I like napping, especially since I don’t have enough sleep during the weekdays. So I use my weekends to take afternoon naps. However, my husband said this is not a good habit. Could you tell me what exactly is a nap anyway?
If you look at the dictionary, a nap would be described as “a short sleep, especially during the day”. Most people take naps during the day as a response to feeling drowsy, mostly because they haven’t had enough sleep the night before, or even for several nights before.
Then there are others who like to nap during the day simply because this is their natural sleep cycle. In the past, before electricity was invented, people used to sleep in two phases during the night.
They would wake up after a few hours of sleep, spend two hours awake reading or doing other things, then go back to sleep again until dawn. The advent of electricity changed all that, allowing people to control how long they wanted to stay awake.
How long is a nap suppose to be?
Naps are not defined by how long you sleep, but it can be anything from a few minutes to a few hours. A nap is a form of biphasic or polyphasic sleep. Biphasic means two phases of sleeping, like how people used to sleep before electricity was invented.
Polyphasic means several phases of sleeping, which can consist of one single longer period of sleep – ranging from 90 minutes to six hours – and 20-minute naps, or only 20-minute naps throughout the day and night.
Most of us tend to practise monophasic sleeping, which is sleeping in one long block of time, usually at night.
Is napping good?
Actually, it is very good. There is more and more research showing that naps can improve performance in the workplace and in your life. In a 2009 review in the Journal of Sleep Research, it was found that naps can improve your reaction time, logical reasoning and recognition of symbols.
They can also improve your mood. Yet another study showed that a one-hour nap can make you less impulsive and more tolerant, which is a big component of emotional regulation and your EQ (emotional quotient).
Memory is also enhanced by naps. Even very brief naps can help reinforce your learning. Even a 60- to 90-minute nap helps people perform well, just as good as a full eight-hours night of sleep, according to a 2003 Neuroscience article.
And if you already got your full night of sleep, having a nap in the afternoon can only add to the benefits naps bring you. Then again, yet another study shows that naps can boost your memory, but only if you dream.
I napped just now, but I don’t remember dreaming. Is that good?
Dreaming occurs in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleeping. Any sort of nap is good, but dreaming further enhances your learning and retention of new knowledge.
Dreams are there for a purpose. When you dream, your brain is trying to look for connections or to make sense of a new puzzle that you might not have thought of or noticed when you were awake.
For example, a group of researchers were given a complex puzzle to solve, i.e. finding their way out of a maze. Half of them were asked to take a 90-minute nap. The other half were asked to stay awake and think about the puzzle’s solution.
Results? The nappers performed significantly better than the ones who stayed awake to figure out the puzzle. And the ones who actually dreamt about the maze? They did 10 times better than the others!
Why do we dream about certain things and not others?
That is a subject we could debate for hours! Dreams are discussed on every level – the scientific, the religious, the metaphysical, the spiritual, and even the paranormal – as to why they exist.
Scientifically, your brain seems to know that a problem or a task is difficult for you. So, you are more likely to dream about it than if the task or problem was easy. Dreams are there for you to subconsciously process information that you have derived from your senses like sight, hearing, touch and taste.
When you are conscious, sometimes you are only focused on one sense – usually your sight – to make conclusions. So, when you cannot reach a solution or conclusion, your brain breaks this information down in dreams.
That is why you sometimes reach an “Aha!” moment in your dream, and when you wake up, you seem to have the answer that wasn’t present to you the night before. The moral of the story is to “sleep on it”, i.e. sleep on a problem.
Don’t stay up late to think about it or to try to solve it. The answer is more likely to come to you in your sleep. Sometimes, we dream about things that help us better prepare for the future.
A classic dream many of us have had is the exam dream, where we are rushing to class, only to realise that we haven’t prepared for an exam. When this dream happens, our brain is trying to ensure that we are prepared for a similar situation that might happen in the future, such as for a project we have to show the boss!