Why Napping Benefits Our Body

how napping benefits us

Daytime napping may get a bad reputation in this day and age, but grabbing a short bout of shut-eye can actually improve heart health and memory retention. In recent years, sleep studies have shed new understanding on the functionality of mid-afternoon siestas, and how napping benefits the body and mind.

Why is it that small children fight off nap time with their entire beings only to miss these afternoon siestas by the time adulthood rolls around? Typically our society considers napping to be something toddlers and university students do- toddlers out of necessity and university students as a result of all-nighters and procrastination.

In actuality, routine napping could be healthy for us- especially for the middle-aged, male population. A comprehensive sleep study illustrated that working men were 60% less likely to develop heart-related diseases when their daily regimen included an afternoon siesta. So how exactly can those mid-afternoon Z’s help keep the body and mind happy and healthy?

Napping Benefits the Heart

Scientists discovered a connection between those who routinely napped with a decreased risk of heart disease. Occasional nappers were found to have a healthier heart than their non-napping counterparts.

Researchers from the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health joined forces to study almost 24, 000 Greek men and women. All participants had no history or known issues with their cardiovascular health- in truth, they were all healthy individuals.

The scientists first categorized all participants into three nap groups: regular, occasional, or non-nappers. Factoring in age, physical activity, smoking status, education, diet, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio, they came to some startling conclusions.

Occasionally catching some shut-eye during the day was associated with a 12% reduction in cardiac mortality. Routine napping, however, reduced that risk even further, at 37%. This risk reduction was more apparent in the men over the women, as the occasional male napper was 64% less likely to die from a coronary disease compared to the non-nappers category. 

To highlight this fact further, all one has to do is look at the population of a small Greecian island called Ikaria. Nicknamed the island of long life, or the place where people forget to die, Ikaria boasts a community where one-third of all residents live into their 90s. The longevity of the population is due, in part to the island’s regimen of daily siestas, paired with their healthy diet (more beans and legumes, less meat and sugar).

Napping Benefits Memory Retention

The state of sleep is anything but inactive. We may slip into a state of unconsciousness, but our minds are working overtime. During sleep, our brain cells shift short-term memory information into long-term storage. By napping after a serious study session, you could improve your memory of the recently absorbed information.

One study, in particular, examined this connection between memory retention and learning. The study discovered that sleeping after an intense learning session can help the mind solidify and retain what was learned, over and beyond that of staying awake for continued cramming.

These sleep scientists taught new information to a group of young adults. After the learning session was over, participants had an hour to complete one of three activities. They were divided into three groups: those who napped, those who continued to study, and those who took a break. Once the hour was over, all groups were tested on the knowledge they had just learned.
Those who napped or crammed did significantly better on the test than those who took a break. A week after the learning session, another test took place. Nappers maintained their knowledge, whereas the crammers did not. Results illustrated that napping effectively improves memory retention of the newly acquired information, even more so than continued cramming might do.

Monophasic Vs. Biphasic Sleep Pattern

Industrialization and modernity have drastically changed the way developed countries sleep, skewing when and how we catch our shut-eye. Most developed nations follow a monophasic pattern of living- that means people undergo a single, long, bout of sleep to achieve their rest. The recommended amount of sleep is 8 hours, but nowadays, many people typically get less than 7 hours of sleep at night. If one were to travel to an area unaffected by modern invention and electricity, there is a noticeable difference in these cultures’ sleep patterns. They follow a biphasic pattern of sleep: meaning sleep happens in two bouts, instead of just one.

Hunter-gatherer tribes like the Gabra in northern Kenya, or the San people in the Kalahari Desert, for example, sleep in this way. These groups of people still sleep at night, achieving about seven hours, but take an additional amount of sleep, say half hour to an hour, during the afternoon.

However, this sleep variation is not a cultural difference. Instead, it is deep-rooted biological programming that other parts of the world adhere to. In contrast, North American and western cultures typically do not.

Craving That Midafternoon Snooze

Think about your typical day’s routine and corresponding energy levels at that time. Do you usually see yourself dipping in energy and wakefulness when early afternoon hits? Maybe it happens right before or after lunch, about the time when you need that second cup of coffee. Matthew Walker, a leading sleep scientist, calls this time our ‘evolutionary imprinted lull in wakefulness’, or scientifically known as the post-prandial alertness dip. It is this dip in energy which urges us to grab some shut-eye.
Maybe we should listen to our bodies as these other cultures do. Over the last fifty years, sleep studies continue to provide us with new information that shed light on the health benefits attached to nighttime and daytime sleeping. With these studies in mind, opting to include a siesta in your daytime planning could provide you with these benefits.

Corporate is Catching On

Companies are slowly catching on to the beneficial aspects of napping. For that reason, some of the top corporations in the world have added napping rooms to their offices. Getting hired at one of these companies could see you enjoying more naps on the job:

To learn more about how sleep influences our brain’s ability to function, check out: 4 Ways Sleep Affects Brain Function