A day-time nap is good for us, but there are rules

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In times of uncertainty, you deserve understanding.

How long to doze off depends on the purpose of your break.Credit:Stocksy

By Evelyn Lewin – www.smh.com.au

With many of us now working from home, it’s tempting to eye off the bed or couch for a mid-afternoon nap. While we may resist doing so, thinking it’s a waste of productive time, there are plenty of reasons why we should indulge in a little daytime shut-eye.

Dr David Cunnington, a sleep consultant and co-founder of SleepHub, says he wants people to think of naps as an “any way, any time, any opportunity” activity. Why? Because most of us actually need them.

Cunnington says 50 per cent of the Australian population report being more tired than they wish to be, while “all of us” are at least somewhat sleep-deprived, “so naps are a great way of catching up on missed sleep”. After a bit of rest, he says, you’ll be able to make better decisions, have more mental clarity and be more productive.

Snoozing may also reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke according to new research published in September 2019 in BMJ Heart. It uncovered a potential link between having one or two daytime naps a week and a reduced risk of such diseases. But don’t plump your pillows just yet – the researchers also found that when people dozed off more often than that, the benefits disappeared.

If all this talk has you making eyes at your couch, what’s the best way to go about it? How often should we have a lie down? And for how long?

“It’s different for different people,” notes Cunnington, who says people with chronic medical conditions causing them to be constantly tired may benefit from a daily catnap. Meanwhile, shift workers, sleep-deprived parents and those who’ve had a few restless nights may feel better off after even a one-off nap.

How long to doze off also depends on the purpose of your break. For a roadside power-nap, 15 minutes is ideal. In a work setting, Cunnington says five to 10 minutes of shut-eye “can make quite a difference”. But sometimes, he adds, a one- or even two-hour siesta may be just what the doctor ordered.

That said, if you wake from long naps feeling groggy, you may wish to revise how long you nod off for. “The longer the nap, the deeper the sleep and thus the longer it will take to get going when you wake up,” says Cunnington. Rising after 15 minutes will nip that problem in the bud.

What if you really want to catch some zzz’s but, when you lie down and close your eyes, you can’t shut off? Cunnington says that’s common, explaining that napping is actually an “advanced skill”, one which people can only embrace if they’re comfortable with the idea of doing nothing. (Spoiler alert: most people aren’t.)

“If we’re laying still doing nothing,” he explains, “our minds tick over about the things we should be doing and wondering, ‘When will this be over so I can get on with my day?’ ”

To improve your napping skills, Cunnington advises taking small chunks of time to engage in doing nothing. That way, your mind gets used to being quiet. Then, alter your expectations. Don’t lie down and assume you’ll enter the land of nod. Instead, put your feet up and tell yourself that if you sleep, you sleep, and if you don’t, you don’t.

However, if you’re steering clear of naps because you’re worried about how they might impact your sleep at night, don’t fret. Cunnington advises that, for most people, having a lie down shouldn’t interfere at all.

The only exception, he says, is for people who suffer acute short-term insomnia. In that case, having a daytime siesta can compound problems by reducing sleep drives at night, leading to a nasty cycle. “But in pretty much any other situation,” Cunnington adds, “napping is a good strategy.”

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale April 19.

 

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