By Anu Jain Rohatgi
Children are often encouraged to take short afternoon naps to help parents get some time to themselves or increase their energy levels. While adults may not have the luxury of quick snooze, its benefits are aplenty, a new study highlights.
The research co-relates healthy heart function with afternoon naps and how 10 or 15 minutes of slumber reduces the occurrence of cardiovascular problems.
Around 3,462 people between the ages 35 and 75 were examined in Switzerland. Over a period of five years, they were questioned in detail about their medical history, sleeping patterns, physical activities, etc.
Other important parameters such as sex, age, tobacco smoking, sedentary behaviour, BMI, blood pressure and blood sugar were also considered.
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What study finds
After these were factored in, researchers found that those who napped once or twice a week had 48 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.
“Afternoon nap reduces stress and mental fatigue and makes you happy.
When the body is in a relaxed form, it produces endorphins which trigger a positive-happy feeling.
Endorphins also reduce the catecholamines level in the body, which are responsible for anger, high blood pressure, increased heartbeat which lead to cardiovascular problems.
These hormones release into the blood stream when a person is emotionally or psychically stressed,” explains Dr Upendra Kaul, Head, Cardiology Unit, Batra Hospital, Delhi.
It is a known medical fact that afternoon nap shifts the sleeper from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode.
“When you are awake and active, you are in defence and protection mood, it means you are angry, stressed, full of anxiety.
This is called a sympathetic mode of the body, which increases the heart rate. But when you take a nap, it shifts you from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode.
In this state, the body and mind are relaxed, and pulse and breathing are slower. This process is helpful in progressive muscular relaxation,” says Dr K K Aggarwal, President of Heart Care Foundation of India.
Parasympathetic mode is a state of healing and a short nap charges our body to give energy equivalent to seven hours of sleep. Generally, we don’t dream during short nap, which is again soothing and relaxing for the mind, adds Dr Aggarwal.
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A NASA study further explains that a 40-minute nap improves performance by 34 per cent and alertness 100 per cent.
The study was conducted on sleepy military pilots and astronauts. Experts opine that short naps are as restorative as full night of sleep.
“Short nap is basically REM [rapid eye movement] sleep which is better for being alert and fresh. Exceeding napping hour leads to sluggishness.
Napping between working hours is better than napping on Sundays or other holidays,” says Dr Shrikant Sharma, senior consultant, Internal Medicine, Moolchand Hospital, Delhi.
Afternoon nap at work is encouraged in Japan and is referred to as the ‘inemuri’ culture. It is also prevalent in other countries.
Spanish siesta is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal, and the Italian riposo is an extended lunch break that lasts for two-three hours allowing people to nap.
Of late, the practice of napping at work has received support from a number of employers across the world.
Notable among them are Google, Apple, Nike, BASF, Opel, the Huffington Post and Procter & Gamble, which provide dedicated rooms and sleeping pods for their office employees to take short naps during working hours.
Elaborating the advantages of hitting the snooze button, Dr Sharma says, “Napping is better than drinking coffee to maintain the alertness and freshness of the mind.
Naps are good to boost memory, especially in recalling memory, and hence enhances performance and creativity.
Napping calms down nervous system, resulting in reduced fear and stress, and also cuts down chances of mistakes.”
More than 85 per cent of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, which means they sleep for short duration throughout the day.
Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, which means that our day is divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness.
The types of napping
Planned: Taking a nap before feeling sleepy
Emergency: Occurs on feeling very tired
Habitual: Practiced when a person takes a nap at the same time each day