By Christine Flaherty
f you’ve reached the age where your deﬁnition of Happy Hour is a good nap, you may want to read on. Recent data increasingly points to sleep as a signiﬁcant factor in maintaining good health. Those who are tired (pun intended) of hearing diet and exercise are the primary keys to staying ﬁt may welcome the idea that sleeping, even napping, is an important contributor to wellbeing as we age. Taking an afternoon nap doesn’t need to be a guilty pleasure anymore.
A study at the University of Roch-ester demonstrates exactly how beneﬁcial sleep is, particularly the deep sleep experienced at night. When you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins that are by-products of neural activity when you’re awake. Unfortunately, your brain can only adequately remove these toxins when you have enough high-quality, deep sleep. An insufﬁcient amount of this slow-wave sleep reduces the ability to process information and problem-solve, kills your creativity and increases your emotional reactivity.
The best sleep is the rest we get at night, but the occasional nap also can be beneﬁcial. Ideally, a nap should be no more than 20 to 30 minutes. That provides sufﬁcient restorative sleep without entering the deep sleep stage, which can result in feeling groggy when you wake or ﬁnding it difﬁcult to get sufﬁcient sleep at night. Naps are best indulged in no more than two to three times a week. Any more can be an indication that more nighttime sleep is needed, or there may be an underlying health issue.
There are multiple beneﬁts to taking the occasional short nap. It not only reduces fatigue and increases alertness, but it also improves mood (read: less crabby) and increases memory and reaction time (particularly beneﬁcial while driving). It stimulates relaxation and can help with weight loss and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. Listen to your body. If you’re feeling drowsy and you can’t talk yourself into taking a walk (also a good way to address some of the issues above), a short nap can be a good alternative. Everyone is different, however. For some, a nap can interfere with nighttime sleep. If that’s the case, napping may not be for you.
Some suggest setting an alarm for 20 minutes, but many ﬁnd if they just let their body be their guide they will wake naturally after a short snooze. It’s best to nap midway in your awake period, typically around 2 to 3 p.m. One sleep specialist suggests having a cup of coffee just before your nap. That way the caffeine will be taking effect at about the time you are ﬁnishing your rest.
It was once thought older people didn’t need as much sleep as younger ones, but experts now agree that’s not the case. Regardless of age, we typically need the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep to function at our best. If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, daytime naps can help. They not only can increase older individuals’ total sleep time without producing daytime drowsiness but also have the potential to provide measurable cognitive beneﬁts. If you thought napping was largely for the preschool set, you can rest assured that is not the case.
There is one additional beneﬁt related to sleep you may wish to explore. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found keeping yourself cool while you sleep (sleeping au natural encourages this) speeds the body’s metabolism. This is because your body creates more brown fat in order to keep you warm. Brown fat produces heat by burning calories (300 times more heat than any organ in the body), and this boosts your metabolism all day and can help you lose weight. Another good thing. Sleep well.
The Healthy Living Committee is a part of the Wellness Collaborative, a 501(c)3 organization.