Friday, 1 Jul 2022

The perfect power nap exists. This is what it looks like

If anything about the pandemic has been positive, it’s the rise of the nap. Freed from office life, many adopted the siesta, snoozing after lunch and working slightly later to compensate. Advocates swear by its restorative and mood-improving benefits – in fact, napping has gained so much positive press, global firms including Google, Nike and Ben & Jerry’s now provide “sleep pods” with soothing soundscapes, or dedicated napping spaces at HQ for their snoozing staff.

Many studies show that napping can be good for brain function.Credit:iStock

It all sounds perfect. For me, however, not so much. I cannot nap. Going to bed during the daytime reminds me of being six, off school with mumps, listening to the distant shouts of other children having fun while the day slips away in my fusty bedroom. I don’t sleep, I just lie on the bed feeling hot and irritable. If I try to nap in a chair, the dog will leap onto me and arrange himself like a folding deckchair, which isn’t conducive to rest either.

I can’t nap on public transport – aside from the fear of snoring and drooling in front of commuters, nothing about that noisy, rattly experience induces sleep. I once spent a 12-hour night plane journey wide awake and itchy-eyed while the entire cabin snored.

It seems, however, that I’m missing out – not just on restorative rest when needed, but on a creativity boost, too. A recent study from the Institut du Cerveau (Paris Brain Institute) tested volunteers by giving them a task with a hidden shortcut to completion. The group then rested for 20 minutes in a darkened room, meaning the early “light” stage of sleep was the focus. After napping, 83 per cent of the subjects found the shortcut, compared with just 31 per cent who stayed awake. On average, the successful short-cutters had “napped” for just one minute. Those who slept for longer had no creativity boost.

“The first stage of sleep is a hybrid state between wake and sleep, potentially providing the best of the two worlds for creativity,” says Delphine Oudiette, the study author. “It is associated with rich, spontaneous, dream-like experiences (called hypnagogia) which could be what is causing the idea generation.”

“The first stage of sleep is a hybrid state between wake and sleep, potentially providing the best of the two worlds for creativity.”

For many, napping is also a fast track to feeling a whole lot happier. Lorraine Marsh, 38, co-founder of jewellery business The Diamond Setter in Royal Tunbridge Wells is a committed advocate of the power nap.

“My dad used to run a construction business and every afternoon, he would come home for lunch and a nap,” she says. “That might have been my first influence. Now I’m running my own business, I sometimes have fairly sleepless nights and if I allow myself a half-hour afternoon nap, I am much more energised for the rest of the day.”

Not a fan of the uncomfortable chair snooze, Lorraine adds, “I need my bed for a nap. I do change to comfortable clothing, loungewear but not pyjamas. My best naps are between 2 and 3pm.”

She’s far from alone in her nap habit.

“Napping is very common – and increasingly so as we get older,” says Dr Deborah Lee, sleep expert for Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. “In one study, 22 per cent of adults admitted to napping at least two days a week, but for over-75s, this rose to 53 per cent.”

However, a study led by UC San Francisco and Harvard Medical School revealed that while napping can be a normal part of ageing, it could also be a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias.

But it’s not all bad news by any means. “Many studies show that napping is good for brain function,” says Dr Lee. “In a 2021 review which included 11 laboratory-based studies, napping was shown to improve cognitive function and alertness, and these improvements lasted for two hours after waking. ”

But how long should we really be napping during the day? Nap-haters like me cite grogginess and disorientation and feel it ruins their sleep that night.

“Your nap should finish at least six hours before you intend to go to bed and should be no more than an hour, maximum.”

“Your nap should finish at least six hours before you intend to go to bed and should be no more than an hour, maximum,” says Charlie Morley, author of Wake Up to Sleep. “Even a 20-minute rest without sleeping can have brilliantly rejuvenating effects.”

Armed with the knowledge that just one minute of sleep can make a difference, I’m prepared to try again – and I’ll wear headphones and shut the dog out of the room.

The Telegraph, London

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