We spend third of our life asleep, or, at least we should. Sleep plays a crucial role in the quality of our lives. Severe lack of it can lead to hallucinations (2-3 days), other serious mental effects (around 5 days) and even death (over 14 days). When we do get enough sleep each night, our lives improve, we are more focused, have more energy and are generally more happy. What is the science behind all of that, then?
“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, the death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast.” William Shakespeare
Every cell in our body is fueled by nutrients, and, just as cars fueled by petrol, they create a certain amount of waste. The waste is being taken care of by our lymphatic system, which, with its extended network of vessels, collects byproducts from the organs and disposes of it. If we take a look at the brain, which uses large amount of energy just to keep us alive, thus createing a vast amount of waste. There is, however, no lymphatic nodes in the brain. The system that clears byproducts of the brain is called CSF. It is a fluid that, thanks to a plumbing system in the brain, helps to clear all the waste into the blood stream and keep the brain clean and healthy, literally clearing your mind. The issue is, CSF only works when we are asleep.
Getting a good night sleep improves your memory, increases the strength of memories (leading to more creativity), improves attention, keeps body weight in check, lowers stress, keeps depression at bay and makes us live longer. The lowest mortality rate has been found among people who get anything between seven and a half and eight hours sleep each night. But what if we cannot get that much sleep each night?
Enter the Nap.
Although this should not be considered an alternative to a good night sleep, it can be a rescue route for those of us who are simply unable to get eight hours sleep each night. Napping in itself carries a number of benefits as well.
A study by NASA in 1995 has found that pilots allowed a 40 minute nap in daytime “demonstrated vigilance performance improvements from 16% in median reaction time to 34% in lapses compared to the No-Nap group.” Naps also reduce stress, manage blood pressure and can also help us to maintain good body weight. In infants, naps help to learn the rules of abstract language and storing the long term memory. Toddlers that do not get their usual midday nap also show more anxiety, are less joyful and have more difficulties with problem solving.
Short naps can be more effective than your usual cup of Joe as well. A nap of about fifteen to twenty minutes enhances performance as well as learning ability (it can also enhance skills learned prior to the nap). You can read further about different lengths of naps and their benefits but for our purpose in creative fields, the most beneficial length of nap is a rather lengthy ninety minutes one. It is a complete sleep cycle. It has been found that a ninety minutes naps can improve creativity as they boost problem solving skills and benefit emotional and procedural memory.
As you can clearly see, there is a number of benefits to naps and they can improve not only your creativity but life in general. Naps are most efficient if scheduled and had on a regular basis though. It is crucial to remember that naps cannot be treated as an alternative to a good night sleep and it is best to have both. It has been found that best time for a nap during the day is between 1 PM and 4 PM. Try to avoid having a nap later than that as it can affect your night sleep. You can also experiment with different sleep patterns, such as biphasic sleep, to find out what works best for you.
Sleep as Android – best four pounds I have ever spent. I use this app every single day (night) and it helps me to keep to the schedule as well as find the best sleep times for improved quality.
Oh, and read this.