Napping For Better Health

When the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was asked how many hours of sleep someone should get each day, he replied famously, “Six hours for a man, seven for a women, and eight for a fool.”

Not so famous is the fact that the great war leader and master strategist was also a napper.

He has some pretty distinguished company. Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John F. Kennedy, John D. Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan were all famous nappers. And you should make it a point to join that club as well!

For one thing, a quick nap can improve your memory. Researchers in Germany published their study that showed taking a short nap after learning information speeds up the process by which information is retained. Their experiment had two test groups memorize one set of illustrated cards. After a forty minute period in which one group took a nap and the other stayed awake, both groups then studies a second set of cards. After being tested on the first set of cards, the group of nap recipients performed better, retaining an average of 85 percent of the patterns, as opposed to 60 percent for the control group.

What's the science? Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain (in the hippocamus) it is still easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping pushes memories to the neocortex, which serves as a more permanent storage sector in the brain.

A nap of the proper length can restore alertness, improve creativity, and even reduce the risk of heart disease. In a 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists reported that those who take a nap at least three times a week are 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease.

Are you one of those driven business-types who eschew napping because you think that taking such a break in the middle of the day will make you less productive? What if I told you that just the opposite was true? Various studies have shown workers becoming increasingly unproductive as the day wears on. But a 2002 Harvard University study made the case that a thirty-minute nap elevated the performance of workers, returning productivity to top-of-the-morning levels.

So—nap, but be sure not to overdue it. Long naps – over 30 minutes— can lead to “sleep inertia,” a feeling of disorientation and grogginess that borne of awakening from a deep sleep. Long naps can also negatively impact nighttime sleep.