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Remember nap time when you were a small child? Well, it turns out that your mom and your kindergarten teacher had a point, because napping can improve your alertness, your productivity, your memory and even your health.
The National Sleep Foundation notes that humans are one of the few mammals that do not regularly nap. Most humans are hard-wired to a cycle that calls for us to sleep for eight hours a night and be awake for 16 hours during the day. The problem is that very few of us actually sleep for eight hours; we are chronically sleep-deprived. Naps can help us make up the difference.
The National Sleep Foundation identifies three kinds of naps. The first is called planned napping, when you decide to take a nap before you are sleeping. You might plan a nap if you know you are going to be up very late, for example.
Emergency napping happens when you simply can’t function without falling asleep. Pulling over for a nap if you are having trouble staying awake while you are driving is an example of an emergency nap. And habitual napping is when you take a nap at the same time every day. The kindergarten nap is an example of habitual napping, but so is the post-lunch siesta.
Napping carries a stigma for adult Americans; you might think it makes you look lazy or like you are getting old. But it could actually improve your ability to get the job done.
A short nap can significantly improve your alertness. For example, the National Sleep Foundation cites a NASA study in which a 40-minute nap by military pilots and astronauts improved their alertness by 100 percent and their performance by 34 percent.
Napping can improve your ability to learn and retain knowledge. Numerous studies have shown that while we sleep, our dreams help us to process what we have learned during the day. A Harvard study showed that napping for 60 to 90 minutes can have the same benefit.
Napping also can lower stress. It can make you feel as if you have taken a tiny little vacation and come back refreshed and more prepared to take on whatever issues you face.
There are some disadvantages to napping, of course. If you sleep too long, you can wake up groggy, and it can take several minutes for you to return to full alertness. This is called sleep inertia. Napping too long also can interfere with your ability to go to sleep at night, especially if you nap later in the day. That can end up exacerbating rather than easing your sleep deprivation.
If you decide you need a nap, find a quiet place where you can lie down and relax. Falling asleep at your desk is rarely as relaxing or restorative as napping in your bed.
And if anyone gives you a hard time about napping, point out that you are in very good company: Regular nappers include Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Lance Armstrong and Mr. Rogers.