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Feeling Sleepy? Take a Nap!

April 14, 2014

Credit: Margaret Boyles
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I’d always considered daytime napping a slothful time-waster. 

I also remember reading popular articles that pronounced daytime napping would reduce the quality of nighttime sleep.

A friend gave me a ratty recliner for recuperation after my knee-replacement surgery. It doesn’t match the decor, takes up way too much space, but man, is it comfy. I found it a perfect place to nod off.

Is napping a no-no? It turns out that napping is actually good for your health.

Good-quality sleep: essential for health

First, we know sleep is essential for health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 70 million American adults suffer from sleep disturbances. That’s a big deal, not only for the sleep-deprived individuals, but for society at large.

Sleep deprivation is associated with injuries, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, poor quality of life and well-being, increased health care costs, and lost work. Sleep problems are critically under-addressed contributors to some chronic conditions, including obesity and depression. 

But it turns out, the science of sleep is complicated. What does sleep do for us? Some recent research suggests that sleep clears the brain of neurotoxic waste products. Other research focuses on how much we need at what ages, and whether it’s better to sleep in one long stretch or in phases, like most other mammals.

Repaying your sleep debt?

“Fortunately, sleep doesn’t charge interest on the unpaid balance, or even demand a one-for-one repayment. It may take some work, but you can repay even a chronic, longstanding sleep debt,” wrote Harvard medical staff in a 2007 newsletter.    

Yet more recent research (with mice) suggests that prolonged sleep deprivation may actually result in brain damage that can’t be repaired through “makeup sleep.” 


So, about that nap

Fortunately for those of us who’ve begun to enjoy napping (or who’ve always napped), recent research has demonstrated the benefits of napping. A nap can improve alertness, creativity, mood, and our ability to learn and remember. It can reduce stress on the body, too, lowering risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes.

A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe published a wonderful infographic on napping that delivers pretty much everything you need to know to about the whys and how-tos of napping. Check it out.

As for me, it's about time to shuffle over to that ugly old recliner and settle in for a few zzzs.


Photo: "Charlie Naps Some More" by Hey PaulSome Rights Reserved
 

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

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