How Napping Helps Health


Albert Einstein. Winston Churchill. Leonardo da Vinci… Just three notable names that believed taking a short nap during the day proves hugely beneficial to the mind and body!

Now add to that list the wealthiest man in modern history – John D. Rockefeller – and luminaries such as Thomas Edison, Jodie Foster, and presidents Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B. Johnson & John F. Kennedy, and you might begin to get the sense that a power nap really does help you function better. Here’s why we think it’s true…

A 1995 study conducted by N.A.S.A. shows how a 26-minute nap improves performance by 34% and alertness by 54%.

It’s also been suggested that napping also improves your memory, relaxation, mood and creativity… All while reducing stress and clearing your mind.

Is There a Downside to Napping?
Some people say so! They find that they feel groggy after a short sleep – a condition somewhat needlessly named Sleep Inertia. Others find they can’t sleep properly later if they napped! A quick nap shouldn’t really impact your nocturnal slumber, though… Unless you have broader issues, perhaps: insomnia, for example, or erratic sleeping habits.

Paying a Sleep Debt:
The most obvious benefit to a quick nap, surely, is simply that you feel less tired?! It’s worth noting that many consider the 26-minute duration trialed by N.A.S.A the optimum length for a nap. That’s because it helps you avoid the groggy feeling that people sometimes get after taking a short sleep. If you want longer though, read on!

Need Longer?
A nap that lasts between 30 and 45 minutes is almost certain to create that groggy state so many people dislike on waking. If 26 minutes isn’t enough, aim for at least 90 minutes. This fits in with your body’s natural rhythms: a nap of 90-120 minutes includes all stages of sleep, as discussed below.

Be Comfortable:
As you almost certainly know, your unconscious mind wants you to be safe and sound over and above all other things. For that reason, arranging the right physical conditions helps enormously.

Now I Lay Thee Down to Rest:
It takes people about 50% longer to nod off in the sitting position than when lying down.

Nap after Lunch:
You may well find that the best time to nap is shortly after lunch. As you’ve probably noticed, your energy levels tend to drop shortly after you eat lunch. The increased feeling of fatigue – the post-prandial dip – occurs as your body processes food… It makes absolute sense to nap then since you’re naturally sated and experiencing lower levels of alertness.

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold:
Most people find the optimal sleeping temperature to be between 15.5 & 19.5 degrees Celsius, or 60 & 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep that in mind, even if you’re only dozing briefly – you’ll fall sleep more quickly.

Set Your Alarm:
Don’t trust yourself to awaken when you need to – you’ll almost certainly miss the mark. Choose an alarm that wakes you agreeably, though… A piece of music or a phone setting that isn’t too jarring.

Drink Caffeine BEFORE the Nap:
Given caffeine’s reputation as the nemesis of sleep this seems like a bonkers suggestion. It happens, though, that if you drink a tea or coffee before dozing for the short time suggested, the caffeine kicks in at about the time you want to wake up. Some studies suggest the combination of caffeine and napping provide greater benefits than either element on its own.

That Said…
…keep in mind that the negative effects of too much caffeine are well documented. Daily doses exceeding 500mg are believed to raise blood pressure, increase anxiety, and may deplete vitamin B1 in the body. If true, that could increase feelings of fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Breathe Deeply:
Caffeine or no caffeine, when you’re ready to nap, lie down… Then start gently and deeply breathing in through your nose for a count of seven seconds, before breathing out for eleven. Close those eyes and let that mind wander… For other tips on sleeping, remember there’s already a Bob’s Bones info sheet on sleep here.

Oh! One last thing: if you’re interested in creative output, there’s another tip… It seems Einstein, Salvador Dali and Leonardo da Vinci – arguably the most creative man of all time – all used napping to improve their creativity.

Creative Napping:
Instead of napping in the customary way, lie down ready to doze while holding a small, solid object in one hand: a spoon, a ball baring, a large marble… Whatever. With a metal tray or pan on the floor below that hand, give a little thought to the issues you face or a problem you want solved. Then relax and let your mind wander…

As you begin to feel drowsy, just let the feeling wash over you. At the moment you doze off, your hand relaxes completely, the object falls and the noise jolts you awake! Grab your notepad and write down whatever’s in your mind – even if it seems completely irrelevant or nonsensical. Obviously, that interrupts the nap – but it also allows you an insight into the moment between sleeping and wakefulness.

The Stages of Sleep

There are four main stages of sleep: the first two are somewhat lighter, lasting between 10 and 30 minutes; the other two are deeper. In fact, the first stage is so light that many people don’t even think of it as being asleep! It’s that gradual drifting-into-a-doze feeling.

Second Stage: This is the time in which many scientists believe your brain starts sorting out your day’s experiences and filing them away! You close off to external stimuli and begin to ignore noises, feelings and thoughts that seem commonplace and unthreatening.

Third Stage: Consider this the gateway to deep sleep! Your brain generates delta waves as you prepare to enter the Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M.) stage.

Fourth Stage: Your body enters a state of paralysis! This prevents you acting out your dreams as they begin. Your eyes rapidly move from side to side under the eyelids, around 90-120 minutes after stage one. After that, the cycle starts all over again!


Sloane Square Clinic cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Newsletter or Info Sheets. If you have any doubts or concerns over medical and health issues, our best advice is always to pop in to see us, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your health.