The enormous benefits of short naps (and how to learn to do them without waking up in a bad mood)

With long working hours and multiple daily occupations – some by obligation and others by choice – it is not easy to maintain our energy level from morning to night.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able, in the middle of the day, to press the reset button as if we were a computer and start from scratch, renewed and fresh to continue with everything that still lies ahead of us?

That button —or at least a mechanism that fulfills the same function— exists: Are the short naps that, according to a growing body of scientific evidence, they are a valuable tool to restore alertness and energy with which we start the day.

«The main benefit of short naps is that they counteract the physiological effects that occur in (the body) since we wake up,» explains Guy Meadows, specialist in sleep physiology and co-founder of The Sleep School, based in London.

From the moment we wake up, “it begins to increase the adenosine, a chemical in the brain that is a by-product of metabolism ”.

«The longer you stay awake, the more adenosine accumulates in your brain, and thus the feeling of sleep increases,» he says.

When we nap, «we cut down on adenosine, we metabolize a little bit of this substance in our system, and that helps us increase our energy levels and make us feel more alert and awake,» says Meadows.

This helps «improve our mood, react (to stimuli) more quickly, reduce the possibility of making mistakes and focus and pay more attention to what we have to do in the afternoon.»

The benefits highlighted by Meadows refer specifically to those provided by short naps (called in English power naps, precisely because the energy they provide), whose harsh prayer must oscillate between 10 and 20 minutes.

But if what we are looking for is to improve memory, creativity, our perceptual functions or cognitive processes, a longer nap is required, of up to 90 minutesSara Mednick, sleep researcher and author of the book, “Take a nap! Change your life».

Sleeping woman
If you’re in the office, you can also find a way to pause and close your eyes. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

In the longest naps – between 60 and 90 minutes – we enter the phase REM (also called MOR, Spanish acronym for rapid eye movements), and that deep sleep is «the same type of sleep we have at night and therefore carries the same benefits,» says the scientist who has been working for more than 20 years. to investigate the effects of sleep.

Train yourself to nap

Since finding an hour and a half in the middle of the day is not within everyone’s reach – unless we live in a country where siesta is an integral part of the culture, such as Spain or Greece to some extent, and working hours are different. accommodate this — let’s focus on short naps.

As Meadows explains, taking a short nap is like swimming or riding a bike: that is, it is a skill requiring training and that, in a short time and without great effort, can be acquired.

“If you want to learn, set an alarm to make sure you don’t miss out. If you practice sleeping at the same time every day, your body will incorporate the habit of associating this activity with a specific time, ”he says, adding that it takes a few three months going from being “a person who cannot nap to one who does it with ease”.

Sleeping man
(Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

The important thing is not to force yourself to sleep, but simply to get comfortable in bed, an armchair or a place that is comfortable for us, darken the room or use a mask to cover your eyes, and try to take advantage of that moment to be still and rest.

It is also advisable 5 minutes before taking a nap to stop looking at the phone or reading emails, breathe calmly and perhaps drink a little water. In short, relax and get comfortable.

We sleep without knowing it

Some people say that it is impossible for them to sleep 15 minutes in the middle of the day because they cannot fall asleep so easily, but, according to Meadows, it happens that many times we fall asleep without knowing that we are doing it.

“A study in which people were allowed to sleep while hooked up with electrodes on their heads to assess exactly what phase of sleep they were in, showed that when they went through the first phase, which is very light, and then they were woken up and they were asked if they had been awake or asleep, 65% said they were awake when they were not ”.

«That shows that we are not very good at realizing that we are sleeping « in this phase of sleep, says the expert.

But in addition, the benefits are not only obtained if we fall asleep but also from the simple fact of closing our eyes for between 10 and 20 minutes and pausing.

This break is good both for those who have slept well the night before and for those who have not, although it must be borne in mind that we should not exceed the time (in the case of a short nap 20 minutes, and in a full nap 90 minutes) if we don’t want to feel lethargic when we wake up.

Alternatives

A recommendation that appears on different internet sites suggests having a coffee before taking a short nap, since the effect of caffeine begins to be felt about 20 minutes after ingesting it, just when you wake up.

Mednick doesn’t think this is a good idea at all.

Woman meditating
For those who hate naps, there are many other forms of rest and relaxation they can choose from. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

«The idea of ​​the siesta is precisely re-energize ourselves naturally. Coffee in the afternoon is incredibly bad for sleep, ”says the researcher.

Mednick and his colleagues conducted a study in 2008 comparing the impact on memory tests of 200 mg of caffeine (a cup of coffee) and that of a 60-90 minute nap,

While napping generally improved performance on these tasks, caffeine had no or negative effect.

However, the researcher noted that those people who could not get used to naps did not obtain congitive benefits.

«People either love naps or hate them,» he says.

«For some, naps are an ideal thing to rest and start over, but for others this is the wrong kind of rest.»

Mednick recommends in the latter case to look for an alternative such as go for a walk, exercise, or meditate.

It may interest you:

How to get the perfect nap (and at the same time improve your health)

The surprising power of naps to help control our emotions

The benefits of having a ‘sex party’


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