Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Napping—Not Just for Toddlers

      Our society doesn’t value napping. Instead, we maintain aggressive schedules and 24/7 access to smart phones and the intranet. It’s no wonder the average American gets 6.7 hours of sleep or less each weekday night. Most adults need seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep to function at our best, but to squeeze in a nap, well, that’s seen as a sign of laziness.

When we short-change ourselves of sleep, we:
  • Increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents 
  • Increase chances of diabetes, heart problems, depression and substance abuse 
  • Decrease our ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information 
  • Up the odds of weight gain 

     A study by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College found that for older adults, napping increases the time spent in slow-wave and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which are thought to play important roles in restoring the body and brain. Naps, the study concluded, do not disrupt nighttime sleep or lead to daytime sleepiness.

     Be it a catnap, power nap or siesta, napping anywhere less than 60 minutes can reduce fatigue and improve mood, memory and relaxation. Getting horizontal is catching on too. More airports feature napping pods and snoozing suites, and companies such as Google, Ben & Jerry’s and Zappos offer their employees napping stations.

How to nap 
  • Aim for a short nap between 10 and 30 minutes 
  • Schedule your micro-nap between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m. 
  • Find a quiet and dark place or wear an eye mask. 
  • Stick to a regular nighttime sleep schedule. 

     According to the National Sleep Foundation, a recent study indicates that a ten-minute nap yields more brain benefit than a nap lasting 30-minutes or longer, which can cause grogginess—also known as sleep inertia.

Too much of a good thing 
     Clinical psychologist Amy Fox of Meritus Medical Center’s Behavioral Health believes naps can’t compensate for a poor night’s rest. “A brief nap can provide a short-term boost in alertness and performance. However, naps should not routinely be used to try to make up for lost sleep,” says Dr. Fox. “People who regularly have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep should discuss this with their healthcare provider to clarify whether it is poor sleep hygiene or a general medical condition resulting in a lack of refreshing sleep.”

     Toddlers, senior citizens and the Spanish know a good thing when they see it. Consider the nap a pleasant luxury and an easy way to rejuvenate, but be careful not to use it as a substitute for the real Zzzs.

By: Anne Gill 

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