According to research carried out by bed manufacturer, Dreams, around two-thirds of Britons are unhappy with the amount of sleep they are getting each night. Furthermore, sleep deprivation costs the UK economy upwards of £40bn per year. A tired nation, then, but how can we seek to cure our collective lethargy? Cue the humble nap.

Here, we explore the positives of napping, how you can achieve the perfect sleep technique, and the science behind the theories.

A Brief History of Napping

Napping not be a new phenomenon, with a daytime slumber being favoured by the likes of Albert Einstein, Margaret Thatcher, and John F. Kennedy, but a stigma remains that naps are slovenly and detrimental to a good night’s sleep. Ironically, science has come a long way since Albert Einstein’s time, with numerous global studies showing that napping bears no impact on regular sleep. In fact, it can actually improve the likelihood of getting in a full eight hours. Napping is also incredibly beneficial for the mind and body.

Napping, or slow-wave sleep, is a short period of rest that ends before you fall into deep sleep. There are various forms of napping, including emergency, habitual, appetitive and planned, but to keep things simple, we will chiefly be looking at the pros of ‘power napping’.

Coined in 1998 by James Maas of Cornell University, ‘power napping’ refers to a rest break lasting less than 30 minutes. This particular type of nap should be considered a supplement to normal sleep, and is designed to improve alertness, fight stress and enhance performance. From pilots to pro-athletes, people from all walks of life use the power nap to great advantage in their everyday routine. It seems there is method behind the madness.

Scientific Backing

According to the Guardian, the University of Dusseldorf completed a study that demonstrated that even very short naps can improve memory processing. What’s more, NASA has revealed that the optimum napping time is 26 minutes, which provides enough rest to enhance pilot alertness by 54% and performance by 34%. Other clinical studies conducted on men and women revealed that those who napped for any period of time or frequency had a significantly lower coronary mortality ratio (MR) than those who were not napping. With validation from major scientific organisations, who could refute the healing power of the nap?

Delving deeper into the science behind napping, a typical sleep cycle lasts between 90 and 120 minutes, during which the brain passes through stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). REM is a lighter phase, typically associated with dreams, where NREM enters us into slow-wave sleep. This is the stage where the most benefit can be gained, accelerating deep-tissue repair, revitalising the mind and releasing the human growth hormone. But the benefits of napping extend far beyond this.

Why Napping is So Good for You

The short yet intensive rest delivered by a power nap helps the body in a range of ways, including:

  • Minimising fatigue
  • Heightening awareness and performance
  • Lowering blood pressure and stress levels
  • Improving weight management
  • Driving problem-solving and logical reasoning skills
  • Strengthening verbal memory
  • Boosting motor skills and coordination
  • Advancing perceptual learning and creative thought

So, the next time you think about reaching for the coffee pot, consider this: a power nap delivers as much energising value as two cups of strong coffee.

Napping Best Practice

woman in bed napping

To get the most out of your nap, you need to create the optimal conditions.

First, find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down, and where you are not likely to be disturbed. You may wish to choose somewhere dim if brightness affects you dropping off, though be mindful that an environment too dark may make it difficult to wake up.

Next, set an alarm for your desired length of nap. Anything between 15 and 30 minutes is fine, and there have even been reports of six-minute naps offering benefits. 20 minutes should be ample time to rest the nervous system and allow the body to recharge. Just be sure not to sleep beyond 30 minutes. Any longer than half an hour and you may face the dreaded sleep inertia – grogginess that signifies you have entered, and disrupted, another sleep cycle.

Finally, it is time to sleep. Relax your body, clear your mind, and let your body go heavy. Focusing on the desire to fall asleep will only keep your brain alert for longer, so try to avoid that if you can. Do not worry if you feel like you have not properly slept by the time your alarm sounds. Even resting your eyes and concentrating on your breathing can help your body begin the rejuvenation process.

A Helping Hand

Scented candle at spa

A great way to aid relaxation if you are at home can be to light a candle half an hour or so prior to taking your nap, then blow it out. This will infuse the room with your favourite scent, calming the senses and providing a pleasant environment in which to get your forty winks. Just make sure you extinguish the candle before you settle down.

Alternatively, you can enjoy greater peace of mind by placing a reed diffuser in the space. Fragrances like cinnamon and vanilla will create a warming feeling, while notes of lavender, chamomile or bergamot are considered to be very soothing to the senses. We recommend choosing the scent that you find the most comforting for a more rested and beneficial sleep.

Parks has a collection of luxury reed diffusers and candles in a range of oriental, floral and woody scents – ideal for the perfect nap-time accompaniment. Click here to explore our complete range of home fragrances.