Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Six Minute Naps

I am falling asleep as I write this. Sad, considering it is 9 a.m.and I even got a decent night's sleep. As I type this, I have a dread of how this day is going to drag on forever, and 5 o'clock will never come around. I used to think that going outside and getting some fresh air would do the trick; wake me up and reset my wake-sleep cycle. Or at least shut off that annoying melatonin from my pituitary. And caffeine. Caffeine does nothing for me. It doesn't even give me an extra heartbeat. No, I need something better, something simple.

I need a six minute nap.

That is correct. A six minute nap. Not a five minute nap. Not a three minute nap. A six minute nap. I suppose a ten minute nap would be great, but I think I will use the extra four minutes to finish typing this essay. Apparently six minutes of sleep is enough to focus your mind and refresh you. Lahl et al did a study now published in the Journal of Sleep Research looking at how many words subjects could recall after one hour. In the first group, subjects stayed awake. In the second group, subjects napped for one hour. In the third group, subjects napped for only six minutes. The long nap group was able to recall the most words, followed by the short nap group, then the awake group.

Given the process by which be remember and recall information, Lahl hypothesized that executive functions of the brain are impaired by sleepiness, and that even a short nap allows better executive function. That means that taking a short nap after lunch can actually make you think more clearly in the afternoon. In fact, many Japanese companies set a short period of time for employees to nap after lunch in order to increase afternoon productivity. And while longer naps may result in greater executive function improvement, even a short nap has benefits without wasting company time.

How napping actually improves your mental capacity is not clearly defined. Theories include the increase in flow of neural activity to and from various parts of the brain, changes in hormones such as ACTH and GH, and rewiring of the brain during sleep. I'm sure someone has done PET scanning of the brain during sleep and with memory recall to help describe what happens.

But it looks like everything I need to know I did learn in kindergarten. Now where's my swatch of carpet?