Power in a Nap | by Andrea Juarez

Short slumbers can boost brain power, elevate moods

Posted on Wed, Mar 2, 2016

Short slumbers can boost brain power, elevate moods

If you are tired and sleep-deprived, you are not alone. Nearly one-third of adults gets six or fewer hours of sleep a day, falling short of the seven to eight hours recommended by the National Institutes of Health. Work schedules, lifestyles, and an increasing incidence of sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, are adding to a weary world. A power nap could be the fix.

“There’s a benefit to napping, and it’s not just for kids and the elderly,” says Dr. Sheila Tsai, sleep medicine specialist with National Jewish Health in Denver. Studies show that napping can improve mood, alertness, learning, performance and memory. A recent Greek study suggests it can even reduce blood pressure.

“Napping does not give some super-human capabilities, but it can address some problems that arise from unhealthy sleep habits,” says Dr. David Slamowitz with The SleepWell Center in Greenwood Village.

Before you pull out your pillow for a regular siesta, however, Tsai and Slamowitz advise you first aim to get a good night’s sleep. This is especially true for those with sleep disorders and those who already experience difficulty falling and staying asleep.

Yet, try as we might, sometimes catching the right amount of zzz’s just doesn’t happen. That’s when to go for some daytime shut-eye. “When your nocturnal sleep is not as good as it can be, a nap can be helpful,” says Tsai. “If you are sleepy and need to be alert, especially for safety reasons, take one.”

Nap facts

Happy older man with beautiful woman smiling outdoorsA power nap should be only 10 to 20 minutes long, experts say. Longer, deeper slumbers cause unwanted side effects, such as ‘’sleep drunkenness’ or “sleep inertia,” that grogginess or lethargy experienced upon awakening. Long naps can also make it difficult to fall and stay asleep at night.

To boost alertness from your nap even more, consume coffee or another caffeine product just before you nod off. The caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in, just in time to reduce sleep inertia upon waking. “People get double the alertness from both the nap and caffeine,” Slamowitz says.

Tsai recommends taking a nap between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., which coincides with the natural dip in people’s circadian rhythm based on a 7 a.m. wakeup and 11 p.m. bedtime. Circadian rhythm dips and rises throughout the day, and adults’ strongest drive for sleep generally occurs during that window, as well as between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. The magnitude of sleepiness during these circadian dips is usually more intense when you are sleep-deprived.

To get a quality nap, Tsai also advises finding a quiet, isolated place away from distractions and people that’s cool with dim or dark lighting. For people at work, this may mean a quick lunch and some shut-eye behind a closed office door or in their car. Aging adults, whose sleep is often more disrupted than younger people’s because of frequent bathroom trips, medical conditions, and medication side effects, are also prime power-napping candidates. Older adults should follow the same rules, Tsai says.

Did you know?

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared insufficient sleep a public health problem because of its link to increased automobile crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.


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