It’s difficult for most of us to squeeze a nap in these days. Although the world has embraced siesta culture for thousands of years. In the modern era, daylight hours have become synonymous with activity only, work and productivity. Yet, as science develops a better understanding of sleep physiology, and the way our body clocks function, we’re starting to understand why our forefathers may have held naps in such high regard.
While sneaking a little sleep might be traditionally frowned upon in the adult world, it turns out that napping regularly is actually one of the best things you can do for your body and your mind. And yet it’s still wasted on preschoolers and denied to the rest of us. It seems like common sense when you think about it. You get drowsy in the middle of the day, and stretching out on a couch for just a few minutes sounds fantastic. And studies have shown that it actually is!
Here are 5 benefits of napping and how it boosts your mental health:
1. Napping Stimulates Your Brain
Far from being a passive activity, sleep plays an active role in learning and memory consolidation. One of the ways this happens is the body of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that accumulates in the brain during the day. Adenosine is partly responsible for sleep regulation and too much of it can cause drowsiness. Stimulants like coffee and energy drinks work by blocking the effects of adenosine. So instead of necking back a fourth cup of coffee, consider instead taking a short 20-minute nap. It’s healthier for you, and you’ll wake up without that feeling of ‘brain-fog’ clouding the rest of your day.
2. Improves Memory and Learning
Taking a quick nap can boost the value of a study session. Even a 20-minute power nap can clear our mind, help consolidate already learned information, and allow our brain to pick up new material faster and more effectively. Even in the early stages of sleep, the brain starts to clear out adenosine – a chemical that gets created as we work and learn. This means that when we wake up, the brain is now able to collect more information since it has additional free space. A slightly longer nap of 60 – 90 minutes has even more benefits; and mimics a good night’s rest that allows us to learn twice as fast.
3. Improves Health
Sleep deprivation leads to an excess of the hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, helps us deal with fight or flight responses. But excess cortisol increases glucose intolerance and abdominal fat, weakens the muscular and immune systems, stymies memory and learning, and decreases levels of growth hormone and testosterone in our bodies. These deleterious effects can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
When you sleep, you release growth hormone, the antidote to cortisol which boosts your immune system, primes your sexual function, reduces stress and anxiety, and aids in muscle repair and weight loss. Napping gives your brain a chance to rest and your body a chance to heal.
4. Improves Heart Health
People who sleep very little each day put themselves at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Short naps, especially those less than 30 minutes which don’t run the risk of causing sleep inertia (grogginess) are a great way to counter to effects of sleep deprivation and reducing the risk of hypertension and other heart conditions.
5. Helps Combat Weight Gain
It may seem like counterintuitive that sleeping can help control weight gain, but naps actually help our bodies stay fit. When we are sleep deprived, the body responds by increasing the production of the hormone grehlin which triggers a hunger response; and by reducing the production of leptin hormone, which helps us feel satiated. Thus, we are more likely to eat when we haven’t slept. This also explains the desire to snack in the afternoon – something else that reduces when we take a nap. Thus, nappers are less likely to consume unnecessary calories.
Repeated studies have shown that people who nap regularly report higher levels of well-being, increased energy and fewer mood problems. So next time you’re faced with the choice of necking an energy drink or taking a short mid-day snooze, you know what to do. In this post, I shared with you 5 benefits of napping and how it boosts your mental health.
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