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For a long time daytime napping has been looked down on in this country as a slothful custom, and it would have been a brave employee to ask to disappear for nap time after lunch. However, not only is napping a widespread practice in many countries, the Spanish even have a word for it, siesta, and the practice is known to have both short and long term benefits!
In fact it used to be expected for people to nap in the day. Many historical text reference “1st” and “2nd” sleeps, suggesting it was once quite common to break up our sleeping patterns. Going even further back, scientists have suggested that our prehistoric ancestors would likely have interspersed several medium length naps with periods of hunting and gathering, without having a “main” sleep at all.
The traditional alternative to napping, for getting an energy boost, has been a strong cup of coffee. However, research is increasingly beginning to show that caffeine has little or no benefit to concentration, productivity or any mental function for regular drinkers. Although caffeine is a mild stimulant, regular consumption builds up your bodies tolerance and so drinking your morning espresso becomes necessary just to bring you to “base” level.
Napping, on the other hand, is known to provide a sustained boost in concentration and other mental tasks. In a 2008 study researchers asked participants to either drink a coffee or have a 90 minute map, before completing a series of tests. While the nappers showed a significant improvement in their results, coffee drinkers showed none; and possibly even a mild regression.
The best time to nap might well depend on the effect you’re trying to achieve. Naps later on in the day have a higher proportion of “slow wave” sleep which is more restorative and will do the most to reduce your feelings of tiredness and stress. Earlier naps will still give your brain a rest, but are more likely to consist of REM sleep which is known to boost creative problem solving. However, in order for your brain to go into a sustained period of REM sleep you’ll have to nap for longer - a minimum of 60-90 minutes, much longer than is required to simply give your brain a rest.
It is the problem solving aspect which has tempted some company’sinto setting aside napping areas full of Futons or Sofa Beds for their employees. Now an almost expected sight at Google and other tech firms, “nap pods” have even made their way into the City of London as high powered banks and law firms have signed up to the idea.
Circadian rhythms are the body’s natural cycle, based on a 24 hour day night cycle. Research suggests that your body is most receptive towards napping at 2-4PM, but you can pinpoint your own perfect nap time using this cool nap-wheel!
How to prepare
If you’re planning to boost your mind with a quick nap, heres a few tips to bear in mind. Firstly, try and time it for just after lunch, when your body is naturally prepared for a short snooze. Don’t consume an excess of sugary foods or caffeine prior to sleep, instead try to take in some calcium and protein - foods known to promote sleep.
As for sleeping itself, this will depend very much on where you are. If you're not at home try and find a dark, cool space out of the way of passers-by; or take an eyeshade to block ambient light. It’s better for your alertness, and certainly more pleasant overall, to be woken gently so try asking a friend or colleague to come and give you a shake - rather than setting a klaxon alarm!