by Rachel Pappas, Founder, www.1UpOnCancer.com and author of Hopping Roller Coasters.
Daytime naps aren’t just for kids. Studies show that all of us can reap benefits, like better sleep at night, boosted energy, and improved memory. Can’t we as cancer survivors use a boost in these areas—especially during or just after treatment?
Know the power of a power nap
Sleep expert Sara C. Mednick PhD says that even a 15- to 20-minute nap will help with energy, alertness and improve motor performance.
Short naps also help with memory, math, logical reasoning, reaction times, and symbol recognition. Naps improve our mood, help us feel less sleepy and can even help with weight management, reports WebMD.
For how long should I nap?
Sleep experts say that a 20-minute power nap is good for alertness and motor learning. Research shows that longer naps (30-60 minutes) are good for decision- making skills.
And if you have 60 to 90 minutes for a power snooze, this should help with creative, more complex problem-solving skills and with memory processing.
But even a six-minute nap can improve memory, according to a Journal of Sleep Research article (if you can fall asleep fast enough to make that six-minute nap worth it, you might want to set your alarm and give it a try.)
Our brain on sleep
While we’re asleep, our brains go through a 90- to 120-minute cycle, including stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep is the deepest sleep (about a 60-minute nap will get you into NREM sleep) and it helps with memorizing facts and various details, including facial recall.
Sleep researcher Andrei Medvedev, PhD, at Georgetown University reported to Prevention magazine that during sleep, the right brain is more active (typically it’s the left brain during wake hours). What is the significance of this different activity during nap time? Medvedev believes as the right side of our brains get busy during naptime, it may be organizing and consolidating information.
Naps may also protect brain circuits from overuse and help you organize newly learned information, according to Robert Stickgold, PhD and director of Harvard’s Center for Sleep and Cognition.
A NASA study done on pilots found that those who napped for up to 40 minutes had an increase in reaction times by 16%, and their alertness increased by 54% over those who did not nap.
The Annals of Emergency Medicine reported that planned naps have been shown to improve alertness and performance in emergency department physicians, nurses, and medical students. Subjects made less mistakes and were better able to learn on the job, with benefits lasting for several hours beyond the time nappers awoke.
Behavioural Brain Research reported that 60- to 90-minute naps were more effective than caffeine at improving verbal memory (word recall), and motor skills.
Additional physiological benefits
Napping for about 45 minutes during the day may help lower blood pressure after psychological stress (study from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania).
Daytime napping may reduce risk for heart disease or stroke, especially in men (Archives of Internal Medicine).
Other studies show a decrease in levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. When cortisol is elevated for extended times it is associated with conditions like high blood sugar levels that can increase risk for diabetes, and accumulating evidence shows regulating blood sugar reduces risk for cancer or recurrence and or may help manage metastatic cancer.
- Be consistent. It’s best to nap at about the same time, and in the middle of the day.
- Nap between 1 and 3 p.m. and you will most likely avoid falling into a deep sleep and waking up groggy or being unable to sleep well at night.
- Make it short. Ideally, no more than 30 minutes to avoid waking up sleepy. But you may be able to go for up to 60 minutes and still avoid grogginess.
- Avoid light. Napping in dark room will help you fall asleep.
- Choose a spot that is quiet and not too warm or cold.
- Keep them short
Your nap should be anywhere from 10-60 minutes. There is evidence that naps from 10-20 minutes tend to improve alertness. And naps 30-60 minutes tend to help with decision-making and memory.
- Eat right before your nap
Avoid caffeine and sugar, which can make falling asleep harder. Instead, an hour or two before your nap, eat foods high in calcium and protein; they promote sleep.
- Sleep in a dark place
Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
- Remember that resting while reading or watching television is not the same as sleeping.
- Sleeping is our bodies’ repair and recovery period, and our physiology changes when we’re sleeping versus just resting. It’s a good idea when recovering from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation to take rest breaks. But this only gives your muscles and cardiovascular system a break. You need to sleep to rejuvenate your mind and reset your physiology to help you recover.
- Don’t forget to set your alarm to wake you up when it’s time.
So now you have it, a good excuse to kick back and have a calming, yet refueling snooze. It will actually wake you up. Make you feel better, boost your energy, memory, and alertness.Rachel Pappas is breast cancer survivor. She is the founder of www.1UpOnCancer.com. And the author of Hopping Roller Coasters, which tells the story of her and her daughter, both diagnosed with bipolar disorder.