Napping isn’t lazy – it’s a smart way to reap the rewards of sleep. Here’s the science behind the secrets of the true power nappers.
CAUGHT napping? Clever you! Once a sign of laziness, it’s now clear that taking 40 winks is a great way to improve your performance.
A “nano-nap”, lasting just 10 minutes, can boost alertness, concentration and attention for as much as 4 hours. Take 20 minutes and you increase your powers of memory and recall, too. Either way, you are unlikely to enter the deeper stages of sleep, so will avoid the phenomenon known as sleep inertia, the groggy feeling that can occur when waking from deep sleep. On the flip side, you won’t get the benefits of deep sleep. However, light sleep turns out to be more important than we thought.
“There are wonderful little champagne cork bursts of electrical activity that happen during light sleep, called sleep spindles, and the field of sleep research is rapidly seeing that they have learning and memory benefits,” says Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley.
Still, deep sleep provides the biggest boost to learning. If that’s your aim, opt for a nap of between 60 and 90 minutes, says Walker. His research shows this aids learning by shifting memories from short-term storage in the brain’s hippocampi to lockdown in the prefrontal cortex – a bit like clearing space on a USB memory stick, Walker says. As well as helping you to retain factual information, longer naps can increase motor memory, which is useful for training skills such as sport or playing a musical instrument.