In many ways, the paleolithic lifestyle was more in tune with the human body’s natural rhythms. And research shows one important activity that paleo folks used to recoup their mental and physical energy is still important today.
The research demonstrates that we should take more naps.
A mid-afternoon nap is my frequent go-to strategy for getting my mental powers back when they start to get fuzzy. When my hours at my computer keyboard threaten to frazzle my thinking, I reach for whatever book I am currently reading (right now I’m in the middle of a book about the Civil War), stretch out on the couch and let the sentences on the page slowly lull me into slumber.
The power nap
Research by neuropsychologists at Saarland University in Germany shows that a quick nap can recharge your brain’s batteries and improve your memory’s recall and information retention by 500%
The naps used in this study lasted from 45 to 60 minutes. To measure the effects of napping, the scientists analyzed brain activity called “sleep spindles,” short, quick bursts of brain waves that have been linked to solidifying your memories.
You can think of the burst of energy in the sleep spindles like the flashes from a camera’s flash bulb – they sharply illuminate the information you’ve just learned and imprint it on the film of your mind.
According to researcher Axel Mecklinger, “A short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success. Wherever people are in a learning environment, we should think seriously about the positive effects of sleep.”
Other studies also show why we feel so recharged and rejuvenated after a nap: It can offset the negative effects of a poor night’s sleep and improve your hormones, immune system function and stress responses.
Research in France shows that when you skimp on sleep your levels of norepinephrine (a stress hormone) more than doubles. Plus, you risk having a depressed level of interleukin-6 — an immunity protein that helps keep you safe from viral infections like a cold or pneumonia.
In both cases, a nap during the day, can restore the body’s homeostasis and improve the amount of these substances circulating in your blood and saliva.
The nap-learning trick
An interesting aspect of napping that I’ve never tried, but which I might attempt after reading the research on it, concerns learning a new skill or new information while you nap.
The researchers who have studied this subject say you can’t merely turn on a recording of new information you want to learn and then play it back while you sleep and expect to magicly possess new knowledge. But their work indicates that if you work at learning something and then play back the information on a CD player, MP3 player or a tape recorder while you sleep, it can improve your learning process.
In a study at Northwestern University, scientists found that when students learned how to play a melody on a keyboard and then had the melody played back to them while they napped, they more readily learned how to play it.
“The critical difference is that our research shows that memory is strengthened for something you’ve already learned,” says researcher Paul J. Reber. “Rather than learning something new in your sleep, we’re talking about enhancing an existing memory by re-activating information recently acquired.”
So if you’re learning how to speak French, right after a learning session you can enhance your new vocabulary by playing back the French you’ve studied while you relax and slip into sleep.
The forbidden nap
Unfortunately, many employers frown on employees taking naps at work. I think that’s a mistake – some of my best ideas come to me after a brief nap.
But if you are in a circumstance that allows you to nap, take advantage of the opportunity. It offers a wealth of refreshing possibilities.
Some people can fall asleep anywhere and at any time. But for the rest of us, it takes a little bit of composing ourselves to nod off.
- Try to nap as close to the middle of the day as possible so it doesn’t disturb regular sleep.
- Make sure your feet and hands are warm. If they’re cold, it can prevent the nap.
- Then, just get into a routine so your body knows what to do, set an alarm and relax…
If you feel more refreshed and sharper after trying napping, let me know! Or, if you already swear by napping, write and tell me how you got started and why!