(BeWellBuzz) Sleep is essential part of our overall health. It has always been said that a good eight hours’ worth of sleep is the optimum amount for good health and feeling rested – but new studies undertaken in Georgetown University show that this is not necessarily the case. Many scientists are now suggesting that a shorter sleep at night, coupled with a nap during the day, might be the best way to get enough rest and still allow your brain to work at its best.
New studies have shown that even very short naps can significantly enhance cognitive function. Jonathan Friedman of the Texas Brain and Spine Institute believes that someday we may be able to harness the positive effect that sleep has on brain function, and by studying these effects we can get closer to improving our health and lifestyle.
The results of this current study have been presented at the 2012 Neuroscience Conference in New Orleans, and they show that by monitoring the brain processes of napping adults, they could determine which parts of the brain are most active. By considering what we know about the brain’s division of labour, researchers at the university have determined that taking a nap may have considerably beneficial results in aiding memory loss, blood pressure and other health problems.
The current study was undertaken with 15 adults, whose brain activity was monitored by a technique known as Near Infrared Spectroscopy. This involves placing “optodes” which are electrode-like fibres, onto the partcipant’s scalps and firing infra red radiation through the skull and into the brain, then monitoring the amount of radiation that bounces back. The researchers can then estimate the amount of brain activity, and where in the brain this takes place, by the amount of radiation that returns.
Results have been surprising. Researchers discovered that the right hemisphere was very active during naps and transmitted information to the left, while the left hemisphere itself was relatively inactive.
In right handed people (or 95% of the population and 13 of the 15 monitored nappers) the left hemisphere of the brain-the one involved in analysis, mathematics and language processing – is generally far more active, while for left handed people it is the right hemisphere – the side concerned with visualisation and creative activities – that comes to the fore.
The fact of the right side being considerably more active than the left during napping suggests that naps are actually incredibly good for the brain, allowing it to do the “housework” of clearing space for new memories and new information, so it can effectively process it.
Suresh Kotagal, of the Mayo Clinic sums it up by stating that we are exposed to a lot of information and that if we are able to sleep on it, the sleep seems to facilitate the transfer of information from the short-term memory bank into the more permanent memory bank.
There are a great many advantages to taking a nap than simply waking up feeling slightly more refreshed:
- Studies show that taling a nap can actually improve memory function, as the brain can only process so much information before needing to recharge with sleep.
- Taking a nap clears the brain of events earlier in the day, and may even help people to process and deal with them more effectively.
- A nap may help to lower blood pressure, helping reduce the risks of heart problems.
- Napping reduces stress.
If you are one of the thousands of people who drink another cup of coffee instead of resting, it may be time to rethink your strategy. Coffee may help keep you awake, but can actually decrease your memory performance, and make you more prone to making mistakes. Taking a nap is far better for your whole body and your brain.
To get the very most out of your catnap, follow these simple tips from Sara C Mednick PhD, sleep expert:
- Keep your napping regular and stick to a schedule.
- The best time to nap is between 1pm and 3pm, so keep time aside if you can.
- Set an alarm to wake you after 30 minutes or less-any more and you may wake up groggy.
- Draw the curtains and reduce light as much as you can, as this will make you fall asleep quicker.
- Keep warm-your body loses heat during sleep so wrap up in a blanket before you doze off.
Do you take power naps? How do they affect your body?