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Viva la siesta! Six reasons you should take a nap today

Napping
Could napping be the key to a healthier heart? Credit: Getty

Summer appears to be drawing to a close, the weather has turned and the one thing you're looking forward to most is hitting the hay this evening. Except... what if you don't have to wait until nighttime to have a sleep?

According to a new study, a quick nap in the afternoon can reap benefits for your health. Researchers at the Asklepieion General Hospital in Greece studied 212 people and found that those who took a siesta experienced a fall in blood pressure. Overall, taking a nap during the day was associated with an average 5 mm Hg drop in blood pressure.

The study prompts the fascinating theory that people who live in southern Mediterranean countries, where siestas are commonplace, have a longer life expectancy not because of their diet but because of their habit of sleeping in the middle of the day.

On which note, Japan proves an interesting case study, because the country with the world's longest life expectancy also regularly features at the bottom of world sleep tables: the Japanese get an average of just 6 hours and 35 minutes a night. However, Japan is also known for its culture of napping – especially at work, where the practice even has its own name: inemuri.

Could it be that the common link here is the secret to long life? Perhaps that's getting ahead of ourselves – but certainly there exists a body of evidence to suggest that an afternoon nap is a good thing.

Sweet dreams...

1. Napping keeps you focused

Margaret Thatcher: enjoyed a nap Credit: PA

Both Margaret Thatcher and Sir Winston Churchill knew about the benefits of having power naps to stay focused for longer at work.

Baroness Thatcher famously slept for just four hours a night during the week, though she took regular daytime naps.

Sir Winston Churchill managed on just four hours sleep a night during World War Two – but insisted on a two hour nap in the afternoon.

Scientist Albert Einstein reportedly slept for 10 hours a night, plus took regular daytime naps.

2. Napping helps you feel more refreshed

Different people report different experiences of siestas: some find they wake up raring to go, others say they feel groggy and disorientated.

Interestingly, a study has shown that regardless of how you feel, a post-lunch power nap will power-up your brain.

Psychologists at Harvard University tested the visual learning ability of volunteers by asking them to watch and then recall the position of bars on a computer screen, at different times of day. Tests were carried out at 9am and 7pm, and again at 9am the following day.

The subjects who were not allowed to sleep during the day performed worse in the evening, whereas those who took a 60- to 90-minute sleep during the day improved in the evening.

It was noted that the naps only worked when they included two kinds of sleep – slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when you dream.

The boost in performance was so marked that scientists, led by Dr Sara Mednick, concluded: "From the perspective of behavioural improvement, a nap is as good as a night of sleep for learning on this perceptual task."

Japan is known for its culture of napping – especially at work, where the practice even has its own name: inemuri Credit: Getty

3. Napping boosts creativity and productivity

To all the bosses out there: it's time you consider allowing your employees to take a nap.

Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, said in 2014 that people have become ‘obsessed’ with sleeping only during the night. He claims that humans have only adopted long night time sleep patterns since the industrial revolution and believes it may be damaging our ability to think creatively. The answer is a 30-90 minute nap, of course.

“It’s best to give your brain downtime. I have a nap every afternoon," said Prof Walsh. "If we want people to be more creative we need people to be able to do less. Companies should allow naps in the afternoon. They should get rid of the habit of clocking in and clocking out.

“Let people come in when they want. If they want to work through the night, let them.”

4. Napping makes you happy

Toddlers who are denied regular afternoon naps grow up into grumpier and moodier adults, a study indicates.

US researchers found that toddlers who miss just one daytime nap become more anxious and less interested in the world around them.

And what are we adults, if not children at heart?

5. Napping reduces stress

Back in 2014, Spanish scientists, presumably fresh from a quick kip, issued guidelines for the perfect nap.

A report from the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians said that a sleep can reduce stress, help cardiovascular functions, and improve alertness and memory,

However, the researchers said that it is only beneficial if it forms part of the regular daily routine rather than a one off. A nap is part of the natural cycle of the body and missing it could be worse for one's health than skipping a meal, their  findings showed.

The report said that a siesta should come after lunch, and be no longer than half an hour. Preferably, it should take place in an armchair or a sofa rather than a bed, to stop you falling into a deep sleep.

6. Napping reduces mistakes

Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 per cent and alertness 100 per cent.

Sleep habits of those at the top

  • As Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher famously slept for just four hours a night during the week, though she took regular daytime naps.
  • When asked how many hours of sleep people need, Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have replied: "Six for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool."
  • US President Barack Obama is understood to only sleep for six hours a night.
  • Business magnate Donald Trump boasts just three to four hours sleep nightly.
  • Sir Winston Churchill managed on just four hours sleep a night during World War Two – but insisted on a two hour nap in the afternoon.
  • Scientist Albert Einstein reportedly slept for 10 hours a night, plus daytime naps.
  • Bill Gates, former chief executive of Microsoft, says he needs seven hours of sleep to “stay sharp”.