You’d have to live under the covers not to know we spend one-third of our lives sleeping or trying to fall asleep. Between grabbing those nighttime Z's and passing out on the couch, sleep dominates much of our nightly life.
But it can influence daily life, too. You know, with that little thing called a nap.
And a nap, recent research found, is actually quite important.
Of course, there are some naysayers when it comes to napping. LiveScience reported on a study which found that those between the ages of 40 and 79 who napped for less than an hour were 14 percent more likely to die within the next 13 years.
But a lot of research has pointed toward naps being helpful. Here’s a look at what makes the nap so important.
What naps do for you
Scientific American’s Ferris Jabr reported last year that giving your brain some downtime — whether it's by hiking, reading or napping — can help you later on down the road. It’s no shocker that America is one of the busiest nations in the world — Americans work 1,700 hours a year, Business Insider reported — which causes our brains to be overworked, according to Scientific American. That’s why downtime is so important.
“A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future,” Jabr wrote. “Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”
The power of the nap is actually quite surprising, too, according to WebMD. Naps can give you that extra energy boost (in some cases more than caffeine), improve your memory and increase your creativity.
Getting rapid-eye movement, or REM, sleep during your naptime is also good for getting your brain to make new connections and improve memory, WebMD reported.
What you need to know about napping
But there's more to napping than just lying down, closing your eyes and falling asleep. It can actually be a lot more complicated than that. The Wall Street Journal looked into the science behind napping and found that different styles and amounts of naps can affect people in a variety of ways.
For instance, someone who naps on the weekend may get some extra minutes of shut-eye. But for those who take a 10- to 20-minute nap during the workweek, their productivity may increase, WSJ reported.
“Naps are actually more complicated than we realize,” said David Dinges, a sleep expert from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, told WSJ. “You have to be deliberative about when you're going to nap, how long you're going to nap and if you're trying to use the nap relative to work or what you have coming up.”
Once you’ve established how you’re going to nap, there are certain rules you’ll have to follow, according to experts who spoke to The Huffington Post. Napping for 30 minutes can be helpful, experts say, but the time in which you nap may matter, too. Taking that little siesta a little too late in the day will keep you from getting sleep at night, which will restart the whole process of trying to catch up on your Z's, experts say.
And there's something else, experts say, that you have to consider before napping: Maybe taking a nap isn’t the best strategy at all. A 2002 study, as pointed out by HuffPost, found that taking a walk outside or even just resting and chilling out for 10 minutes can be just as helpful.
“Even if you don't fall completely asleep, a 5- or 10-minute power nap can still be beneficial if you're feeling sleep-deprived,” HuffPost reported.
Once you’ve decided you’re going to take a nap — and you’ve considered the time and the consequences — what’s next?
You've got to actually take the nap.
How to take a nap
There’s the coffee nap, for starters. According to Joseph Stromberg of Vox, our brains are filled with a molecule called adenosine, and that molecule slowly drops away as the day drags on.
But caffeine can help fill the pockets left open by the loss of adenosine and give us that extra jolt, Stromberg explained. Without caffeine, we get that push from sleeping. Combine the two and boom: You have a whopping amount of energy, he said.
For those who don’t like caffeine or coffee, there’s always the power nap. This is a quick way to increase your motor skills and get the ball rolling. As WebMD noted, this nap is also sometimes called the “stage 2 nap” and directly influences people’s alertness and their motor skills.
Napping for 30 to 60 minutes, though, can help you a bunch during the workweek. WebMD reported that it’s good for improving your skills in decision making, understanding words and vocabulary, and just remembering things overall.
“If I don't get my naps, I get cranky and unfocused by the end of a week of short nights,” said 58-year-old Kobylarz Wilde to WebMD. “For me, that nap helps bring back my energy level.”