Winston Churchill was right. The British leader famously insisted on a daily afternoon nap. Even during the height of World War II, Churchill scheduled meetings around his naps. More than 65 years later, scientific studies show that Churchill was absolutely correct in demanding a siesta. Naps — even very short ones — make you smarter. Numerous studies show that napping can help with learning and problem solving, and that a mid-day snooze can spark creativity in the right hemisphere of the brain. Corporations are getting the message — tech-giant Google now offers employees “napping pods.”
The mid-day nap may be most beneficial for older people. Elizabeth McDevitt, a sleep researcher at the University of California, Riverside, told AARP Magazine that naps can be especially valuable as a way of counteracting age-related memory loss. It’s because the brain “consolidates learning” during a nap. In other words, it’s while napping that your brain turns newly-learned information into a more permanent state.
Surveys show that more than half of people 75 and older nap at least twice a week. That’s great. But, to get the most mileage out of napping, experts say you have to know how and when to snooze — because research shows that not all naps have equal cognitive benefits.
The Power Nap — 20 minutes or less. The short nap, even a five-minute nap, gives you Stage 2 sleep, which enhances alertness and concentration, elevates mood, and sharpens motor skills. The “power nap” is perfect if you’re having a busy day and need a refresher.
But, if you want to take advantage of the memory and performance-enhancing benefits of a nap, research suggests you’ll need to take a longer one.
The Siesta. Naps of 60 minutes comprise all the stages of sleep — including deep slow-wave sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Getting REM sleep will help clear your mind, improve memory recall, and recoup lost sleep from the night before. In a story, “Can Napping Improve Memory?” in AARP Magazine, sleep researcher Elizabeth McDevitt advised that napping much longer than 60 minutes doesn’t add additional benefits, and may make you feel groggy.
The other important tip, sleep researchers say, is knowing WHEN to nap.
Prime Nap Time is 1 to 4 p.m. Napping too close to bedtime may make it harder to fall asleep at night. Most researchers believe the best time to nap is between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., when the body’s 24-hour circadian rhythm normally experiences a lull.
For more on attaining a great nap, check out the Boston Globe’s excellent feature, “Achieving the Perfect Nap.”