Do power naps work?

Whilst revision and exam stress prey on us all, sleep deprivation is at an all-time high, as sleeping does not seem to factor in our 24 hour cramming sessions in Eddy B. To combat the onslaught of unpreventable tiredness, rather than guzzling your endless supply of energy drinks or taking another of your trusty exam revision friends: pro plus, there has been a significant amount of research which suggests that taking a power nap is the solution. A power nap is defined as a short sleep that intends to revitalize a person before they have entered slow wave sleep and many scientists have conducted studies in order to assess how they work and the benefits which they provide.

The social psychologist and sleep research pioneer James Maas devised the term ‘Power Nap’ and in 1999 penned a book entitled, ‘Power Sleep : The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance’ which details how sleep can drastically improve how you function in day to day life.

Memory tests have been conducted to test whether these short naps are beneficial. A study performed by the Institute of Experimental Psychology in 2008 found that participants who had a short nap were found to have enhanced memory performance when recalling a list of 30 words in comparison to a control group who remained awake. Lahl et al inferred from their research that perhaps tricking your body into thinking that it’s going to sleep, promotes the processes of memory consolidation, even if your sleep session is cut short afterwards. Further studies found that combined with taking a cup of coffee beforehand, as the stimulant takes on average 15 minutes to cause an effect, so once the subjects nap had finished, they would encounter benefits not only from their extra rest, but also from a caffeine boost.

Overall, it has been concluded that a power-nap provides the benefits of the first two of the five stages in the sleep cycle which occur in the first 20 minutes, as the electrical signals in your nervous system strengthen the connection between neurons involved in muscle memory, causing your brain to work faster and more accurately. However, beware of counterproductive naps as it is has been found that any sleep over the amount of 20 minutes during the day can lead to ‘sleep inertia’, a feeling of grogginess experienced immediately after an abrupt awakening followed by decline in motor ability.

The reason behind this vast area of research is to combat the widely suffered condition of sleep deprivation which can cause serious long and short term damage to our bodies. After missing just one night of sleep, the mesolimbic pathway, the neural circuit widely believed to be involved with rewards, is strongly stimulated encouraging reckless and overly optimistic tendencies, for example, welcoming your tenth jaeger bomb with open arms the night before a deadline as you attempt to justify that it will ‘get your creative juices flowing’. If this mesolimbic pathway is over stimulated multiple times, research suggests that permanent damage could occur; affecting the brain’s neural plasticity so that its ability to adapt to new situations is impaired. Furthermore, a professor of sleep medicine in Boston, Susan Redline, found associations between sleep deprivation and the neuropsychiatric disorders: anxiety and bipolar depression.

Some scientists advise that naps should only be used as a temporary solution to make up for an accumulated sleep deficit and should not be a long term solution to hitting the hay for real, but no matter whether you catch a snooze in the Brotherton or a siesta in the Hidden Café, never underestimate the power of a nap.

Hayley Williams

Image: Becki Bateman



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