More performance, less stress: Do you still doubt the power of power naps? These scientific studies will convince you.
Power nap, nap, siesta, afternoon nap: the short-term drift away has many names – this variety is only surpassed by its positive properties: It is said to promote performance, be good for the immune system and strengthen the heart. So it’s strange that Siesta is still struggling with image problems in this country.
85 percent of mammals sleep polyphasicly – i.e. several times a day. Even small children and older people do not get enough sleep at night: they lie down a second time at midday. Only adults sleep predominantly monophasic. However, the current study shows that we should reconsider this.
1. Siestas make us creative
A brief nod off can be consciously used for creative ideas and solutions, as a study published in February by the Sorbonne University in Paris shows. 100 test subjects had to solve a mathematical problem – before and after a 20-minute break. The test subjects were supposed to spend the break with their eyes closed, equipped with a bottle in their hand that would fall down as soon as they dozed off.
The study showed: The people who were woken up by the dropped bottle while falling asleep were three times more likely to solve the task than the people who stayed awake or fell asleep completely. One explanation for this is “hypnagogia,” a state that we reach shortly before falling asleep, a kind of hallucination.
Hypnagogia – the sweet spot of creativity
Unlike dream content, which we usually have later in the course of a night, hypnagogia involves individual – often visual – impressions. Creative ideas can also arise during this phase of falling asleep, which is easiest to achieve during a nap. The researchers therefore refer to the siesta phenomenon as the “sweet spot of creativity”.
2. Power naps increase our tolerance level for frustration
Counting sheep during your lunch break? Do it! A study by the University of Michigan suggests that this can increase our productivity: In the study, the test subjects had to complete various tedious tasks and tests in a laboratory. There were also numerous questions about sleep behavior and mood.
With a power nap, the effect is disproportionate to the length: While a few minutes more sleep at night does not make a significant difference, a short power nap increases concentration, motivation and well-being for several hours.
In 2007, Olaf Lahl and his colleagues at the University of Düsseldorf found that just six minutes of power sleep is enough to improve memory.
The study participants were summoned to the sleep laboratory at 1 p.m. and given a list of 30 words that they had to memorize in two minutes. An hour later they were questioned. In the meantime, some were allowed to sleep for six minutes, others for 35 minutes – the control group stayed awake.
Those who stayed awake remembered fewer words during the tests than those who slept. The six-minute nap was enough to prove a significant difference.
After the participants were finished, some were allowed to nap, while others had to watch a video during this time. The researchers then announced that the tests had to be completed again and observed how the participants behaved: the test subjects who were allowed to take a nap in between solved the task with more composure and stayed on task longer.
3. Naps make up for lack of sleep
When we don’t get enough sleep, our hormonal system gets thrown off course: the result is an increased cortisol level and various inflammatory reactions. However, researchers at Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité University were able to show in 2015 that short snoozing can compensate for these effects.
After a short night (two hours), the norepinephrine concentration increased 2.5-fold in all study participants. The stress hormone increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar. The amazing thing: There were also participants who were allowed to nap – for them these values fell back to normal after a 20-minute nap. A short power nap can compensate for a lack of sleep for a short time.
4. The afternoon nap strengthens our heart
People who nap regularly have a 37 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who don’t. The word “regularly” is crucial here.
Power napping: How to do it right
- In order for the nap to be truly restful, it shouldn’t last too long. Just ten minutes are enough to achieve the optimal effect: if you sleep longer, you could slip into the REM sleep phase, which affects emotions and makes many people listless.
- The timing is also important for a successful power nap: It should take place at lunchtime after dinner or in the early afternoon. For sensitive sleepers, short naps can make it more difficult to fall asleep in the evening because they reduce sleep pressure. People with sleep disorders should not nap after 3 p.m.
- One method for estimating the length of a power nap that suits you is the so-called “key sleep”: To do this, you sit relaxed on a chair and hold a bunch of keys in your hand so that when you open your hand it falls to the floor . Before you fall into a deep sleep phase during a power nap, your muscles relax. The keychain falls to the floor and you wake up. After just this short time you will be fit and rested again.
According to Lausanne researchers, people who take an afternoon nap once or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart attacks by almost half – in contrast to those who never lie down at lunchtime. However, those who nap every day have a risk that is almost as high as those who don’t take a break in the afternoon. So it’s not always healthy to snooze, but it’s also not every day to snooze. It sounds complicated, but it can be implemented with a few instructions.
The researchers suspect that the occasional power nap is healthy because it “reduces stress levels as a physiological compensation for too little sleep and thus contributes to a reduced cardiovascular risk,” as they write in their abstract.
Have we piqued your interest?
You can find all episodes of “SRF Einstein²” on Play SRF.
SRF1, Einstein², June 28, 2022, 5:00 p.m.