Self-Care Saturdays: Naps Aren't Just For Cats!
“I love a good nap. Sometimes, it’s the only thing getting me out of bed in the morning.”
~ George Costanza, Seinfeld
Resourceful Seinfeld slacker, George Costanza, concocts a plan for avoiding getting caught napping on the job by creating a comfortable sleeping space under his desk, complete with blanket and alarm clock. Have you felt so drowsy at work that you were tempted to resort to the “Costanza” method of catching forty winks? While sleeping on the job is a really bad idea for a multitude of reasons, the practice of getting a little daytime shut-eye does have its numerous benefits.
Your cat is onto something
Apart from us humans, the animal kingdom consists of polyphasic sleepers, meaning they alternate multiple sleep and wake cycles throughout a 24 hour period. Our paleolithic ancestors were likely to have slept in multiple phases too, always keeping an eye out for saber tooth tigers, while the Ancient Romans were known biphasic sleepers, settling down for a midday nap. Taking a siesta was a once popular practice in countries like Spain, yet this tradition has given way to a workaholic mindset.
Naturally, a good night’s sleep has been shown to have a wide range health benefits, yet despite our best intentions, we are still not getting enough z’s. Sleep deprivation causes a host of bodily and mental ills, keeping us from performing at our best and enjoying life to its fullest. Nevertheless, a daily nap can really perk you up when your we are not getting your forty winks, as well as provide some surprising benefits!
The benefits of napping
When your eyelids are heavy during the day, you’re not doing your best work, but an afternoon nap, can give you a much needed boost of alertness. Studies have shown that military pilots had higher measures of alertness after a 40 minute nap compared to the pilots who didn’t get any rest; improving performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Evidence shows that if you break up your day with a nap, you will be as alert and energetic for the second part of your day as you were for the first.
Heightens senses and creativity
Research has shown that napping improves your sensory perception as effectively as a full night of sleep. This means a midday snooze can actually make your food tastier, a sunset appear prettier, and music more awesome. A nap also improves your creativity by both loosening up the web of ideas in your head and fusing disparate insights together.
Improves working memory
A daytime snooze has been shown to improve working memory involved in working on complex tasks that require paying attention to multiple things. Napping also improves memory retention. One study found that participants who napped improved their performance on cognitive tests of memory and vigilance conducted in the following two hours after napping. Another study indicates that brain activity in daily nappers remained higher all day compared to participants who don’t take a rest.
Enhances mood and sleep quality
The neurotransmitter serotonin is important for regulating our mood, as well as maintaining the sleep/wake cycle. Lifestyle choices like constant travel and an erratic sleep schedule can disrupt serotonin production. When serotonin levels are out of whack, sleep disturbances can result, as well as depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue. But when we indulge in a midday catnap, the brain produces serotonin, reversing the negative effects and creating a more positive outlook
Sleep deprivation leads to excess levels of cortisol in the body, a hormone associated with stress. At normal levels, cortisol is key for our flight-or-flight response, but elevated cortisol can increase risk for chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, as well as gain belly fat, weaken the immune system, promote inflammation, and increase anxiety. Furthermore, raised cortisol interferes with sleep quality, but sleep is also an antidote. Nightly shut-eye allows your body enough time to recover from the day’s stresses, but if you fall short, napping can give your brain a chance to rest and your body a chance to heal.
Instead of shelling out for expensive energy drinks or coffees, take a nap and boost your energy the natural way!