Words by Gavin Newsham.
We all suffer from that mid-afternoon slump from time to time, that sudden collapse in energy that floors you, leaving you less productive and struggling to focus.
While some people might choose chocolate or caffeine to help them battle through there is increasing evidence that taking a brief nap during the day may be one of the most effective ways to cope with that post-lunch lethargy.
From increased alertness and faster reactions to better moods and improved performance at work, the power nap can work wonders for body and mind. But there are increasingly amounts of scientific research to suggest that the advantages go even further.
One study by researchers at the Asclepion Voulas Hospital in Athens, Greece, found that day sleepers managed to maintain a lower blood pressure than those who didn’t nap, while a 2019 study in the medical journal Heart, discovered that those people who took at least two naps a week during the day were 48 per cent less likely to suffer with serious cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and stroke.
The research journal Sleep, meanwhile, concluded that taking just a 10-minute nap in the afternoon could result in considerable improvements in cognitive performance while drivers who have slept in the afternoon are less likely to be involved in a crash while driving home from work.
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The benefits of a daytime nap are increasingly catching the eye of some of the more forward-thinking organisations around the world too.
NASA, for example, have trialled ‘EnergyPods’ at some of their offices, giving staff the chance to have a snooze when the need arises. Ice cream giants Ben & Jerry, meanwhile, have ‘Nap Rooms’ for their employees where you can snooze away for up to 20 minutes at a time, as long as you take your shoes off.
And the duration of the nap, as Kate Mikhail, sleep expert and author of Teach Yourself to Sleep: An Ex-Insomniac’s Guide, explains, is key. “Naps can be really useful, especially if you are sleep deprived and struggling to get through the day, although you have to be really careful that they don't disrupt your wider sleep-wake schedule,” she says.
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Samantha Briscoe, Lead Clinical Physiologist for the London Bridge Sleep Centre at London Bridge Hospital, agrees. “To get the most out of a daytime nap, aim to keep it short. Ideally no longer than 30 minutes which is just enough to help you feel refreshed,” she advises. “Any longer than this and you are more likely to fall into the later, deeper stages of sleep, which are harder to wake up from and can leave you feeling groggy.”
Similarly, the time at which you take your nap is also crucial. “The key is to not nap too late in the day, as this will weaken your sleep drive too close to your bedtime, so that you’re not tired enough to sleep when you do go to bed at night,” adds Kate Mikhail.
But there may be drawbacks. Daytime nappers may suffer from ‘sleep inertia’, where you awake feeling disorientated and if napping becomes too much of a good thing, it can negatively impact your sleep patterns at night too, as Kate Mikhail explains. “Too much napping reduces our need to sleep soundly at night, so if you find that you are napping every day, but not sleeping well at night, then you may have to ditch the nap, or take it earlier, to allow your sleep pressure to really gather strength again.”
You also need to ask yourself why you need that nap in the first place. If you’re feeling more tired than usual, it may be down to stress, anxiety or depression. Equally, it could be a vitamin deficiency. Vitamin D, vitamin B-12, iron, magnesium and potassium are all important for optimal sleep function so if you’re lacking in one or more of these there’s a greater likelihood you’re going to feel tired during the day.
“An increase in tiredness could also be the sign of a number of different conditions, such as anaemia, where you don’t have enough haemoglobin levels in your blood – meaning that your heart has to work harder to move oxygen around your body,” adds Samantha Briscoe.
“But if there is a change in how tired you’re feeling, it is always important to seek medical advice and possibly have a blood test to see if there is an underlying cause.”