow wave sleep facilitates our physical healing," says Elina.
"That said, if your alarm wakes you up in the middle of slow wave sleep, you are likely to feel groggy. To avoid this, either wake up naturally (at the end of your sleep cycle — typically 90 mins), or use an alarm that measures and wakes you during the light phase of your sleep."
Is napping every single day good for your health?
Please say yes! Please say yes!
Elina admits it is believed that the ideal sleep for humans is to have one long sleep in the evening, and a shorter sleep in the afternoon, preferably between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. So yes, napping every day is ideal.
"Typically we feel tired twice a day — after the lunchtime period (regardless of whether or not we eat) and at night. Afternoon napping helps to improve our alertness, happiness and level of functioning in the later hours of the day," says Elina.
But like any habit, if we practice napping daily (umm, what an awesome thing to practice?!) it becomes easier. Sadly since our toddler days we've become accustom to do the opposite and push through the day without a nap, relying instead on things like coffee, energy drinks and sugar to improve our alertness and energy levels. Sneak in a nap when you start to crash in the afternoon, it's better for your health.
What about napping before bed? Is that a bad idea?
"Napping too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep cycle and you will end up sleeping later than your normal sleeping hours," says Elina. "For napping not to affect our night time sleep, we typically need a minimum of three hours between waking from our nap and sleeping at night." Noted!
While we're on the topic, dozing off while watching TV before bed isn't considered successful napping either. "Having the television on whilst sleeping may prevent us from reaching deep slow wave sleep, which is critical to a good night's sleep," says Elina. If you're a sucker for this, you'll probably notice that when you eventually take yourself to bed you can't fall asleep (show of hands if that's you, please!). Elina admits this is because television can help get us into a trance-like state, and switch our minds off. If we don't know how to switch off in bed on our own, we may take a long time to drift off.
How to do successful, healthy naps . . .
An ideal nap should be free from external distractions. "It is better to reach this hypnotic-type state through relaxation, deep breathing or meditation," says Elina. Find a quiet, preferably dark place that's not too hot and not too cold. Make sure you're sleeping on a comfy bed (our choice: Koala) and bring earplugs and an eye mask to avoid external distractions if you need.
*Emails story to boss. Prays she installs sleep pods in the office.*