Luis asked: Hello this is Your health, quicklyto American scientist Podcast Series!
Josh Fischman: We bring you the latest vital news in health: Discoveries that affect your body and your mind.
Luis: And we break down the medical research to help you stay healthy.
I’m Tanya Lewis.
Fisherman: I’m Josh Fischman.
Luis: Were American scientistSenior Health Editors.
Today’s show is about power naps. It turns out that a short nap during the day can sharpen your mind, if you do it for the right amount of time.
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Fisherman: Did you know that in the United States it is against the rules to take a nap in a federal government building?
Luis: No, I did not do it! Are there really rules about this?
Fisherman: Yes. In 2019, the federal agency in charge of the buildings said there would be do not sleep on the premises.
Luis: Wow, that’s tough. On the other hand, I think most people, at least most adults, look down on naps a bit. Naps are things babies do.
Fisherman: But what if I told you that short daytime naps for adults can sharpen your mind, help you solve problems, and make you more productive? They also improve your mood.
Luis: That makes sense: power naps definitely exist. But it still seems kind of taboo at work, at least in the US. But does it really stimulate your brain? You’re not just saying that because you like naps, are you?
Fisherman: Sometimes I would like to take a quick nap. But I actually say that because scientists are learning that these are real effects. And you and I have a colleague who investigated this.
Luis: That’s right – Lydia Denworth, SciAm Health Science columnist.
Fisherman: Yes, Lidia. Her next column is about naps. She became interested in this because quick naps during the day are very helpful for her. And I asked him about that.
Hi Lydia, thanks for waking up and joining us.
Lydia Denworth: (laughing) I’m glad to be here, Josh.
Fisherman: Now you told me to take a nap, right?
Denworth: I do, almost every day.
Fisherman:And you’re not ashamed!
Denworth: Not anymore. I’m coming clean about my nap habit.
Fisherman: Why aren’t you ashamed anymore?
Denworth: Well, because science shows that my nap is virtuous. Taking a nap has real power. And while it depends on how long you do it and when you do it and a lot of things, it turns out that my naps fall right into the sweet spot. And now I feel very satisfied that I can take a nap and that it refreshes me as I always felt.
Luis: I’m glad Lydia is taking the shame out of taking a nap. So what’s the sweet spot for naps? 10 minutes? One hour?
Denworth: Well, the idea is that the best way to nap is to take a 20 to 30 minute nap. And do it before 5 p.m. if you maintain your usual daytime schedule so that it doesn’t interfere with your night’s sleep. And the reason 20 to 30 minutes is good has to do with where you are in your sleep cycles during that time. Therefore, most of your sleep in 20 minutes will be light sleep, N1, and will make it easier to wake up. If you sleep more, you will enter a deeper sleep phase that may be harder to wake up from.
Luis: That definitely rings true to me. I don’t take naps that often. But when I do, I sometimes nap too long and wake up feeling pretty groggy. So what are the benefits of these shorter naps?
Denworth: You improve your memory, your information processing, your alertness, which in scientific terms is your ability to respond to something sudden, like a car swerving. And there are many other ways that your mental acuity improves, but those are the things that come through the most strongly.
Luis: That makes sense. I know they say that if you’re tired while driving, you should stop and take a short nap. But I didn’t know about the memory effect. If you take a 20 or 30 minute nap at, say, 1:00 pm, will it really improve your memory?
Denworth: Yes, it will improve your memory in the next hour or two after your nap. So if you wake up feeling, “Hey, now I feel more empowered to do my job,” you’re not wrong.
Luis: How did scientists discover this? Did they have people take naps and then measure their recall?
Fisherman: That’s exactly what researchers have been doing. Two of them are Ruth Leong and Michael Chee from the National University of Singapore. There they work at the Center for Sleep and Cognition. And in a study 2022They found the kind of cognitive benefits of short naps that Lydia was talking about.
Plus, they learned that a nap simply makes people feel better. Chee says sleep scientists don’t talk enough about mood. But he and Leong have discovered, unsurprisingly, that tired people are moody people. Quick naps, however, are more enjoyable.
Luis: We could all use a little more kindness, that’s for sure. But not everything related to a nap is good. Frequent and longer daytime naps could actually be a sign of health problems, right?
Fisherman: Yes, Lydia talked about that.
Denworth: High blood pressure, metabolic syndrome – which is the combination of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other metabolic problems – obesity, Alzheimer’s, brain inflammation, are related to sleeping more, even in young people. So a lot of things.
Luis: So longer naps, longer than 30 minutes, several times a day, could be a sign that there is an underlying health problem. And you should probably see a doctor.
Luis: But those quick naps, the ones Lydia talks about, could be a really good thing. And there is evidence that they might even improve creativity and problem solving.
Fisherman: You’re talking about research into Thomas Edison’s naps.
Luis: Good! Edison didn’t like to sleep. He thought it was a waste of time to think. So when he got tired in his lab, he would sit down and hold a ball in his hand.
When he started to relax and fall asleep, he would drop the ball. The noise would wake him up. And he thought that he really solved invention problems during that twilight state.
Fisherman: Modern researchers tried to recreate this, right? To see if he was right?
Luis: Yes, but with a little twist. A few years ago, some researchers in Paris recruited volunteers to try it. They replaced Edison’s ball with a water bottle.
Fisherman:That probably produced a loud bang if it hit the ground!
Luis: I’d definitely wake up! Anyway, before people went to bed with the bottle in their hands, the scientists gave them a math problem that they couldn’t solve. And then they had people lie down holding the bottle and put electrodes on their heads to see which phase of sleep they ended up in.
Some people fell asleep slightly and dropped the bottle. When those people woke up, the researchers asked them to tackle the math problem again. And many of those people did it well.
People who didn’t fall asleep enough to drop the bottle, or who entered a deeper, heavier phase of sleep, still had trouble with the math problem.
Fisherman: That’s fascinating.
Luis: Yes it is! SciAm published an article about it two years ago. So if you want more details, we’ll put a link in the transcript of this episode.
Fisherman: Now, who among us goes to our bosses to ask for beds and sofas in the office?
Luis: Great idea. I’m on board.
Fisherman: Purely for commercial reasons. More productivity. Best podcasts!
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Fisherman: Your health, quickly is produced by Tulika Bose, Jeff DelViscio, Kelso Harper, Carin Leong and us. It is edited by Elah Feder and Alexa Lim. Our music is composed by Dominic Smith.
Luis: Our show is part of from Scientific American podcast, Science, quickly. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. If you like the show, please give us a rating or review!
And if you have a topic you’d like us to cover, you can email us at Tusaludquickly@sciam.com. That’s your health quickly at SCIAM dot com.
To your health quickly, I’m Tanya Lewis.
Fisherman: AND I’m Josh Fischman.
Luis: See you next time.