If there's one thing I miss about childhood, it's naps. When I was a kid, I took naps for granted, viewing them as something that caused me to "miss out" on a part of the day. Why would I want to go to sleep when I could keep playing outside? And besides, none of the adults were taking naps, so why should I?
As I grew older, I quickly realized the importance of naps, and I'm sure many of you have as well. Every year seems to bring about more responsibility, more stress, and less sleep. Between work, spending time with family, cleaning the house, cooking, eating, and running errands, a full day can be pretty exhausting. But, instead of taking time out of the day to power down and refresh our minds, most of us decide to power through until it's time for bed that evening. While this is certainly doable, our mental and physical performance might suffer as a result of too little sleep. The solution? Bring back the nap!
Daily naps can lead to a whole bunch of health benefits that you'll be feeling for the rest of the day. Even though they're commonly associated with children, naps are nothing to be embarrassed about. After all, if you find yourself feeling groggy in the middle of the day, that's your body's way of telling you that it needs some rest. Still not convinced? Here are the top five benefits of naps:
1. Sharpens Your Mind
Anyone who's ever fallen asleep during class knows that we have trouble focusing when we're tired. Similar to a good night's sleep, naps are known to significantly boost your mental performance for as long as 24 hours after you wake up.
2. Strengthens Your Heart
The only organ more important than your brain is your heart, so it's important to keep it in tip-top shape. Harvard conducted a study in 2009 that demonstrated how frequent nappers had a lower risk of heart issues later on. But, what qualifies as napping frequently? Taking 30 minute naps, no fewer than three times each week.
3. Lowers Stress And Anxiety
No one has ever wanted to be MORE stressed out, but sometimes reducing stress isn't as easy as taking a few deep breaths. Lack of sleep is one of the leading causes of stress, and a 2012 study observed stress hormones spiking in patients who were not napping.
4. Combats Food Cravings
Whenever I'm feeling exhausted or stressed out, my gut reaction is to reach for a bag of potato chips and chow down. Naps as short as 15-20 minutes are a great way to fight your food cravings since they provide you with the perfect boost of energy. Plus, the food in your dreams doesn't have any calories!
5. Increases Physical Performance
Since naps sharpen your mind and strengthen your heart, it only makes sense that they would help you out during physical activity as well. Did you know that athletes who nap regularly have been known to play better than opponents who don't?
What if you're a novice napper? It might seem unnecessary, but there are actually some strategies you can use to optimize your napping experience. Here are five of our favorite tips for taking better naps:
1. Set An Alarm
I know ... I know ... no one likes waking up to an alarm, but without one you run the risk of taking a nap that's way too long and throwing off the rest of your day. Different nap lengths work better for different people, so take some time to figure out what's best for you.
2. Snooze In The Afternoon
Early afternoon is the middle of most people's days, making it the best time for a quick nap. Not to mention, napping too late in the day might make it harder to fall asleep that night.
3. Get Comfy, But Not Too Comfy
If you're too comfortable, you might fall into a deeper sleep than you intended. It's usually a good idea to leave a light on and make sure your head is elevated - you want to be as comfortable as possible without being in your normal bedtime position.
4. The Pencil Trick
This nap hack is a great way to make sure you wake up on time without using an alarm clock. Simply hold a pencil between your fingers as you fall asleep. When you drift off, your fingers will relax, you'll drop the pencil, and the noise/movement will wake you up.
5. Get More Sleep
If naps don't fit into your schedule, don't be afraid to let yourself sleep in an extra hour or two. Sleep is crucial when it comes to keeping our bodies healthy, yet 48% of Americans report feeling sleep deprived. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what form it's in, as long as you're getting the right amount of sleep each day.
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