For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Jan 27 2017
by Jessica Vuong

The Science Behind Naps

By Jessica Vuong - Jan 27 2017

College is an endless cycle of staying up to finish assignments and then sleeping in late the next morning, resulting in unbalanced sleeping patterns. This is why so many people, especially college students, depend on naps. Rather than opting for a cup of coffee or an energy drink, try taking a nap. The art of napping is like an investment. You’re giving up productivity time now in exchange for rest, which will refocus your mind making it sharper, more focused and able to learn faster. 

Why Our Bodies Need Naps

Just like our cell phones, we can't function without taking time to recharge. Once we hit that 20% battery mark, it's time for a nap. From the moment we get up to start our day, our mind is constantly working. Usually when we hit the mid-afternoon, most people will experience a dip in their energy levels, causing them to feel tired. This feeling is our bodies telling us that it's time to grab a blanket, lie down and rest so we can be back up to speed.

The Benefits of Napping

Napping provides what college students crave most — increased alertness, memory improvement, lower health risk and higher academic performance skills. 

Napping stops us from experiencing burnout. In college, a high stress environment, we always have to be on the go, ready and prepared for whatever assignments are thrown our way. Add working and studying into the mix, and this causes information overload. College students, who are much too used to having too much on their plate, are prone to burnout. This leaves students with feelings of frustration, stress and exhaustion. According to researchers, the reason why we experience burnout is because we oversaturate our brains with information. When we experience burnout, it means our brains are trying to preserve the information we've already acquired, while not taking in any new information. When we go to sleep, those acquired pieces of information become stabilized into our memories, freeing up space for us to acquire new information. 

Napping also increases your memory capability. A German study tested this theory by having one large group of participants memorize certain words and phrases. The group of participants was then split into two, with one group watching a movie and the other group napping. When asked about their memorization of the words and phrases, the group who napped retained more knowledge than the group that watched a film. 

A Greek study involving Greek adults over the span of six years proves that napping yields healthy heart benefits as well. The group of adults who napped a least three hours a week had a 37% lower risk of death from heart disease. Meanwhile, a British study targeting the same health question proved that more naps lead to lower blood pressure. Not only providing heart benefits, naps also reduce stress and anxiety and help control weight gain.

How Long to Nap For

A 10-20 minute nap, known as the 'Power Nap,' is meant to increase your energy and alertness levels, while not taking up too much time. Since this nap is quick and snappy, it only brings you to the non-rapid eye movement stages of the sleep cycle, so that you can easily wake up. A power nap is going to boost your cognitive function, as well as increase your energy and alertness levels.

A 30 minute nap is not the ideal nap, unless you're okay with waking up moderately groggy. Since 30 minutes is in between a power nap and a full 90 minute nap, you may wake up with grogginess and a slight headache. During a 30 minute nap, you are beginning to go into the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, but are not quite there yet. Waking up while entering into REM sleep, or deep sleep, is disruptive. However, a 30 minute nap can slightly boost your creativity and your memory.

A 60 minute nap is best if what you're aiming for is memory improvement. With an hour of napping, this gives your brain just enough time to go through most, but not all, of the stages of REM. Because of this, you might wake up a 'sleep hangover,' also known as sleep inertia.

A 90 minute nap is ideal for improving creativity and your emotional and procedural memory. Within a 90 minute sleep cycle, you will have gone through both the lighter and deeper stages of REM. Since REM is linked to the dreaming stage of the sleep cycle, you will wake up with higher levels of creativity. It also is not as hard to wake up from a 90 minute nap compared to a 30-60 minute nap because your mind will have gone through the entire sleep cycle uninterrupted.

Now go grab a blanket, set a timer, and wake up as a new person!

Lead Image Credit: Alexandru Zdrobau via Unsplash

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Jessica Vuong - University of California, Davis

Jessica is currently attending UC Davis and majoring in Managerial Economics. She was vice-president of teensReach, a community service organization, and has competed in several SJPL art & design contests. She loves coffee, sarcasm, and rainy weather. Follow her on instagram: @jsscvng | pinterest: jessvjess | VSCO: jessvjess

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