BY ETHAN KOMPF
This is the final part of a three-part series on sleep. This part covers the benefits and pitfalls of naps, the different parts of naps and how to effectively nap.
Besides being famously successful for their accomplishments, Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Edison all had one thing in common – they were avid nappers.
“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces,” Churchill famously said.
Naps can be extremely powerful tools with important benefits, especially in our sleep-deprived society. They can improve alertness, improve working memory and creativity and provide an extra energy boost. Unfortunately, naps are often seen as pastimes of the lazy and unemployed in our workaholic culture. Fortunately this is slowly changing. Some companies, such as Google, are supplying their employees with time and places to take naps.
A 2005 NASA study done on pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved work performance by 34 per cent and alertness by 100 per cent. Naps were also shown to improve working memory, which is the ability to focus one’s attention on a task while holding other tasks in memory.
The optimal nap should be 90 minutes long and taken between 1 and 3 p.m. Any later in the day and it may affect your night-time pattern. Ninety minutes is approximately one full sleep cycle. Shorter naps should last 20-40 minutes. Sleeping for these amounts of time ensures that you wake up in a lighter sleep stage. Being woken up in a deeper stage leads to sleep inertia, which leads you to feel more tired and groggy than when you went to sleep. A lack of planning proper naps may be one of the reasons that naps get a bad rap.
“I nap sometimes when I get home from school around fourish,” said Jessica Heaysman, a first-year general arts and science health option student at Conestoga College. “I usually nap for an hour and it usually makes me more tired after.”
“I don’t nap,” said Walberto Ramos, a second-year advertising and marketing communications student at Conestoga College. “Usually by the time I get home it’s later in the day … The rare occasion I do it’s usually 1-3 hours and I usually feel groggy and slow (afterwards).”
Different types of naps can be more effective for different purposes. Longer, 90-minute naps can be extremely effective both for long-term memory as well as gaining some of the rejuvenative benefits of longer periods of sleep. Deeper REM sleep is when information is stored for long-term memory.
Shorter caffeine naps can be extremely effective for improving alertness. A Laughborough University study which looked at alertness in drivers found that the caffeine nap was the most effective means of improving alertness. The technique consists of consuming caffeine and immediately napping for 15-20 minutes. The caffeine does not kick in until after waking up, giving the napper the benefits of both.
Most mammals are polyphasic sleepers, which means that instead of sleeping in one large chunk their sleep is broken up into multiple, shorter segments throughout the day and night. It is unclear whether humans are naturally polyphasic sleepers, but according to Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz and author of the book The Slumbering Masses Sleep, Medicine and Modern American Life, it appears humans were biphasic sleepers up until the Industrial Revolution. Before that time, people generally slept for a period of 4-6 hours throughout the night and had an hour and a half to two-hour nap during the day. There were also very few documented cases of sleep disorders, such as insomnia. This changed after the Industrial Revolution. Employers didn’t want their employees to stop working to take naps, so the institution of sleep changed so that people were forced to sleep in one long stretch throughout the night.
With the reintroduction of nap allowances in the workplace and further studies into the process of sleep, naps are becoming more acceptable. With proper planning, they can be effective tools, instead of just a way to pass a Sunday afternoon.