The science of napping is really an art

Let’s all reboot our brains. Why not? Most of us can use a good reboot once in a while, or perhaps just a good boot. Be that as it may, all a good brain reboot takes is several of those round sticky electrodes applied directly to the temples, two lengths of industrial strength wire, and a car battery.

Let’s all reboot our brains.

Why not? Most of us can use a good reboot once in a while, or perhaps just a good boot. Be that as it may, all a good brain reboot takes is several of those round sticky electrodes applied directly to the temples, two lengths of industrial strength wire, and a car battery.

Just kidding about the car battery part. Oh, and the wire part. And also the electrodes part. In fact, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, all any of us needs in order to reboot our brains is a nice nap.

One of my Facebook Friends posted the article on napping, on account of they either noticed that I always look like I need a nap, or they’ve seen me nodding off occasionally.

But I was glad they did because, being a longtime avid fan of napping, it caught my interest and so I did something I rarely do on Facebook, which is click on something somebody posted. And I was, as I may have mentioned, glad that I did.

It turns out the click I referred to two sentences ago took me to a website called (really) and an article called How to Nap for the Biggest Brain Benefits so I began reading and immediately fell asleep.

Once again, I jest, but only barely. I must say though, that there was an interesting chart, and a fun video — fun videos being where I like to do most of my serious research on the interweb — that touted what they like to call “The Scientific Power of Naps.”

The article also mentioned that napping is “as much as an art as it is a science” and if that’s got you wondering, I have a question for you: when was the last time you heard somebody use the word “touted” in a sentence?

And speaking of naps, here’s the down-low on the doze time, the skinny on the snooze session, the salient information on the benefits of a restful experience outside of your normal nocturnal sleep event.

The power nap: This is defined as a 10-to-20-minute catnap, although most cats I know seem to sleep most of the time. The sleep experts say that this amount of dozing is ideal for a shot of alertness and energy, making it easier to “hit the ground running” after waking up. They say it’s the “biggest bang for your buck” and a “quick boost to get back to work in a pinch.” Also sleep experts apparently like to use clichés when they research sleep.

The sleep inertia nap: A 30-minute nap might be too much of a good thing, or at least the wrong amount of said good thing. Sleeping this long could cause “sleep inertia” which is scientifically defined as “sleep having some inertia.” Experts say this is the “hangover-like groggy feeling” that can last up to another 30 minutes after waking. Unless of course you have a real hangover, then it can last much longer.

The cognitive memory processing nap: This is a scientifically pretentious and unnecessarily highfalutin way to say that a kip lasting 60 minutes can actually improve your ability to remember facts, faces and names. This is exactly why I used to fall asleep for the entire Biology 30 class in high school.

I was actually studying, you see.

The scientists say the downside is that some grogginess may occur, and that you may feel worse when you wake up. Maybe it’s because you remembered some facts, faces and names you’d rather forget.

The REM nap: This is named after the rock band of the same name whose hit song Man on the Moon is an excellent song to nap to. It also refers to that deep stage of sleep where dreaming happens because our eyes go nuts. As in Rapid Eye Movement, which — who knows — might be something sleep scientists made up because it’s obviously quite impossible for you to see if you’re eyes are rapidly moving when you’re asleep. Because you’re asleep!

I’ve never noticed rapidly moving eyes on my Better Half and she’s been sleeping relatively close by for three or four decades now. But if you believe these “scientists” then REM happens when the nap reaches about 90 minutes, which supposedly “aids creativity and emotional and procedural memory,” such as, I kid you not, “learning how to ride a bike or playing the piano.” So if you want to learn to ride a bike or play a piano, just haul off and have a nice 90-minute nap with lots of REM.

Ninety minutes seems a little excessive for a nap, though I’m willing to give it a go on a daily basis. Or perhaps a couple of times a day, given the scientific benefits, and the fact that, paradoxically expert sleep people say a nap this long involves no sleep inertia hangover as long as you don’t have a real hangover.

Still, for parents with young children, shift workers and insomniacs, 90 minutes is less defined as a “nap” and more often described in their world as “a good night’s sleep.”

That sad fact notwithstanding, the bottom line, which is a line at the very bottom of anything, is that researchers insist that the right length of nap might be the best way to invigorate your brain. And they recommend “taking a 10-to-20-minute nap for a quick recharge, or a 60-to-90-minute nap for a deep sleep rejuvenation.” Which is what I’m always telling my BH, who might get the impression that I’m lazy when I’m racked out on the couch when I should be doing various chores from the Honey-Do List.

I tell her that napping is truly an art and, as everybody knows, real art takes a lot of practise. And also, several sleep scientists have given me and my fellow nap fans scientific permission to be diligent about taking lots of nap time for valuable and possibly vital brain reboots.

So as the central technique in my new cognitive self-improvement program, I think I’ll try the 90-minute siesta session this afternoon. Who am I to argue with the art of science?

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.

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