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Is it nap time? Snoozing can boost learning, memory and more

There’s something about taking a mid-afternoon nap that feels totally indulgent. For some of us, it’s a guilty pleasure. But guilt be gone: Research shows napping is good for your health, your brain health in particular, giving you a completely logical excuse to curl up and snooze.

Although we most often think of required napping only applying to the very young and the very old, those of us in the middle can benefit from a short respite in our day. Some of the most successful companies in the US, Google and Apple included, actually encourage employees to nap on the job, recognizing the value of a short snooze.

Better than caffeine and as important as a good night’s sleep

According to Psychology Today, about eight hours after we wake, our body temperature drops ever so slightly, triggering a drowsiness that can be hard to shake. We’ve all been there: eyes glazed over, staring at the soft glow of our computer monitors, trying to balance on the precipice of wakefulness in case a coworker comes in.

The solution for many is a quick cup of coffee or a sugary treat out of the vending machine. But these are temporary solutions that can lead to an even bigger crash.

A study that compared the effects of napping with caffeine and simply getting more sleep at night found napping to be most effective at getting adults over that afternoon hump. In other words, it might be time to approach your employer with the idea of a midday company-wide siesta.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that a nap can do much more than help you regenerate in the afternoon — it can actually boost your capacity for learning.

“Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap,” said Matthew Walker, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

Harvard University reports that napping, especially when the sleep is deep enough to include dreaming, could even boost your memory.

Robert Stickgold, a sleep researcher with the university, says napping helps people separate “important information from extraneous details,” and that when the naps are long enough for REM sleep, “people become better at making connections between seemingly unrelated words.”

Even catnaps of only six minutes have proven benefits, including improved information retention. One British study suggested that merely anticipating a nap could reduce blood pressure.

Getting the perfect nap

Some naps are better than others. You know a good nap when you wake from it feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

The general consensus on the perfect nap is to:

• find a dark, quiet spot where you can fall asleep quickly.

• plan your nap in advance.

• not overdo caffeine in the morning.

• keep the nap short — around 20-30 minutes if you’re going for a pick-me-up rather than trying to catch up on a sleep deficit.

Finally, feel good about your nap. Don’t feel guilty for taking 30 minutes out of your day to regenerate. In some Spanish locales, siestas are still the norm, where entire towns shut down for about an hour in the afternoon so everyone can cool off and relax.

And I guarantee, they don’t feel guilty about doing it.

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360