For as long as I can remember I’ve gone to bed between 10 or 11 and gotten up before 5 am. In fact if I sleep beyond 6 am (even on weekends) I feel my whole day is shot. I know it sounds weird but remember I’m a former Army guy and it was drilled into me that “We do more before 6 am than most people do all day.” If you’re older than 40 you remember those commercials.
That being said I’ve been out of the Army for 20 years now. But I still don’t sleep. I’ve spent my entire adult life functioning on 4 to 5 hours of sleep per night. The effects? Anytime I sit down for just a few minutes I’m usually passed out. Everyone who knows me has a picture of me sleeping at a party or something. I regularly work until I’m I can’t think clearly any longer. I often feel like zombie.
Last week I came across a book in my local library that helped me to realize that most of my adult life I’m been sleep deprived. The book, written by Sara Mednick, Ph.D. is called Take a Nap! Change Your Life.
Now I had heard over and over that we all should sleep at least 8 hours per night. However, I never knew why until I read Mednick’s book. I saw myself on almost every page of the book. Here are a few of the things I learned.
What is a nap
You are probably thinking you know what a nap is. Technically you do but clinically you don’t. To really understand what a nap is, clinically, I strongly suggest you read the book. Dr. Mednick does a wonderful job explaining the various stages of sleep and their related benefits. This understanding proves to be key in recognizing how a nap is different than nighttime sleep and developing a napping strategy.
Why you should take a nap
We should take naps for the simple reason that we are biologically programmed to. This biological craving for napping has to do with what scientist call ‘Sleep Pressure’. That is from the time you wake up in the morning your body slowly builds the urge to go back to sleep. Napping simply relieves the pressure.
Some people claim they can’t nap, however the book discribes studies in which partipants were monitored and allowed to sleep whenever they wanted to. In all cases participants fell asleep at various intervals after a full nights sleep. Proving that left to do what comes naturally to us we nap.
But society has given naps and nappers a bad rap and people often have to be convinced to nap. Here are several benefits of napping that Dr. Mednick points out.
- Increases your alertness. This may be the most important benefit of napping for most folks. It does not matter what you do for a living an increase in alertness is typically welcomed. NASA has studied alertness after napping and reports that alertness increases by as much as 100 percent after a brief nap, even in well-rested subjects.
- Helps you make better decisions. We humans make decision every day all day. Some decisions are of the light weight type but others clearly involve life and death. Consider the job of police officers who during armed robbery or hostage situations have to only split seconds to mentally sperate civilians from criminals.
- Lose weight. Studies have show that sleepy people reach for high-fat, sugar-rich foods more than people who are rested. Napping not only helps you resist those potato chips, but you’ll be producing more growth hormone that reduces body fat.
- Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies conclusively show that fatigue contributes to hypertension, heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia and other cardiovascular disorders even in otherwise physically fit subjects.
- Improve your sex life. Sleep deprivation dampens sex drive and sexual function. Napping can reverse those effects.
How to take a nap
The best time to take a nap
Deciding on the best time to take a nap for yourself really requires some understanding of how sleep actually works. That’s why I’m strongly recommending you read the book. But in general a minimum 20 minute nap at any point of your day is beneficial. Just be sure to take it at least two hours after you first awake in the morning for it to actually be considered a nap.
The Perfect nap
Dr. Mednicks book describes various common life senario’s with recommendations for naps. But if you stack up all possible naps, she says there is a clear blue-ribbon winner. A 90 minute nap between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m.