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March 20, 2013

The Napping Revolution

A new surge in sleep science suggests that 10 minutes of midday shut-eye could be the ultimate wellness-booster.

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Photo Credit: Clang

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It's a fact of life: Nonstop work e-mail chains, after-dark texts, and full-DVR temptation are cutting ever deeper into the late-night hours previously earmarked for sleep. And according to the National Sleep Foundation, women are hardest hit, reporting higher incidences of nighttime wake-ups and daytime drowsiness than their male counterparts. Now, scientists have convincing evidence that naps — those peaceful interludes once reserved for sick days or vacations — are a must-try modern-day solution to our perpetual sleep shortage. "Naps aren't a substitute for nighttime sleep, but they offer a great 'energy-rejuvenation break,'" says Nancy Rothstein, a Chicago sleep consultant whose adopted moniker is "The Sleep Ambassador" and who helps companies maximize employee productivity; she even created a New York University online course on sleep wellness, which debuted in February. Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a clinical psychologist and sleep behavior specialist, agrees. "While the goal is still getting enough sleep at night, naps are a viable plan B. Even a short one can improve your alertness," she says. Indeed, catching a few restorative Z's doesn't have to be a long and drawn-out affair. To the contrary, it can be incredibly efficient. A new study, published last fall by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, found that as few as 8.4 minutes of sleep in the middle of the day amped up cognitive function and alertness. Armed with recent research, you can now tailor the timing of your slumber specifically to fuel different brain functions. Unlike its slovenly forebears, the 21st-century nap is short, strategic, and purposeful.

Here, the principles of daytime sleep, optimized to achieve four different outcomes:

INSTANT ENERGY

There are five stages of sleep, each one reflecting the body and brain's progressive relaxation. Stage one and two are lighter phases of sleep that will leave you refreshed. You'll reap the benefits after as few as eight minutes, but be sure to limit your nap to less than half an hour. The effects of a quickie post-lunch nap like this can last at least three hours, just long enough to get you through the 3 p.m. doldrums.

BONUS STRATEGY

Drink 150 milligrams of caffeine, roughly an 8-ounce cup of coffee, immediately before napping. Caffeine takes 15 to 30 minutes to kick in, so it's a natural alarm clock, and you'll be juiced upon waking.


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