How it works: Naps are good for the brain

Madeline Bombardi

Its 3 in the afternoon, you have to finish writing your paper and still need to read a chapter for class — but all you want to do is sleep.

There has been much debate about whether naps are beneficial or simply cause grogginess. Some argue naps for adults are necessary and help us restore much-needed energy, while others hold the position that naps only make us more tired and increase idleness.

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Elizabeth Tilak, a Ph.D. student studying journalism, is in the “pro-nap” camp.

“When I can afford the time, I like to be able to take a nap,” Tilak said.

In her experience, Tilak said naps allow her to recharge, which in turn gives her more energy and increases her productivity and ability to focus.

Jim Lohr, a writer for Scientific American, recently published an article advocating for the afternoon nap.

Lohr wrote that the everyday or occasional nap can be beneficial. He noted that there have been studies that demonstrate the benefits of naps, including an increase in mood levels, higher productivity and performance in critical thinking, attention and memory.

However, the study concluded that there are specific factors that contribute to the effectiveness of a nap for an adult.

First of all, the adult should be healthy. This generally means getting daily to weekly exercise, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight, according to their doctor.

Secondly, if the adult is a “poor sleeper,” then napping is not recommended. This includes having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Taking afternoon naps would further disrupt the nighttime sleeping habits.

Additionally, to receive the maximum benefits of napping, it is important to pay attention to how long the nap is and what time of day the nap occurs.

“A 20-minute nap appears to hit the sweet spot,” Lohr said.

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Any longer and the body begins to fall deeper into sleep, causing a “sleep hangover.” The individual feels more tired than before and less focused.

The prime time for napping occurs between 1 and 3 p.m. This is due to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. The majority of people feel more tired and sleepy at this point in the day.

Allison Bielak, a professor in human development and family studies, wrote in an email to the Collegian that “there is a positive effect of naps on memory of new information (memory recall).”

While the body rests, the brain can put more energy into storing information received throughout the day. A nap can increase your ability to remember more information simply because your brain has a chance to rest.

So the next time you find yourself struggling to stay awake during that after-lunch, mid-afternoon lull, it might be best to trade that $2 coffee for a free nap.

Collegian Science Beat Reporter Madeline Bombardi can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @madelinebombard.