There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a long afternoon nap. But many people avoid them. They are reluctant to lie down for long for fear that they won’t sleep well at night. At one time an afternoon nap — or siesta — was the norm. Now in today’s fast-paced world, it’s seen as a waste of time or a sign of weakness that interferes with nighttime sleep. This is far from the case.
Our sleep patterns change as we grow older and naps don’t interfere with our ability to get a good night’s sleep. That was what a group of researchers at Cornell Medical College found. They found that napping had no negative effect on how long, or how deeply, healthy seniors slept. In fact, the increased sleep improved their cognitive performance. That’s right. Napping had a positive effect on their memory.
Just how long a nap is ideal? To find out, the researchers followed 22 healthy men and women between the ages of 50 and 88 for one month. During that month, the researchers had the participants take a nap every day for either 45 minutes or two hours. They wanted to see how the naps affected their nighttime sleep and their waking function the next morning.
The researchers used several methods to measure the impact of the naps. They use polysomnography (sleep electroencephalography), actigraphy, sleep diaries, neurobehavioral performance, and sleep latency tests. Here’s what they found.
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Among those who were able to follow the protocol (some had trouble taking a nap every day), there wasn’t much difference in the effect of short and long naps. What’s more, the naps didn’t have any negative impact on that night’s sleep quality or duration. In fact, the naps significantly increased the amount of sleep the participants had in a 24-hour period.
This increase in sleep enhanced the participants’ cognitive performance. But it didn’t make any difference in their simple reaction time. As far as the best length of nap, the results didn’t show any difference in sleep quality or mental benefit. But there was a big difference in the participants’ ability to follow a nap regimen. They were far more likely to stick to a 45-minute nap than a two-hour nap regimen.
So if you’re looking to increase your sleep, feel more rested, and improve your memory, try taking a nap every day for about 45 minutes to an hour. Try this for one month and see how you feel. It may help you sleep better and longer. You may notice you feel better when you wake up every morning. And you may notice your memory improves. If so, don’t stop after a month.
Feel free to take a nap every day. Not only will you feel these benefits, but you may notice your ability to get things done actually improves considerably. It’s a great way to feel great without spending a dime.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59(2):224-232.