A sleepless society

There’s no doubt that in the 21st century, sleep is becoming increasingly hard to come by. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.

The ‘global sleep epidemic’ is not just a health problem. A 100 page report by the RAND corporation found that it costs the US economy up to $411 billion a year in economic losses.

Whether it’s the pressures of work, school, family, a hectic social life, or an addiction to social media, fact is, we’re turning into an increasingly sleepless society.

A hard habit to kick

Problem is, we’ve all heard the same sleep tips a thousand times – i.e. create a regular bedtime routine, avoid stimulants at night, sleep in a cool room, turn off your gadgets before bed-time. But many of us find it impossible to enforce and stick to these kinds of behavioral changes.

So we end up in a cycle of insufficient sleep, bleary-eyed in the mornings, slumping at our desks in the afternoon and yawning through our evening social engagements.

The only glimmer of light for many is the prospect of an extra half-hour lie-in at the weekends (scrub that idea if you’ve got kids…).

Help is at hand

If the above sounds familiar, you might think that apart from resorting to prescription sleep meds, your life is doomed to an eternal pattern of sleeplessness, fatigue and low energy.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re struggling to get enough sleep – whether you have a demanding job, you’re a parent with young kids, or a student in finals – there’s a perfectly natural, drug-free, scientifically tested solution to improving your sleep and boosting your energy in the day – the humble nap!.

But napping isn’t for me…

Understandably, a lot of people don’t want to entertain the idea of taking a daytime nap.

Thomas Edison’s claim that sleep is ‘a criminal waste of time’ still resonates in our work culture and napping is mostly perceived as downtime, rather than as ‘recharging the batteries’.

The thing is though, humans have napped since the dawn of history. And the stigma we attach to the notion brief afternoon siesta is only a relatively recent invention (ie since the introduction of the 9-5 work day).

Fortunately, attitudes towards napping are beginning to change.

Napping is good for business too

As sleep science continues to reveal the numerous benefits of daytime naps, companies and institutions are waking up to the idea that rested employees are not only healthier, they’re also happier, more productive and willing to work longer and harder.

Google, Cisco and NASA are among hundreds of office spaces, fitness centers, hospitals that offer hi-tech nap-pods as free perks for their staff and clients.

The world of education has embraced the power of napping too with numerous universities rolling out nap-rooms and rest-stations for students to recharge.

So, to understand what all the fuss about this new interest in napping, here’s a look at 5 scientifically backed reasons that taking a nap can improve your health.

1. Napping improves heart health

Studies have shown that short sleep duration can lead to increased risk of hypertension, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. Napping can help alleviate sleep debt and reduce these risks.

Another study looking at cardiovascular recovery found that participants who napped for at least 45 minutes during the day showed lower blood pressure after the test than the non-nappers.

2. Napping reduces stress and anxiety

Taking any sort of break provides a relaxation and stress relief, but napping even more so. To the extent that the National Sleep Foundation even calls naps a ‘mini-vacation’ .

One of the reasons naps relieve stress is because of hormone imbalance. Sleep is a time when the body’s hormones are regulated, and poor sleep naturally causes an imbalance.

A recent study found that a 30 minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep, restoring the hormones and proteins involved in stress, and the immune system back to normal levels.

3. Naps increases alertness and performance

5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Naps Can Improve Your Health

We’ve all suffered from the post-lunch energy slump. It’s a natural part of our circadian rhythm, the time in the day when your mental and physical faculties are at their lowest ebb.

NASA research that studied at over 200 airlines flight crews found that 40 minute strategic napping improved alertness and performance across the board.

4. Napping improves memory and learning

Learning and memory are complex phenomena, but the consensus is that there are three important functions; acquisition – the introduction of new information, consolidation – the sorting and ‘laying down’ of stable memories, and recall – the ability to access those memories.

According to a wide body of research, one of the functions of sleep is to facilitate memory consolidation by strengthening the neural connections that form the basis of our memories.

Amazingly sleep’s memory boosting powers have been shown to work, even for a nap as short as 6 minutes.

5. Naps can help control your weight

It might seem counterintuitive but sleep can actually be an important factor in regulating your weight. When you’re sleep deprived, your hunger hormones, grehlin and leptin are disrupted, tricking you into thinking you’re hungry and less full than you are.

Napping can help redress that balance by reducing the sleep debt and restoring hormonal balance.

In addition, the post-lunch energy slump is a prime time for loading up on unhealthy snacks. A study showed that when the brain is sleep-deprived, the reward centers of the brain light up more in response to unhealthy food.

So the evidence is clear. Napping can provide a range of positive health benefits. This much is a no-brainer.

The next step is deciding how to fit a nap schedule into your daily routine – oh, and convincing your boss that you should have a mid-afternoon snooze!