Studies Confirm Benefits of the "Power Nap"

Related topics: Health & Wellness, Memory Care

Senior woman napping in hammock

Do you ever wish you could just stop what you're doing—whether you're toiling away at work or providing care for a loved one—and just curl up and take a nap? Several recent studies show that taking a nap can help you recharge your mind and body. And recent research from Saarland University in Germany showed that napping is good for our memory.

Axel Mecklinger, who headed the team of researchers, says the results of his study are clear. "Even a short sleep lasting 45 to 60 minutes produces a five-fold improvement in information retrieval from memory," he says. "A short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success."

This isn't the first study to highlight the benefits of napping. Research by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration revealed that pilots who take a nap during long flights (leaving their co-pilot in charge, of course) are more alert. A study from the University of California at Riverside showed that study subjects who took a nap before completing a variety of tasks performed better compared to those who took a caffeine pill or a placebo. Remember all those all-nighters in college? Turns out you might have earned a better grade if you'd closed your book and taken a quick nap before heading into the exam room.

So when is the best time to take a nap? If you have a job or are serving as a family caregiver, you may not have a choice of times to catch a few winks. But according to Dr. Sara Mednick, who conducted the UC Riverside study, the ideal time for napping occurs when the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the period when you're most likely to dream, and slow-wave (deep) sleep are equally proportioned. This is where "The Ultimate Nap" occurs. For someone who wakes up at 7:00 a.m., that time is between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m.

How long should a nap last? Many of us have had the experience of waking up feeling groggy after a nap, making us wish we hadn't bothered. A full cycle of sleep lasts about 90 minutes. During this time you'll go through four to five stages of sleep. So if possible, a nap should last about 90 minutes. This way, you’ll have completed a full sleep cycle, and should awaken feeling refreshed. At the other end of the scale, a 10–20 minute nap can boost alertness and energy and since you haven't reached the deep stages of sleep, you should be able to hit the ground running upon waking. But even if your nap is 30–60 minutes long and you wake up feeling groggy or grumpy, you should know you've still received some benefit. It may just be a while before those benefits become apparent.

Note: Older adults and others who are struggling with sleep problems may be advised not to nap during the day, as this could interfere with night sleep. Talk to your doctor or sleep specialist if you have questions about sleep problems.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2015 IlluminAge.