“Somewhere between infancy and early adulthood, we abandon the notion that sleep is useful. That needs to change.” - Matthew Walker
We all know that napping is crucial to the development of babies and toddlers, but once children begin school, mid-day napping ceases (unless it’s Sunday afternoon or you happen to be a university student pulling all nighters mid-midterm season).
No one disputes the negative impacts of sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness on academic performance and job productivity; we can’t focus if we’re struggling to remain alert. However, neither schools nor employers (excepting Google, The Huffington Post, and a handful of others) build naps into the school or work day even when it’s known that our bodies are “naturally designed to have two sleeps per day.”
The health benefits of proper sleep and rest are widely known; sleeping allows our bodies to integrate, manage, and repair the impacts of our waking lives on our bodies. Sleep basically resets us for the next day’s learning. It has long been known that we need sleep to retain what’ve we learned throughout the day, but most of us only nap to make up for lost nighttime sleep or to prepare for staying awake on night shifts. So, our innate understanding that sleep refreshes us gets lost in the busyness and demands of our daily lives.
1. Naps Increase Memory Retention
Here, the theory is that sleep spindles (short, synchronized bursts of electrical activity in our brain waves that occur during NREM sleep) transfer information from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, essentially relocating short-term memories to long-term storage, which refreshes the hippocampus, giving it the space to create new memories. In fact, participants in a study who napped before a memorization exercise scored 20% higher than those who didn’t nap.
Furthermore, the study suggests that because aging reduces the frequency of NREM sleep and sleep spindles, elderly memory loss may be due to sleep loss and disruption – meaning that naps throughout adulthood may delay or counteract memory loss with age. Jessica Payne, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, says a short, daytime nap may aid learning and memory in the elderly.
Sleep research has traditionally examined how sleep stores and consolidates memories, but this current research looks at how sleep, napping specifically, affects initial memory encoding after learning new things.
2. Naps Boost Learning and Creativity
It’s widely known that the longer we’re awake, the more our learning and creativity lessen, so it makes sense that napping can reduce the impact of being awake on our learning and creativity. Research shows that a short, restful nap enhances creativity and allows us to think outside the box, particularly when solving new problems. In fact, a midday nap can increase learning performance and ability in the afternoon, especially with visual perception skills.
If you dream when you nap, this creative problem-solving is amplified because the visual, illogical nature of dreams allows us to think creativity, making associations and visualizations that aren’t always accessible while we’re awake. So, not only does napping reduce stress, stamina, and motor skills, but it also boosts creativity and improves perception.
3. Naps Boost Moods and Cognitive Function
While we know that adequate sleep makes us more alert, research shows that a daytime nap doesn’t just make us more alert, it also puts us in better moods and increases our cognitive function. Even though adults don’t technically need midday naps, we do benefit from them immensely.
That said, the positive impact on our moods is largely dependent on our individual responses to nap durations – we each have different sweet spots. For some people, a 10-minute nap is the perfect number, for others it’s an hour. The key is to find the right duration so that you wake up refreshed instead of cranky, alert instead of groggy.
On average, studies show that a nap of 20-40 minutes is the best for feeling happy and increasing cognitive performance, but every person’s ideal nap length is slightly different and the key is to stay in the light, NREM sleep stage.
4. Naps Increase Productivity
Clinical psychologist and director of Boston University's Center for Psychological Rehabilitation, William A. Anthony, is the author of The Art of Napping at Work. Anthony’s research touts the benefits of napping during the workday and its impact on productivity, namely that a short nap makes people more alert and more productive.
While afternoon naps counteract the effects of sleep deprivation, chronic daytime sleepiness is a sleep apnea symptom. If you’re experiencing daytime sleepiness frequently, especially while driving and in combination with snoring and daily headaches, you may have sleep apnea. At Provincial Sleep Group, we provide sleep tests to diagnose sleep apnea in addition to offering sleep apnea treatment.
If you suffer from chronic fatigue, daytime sleepiness, daily headaches, or health issues (hyperlink to the health issues post) like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, or unexplained weight gain, take our quiz to see if a sleep test to diagnose sleep apnea will benefit you.