by Leslee B. Cochrane, MD.
We are nearing that time of year that many dread and no, I am not talking about tax time. On Sunday March 11th we will “spring forward” into daylight savings time. Although I really enjoy having an extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day to take a walk with my family; I really don’t enjoy “springing” out of bed an hour earlier in the morning. For those of you who share my disposition, I have a suggestion to improve your health that you are going to love. Take a nap! That’s right, taking naps as short as 15–30 minutes a day have been shown to improve learning, focus and memory function while not interfering with night-time sleep.
Sleep is a poorly understood but essential ingredient to good health. Studies show that those who get fewer than 6 hours of sleep are three times as likely to be involved in car accidents as those who receive 7-8 hours of sleep per night. A lack of adequate sleep has also been associated with a decrease in immune system function and an increase in the risk of infection. Inadequate sleep has also been identified as a risk factor in stroke and heart attacks; with patients who get less than 6 hours of sleep per night being twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke as those receiving 7 – 9 hours of sleep per day.
Although it is not clear whether or not day time naps provide the same benefits that are provided by a good night’s sleep, several studies conducted at various institutions in recent years have shown that day time naps can improve learning and memory and enable people to be more effective problem solvers. Some sleep experts feel that the ideal nap is between 20 – 30 minutes; but naps as short as 6 minutes have shown positive improvement in memory enhancement.
Although it may be a hard sell with the boss, studies have shown that a 30 minute nap in the middle of the day actually improves productivity and decreases burnout. Other studies have shown that taking a 20 minute nap is more effective than 200mg of caffeine at improving alertness and focus. My advice: save yourself the expense of having that tall café Americano and grab 20 winks instead. Your pocketbook and eyelids will both thank you!