By Dr Fiona Kerr Founder/CEO The Neurotech Institute
Humans are bi-phasic. Two sleep-connected body cycles (circadian rhythm and homeostatic curve) align in the middle of the day for our second sleep, so don’t reach for the coffee or chocolate, reach for a pillow. Even with 8 hours sleep a night, a twenty minute nap has many advantages – it refreshes brain and body, clears our mental inbox, rests our visual cortex, lifts our mood, and increases physical dexterity, attention and reaction time for up to 3 hours. If you sleep for a full REM cycle during the day (at least an hour) the huge benefits include improvements in creativity, executive function, working memory, perception, stamina, mood, motor skills, logic, and decreased stress response.
A nap assists our immune system, important for poor sleepers as sleep deprivation increases levels of inflammation in the body. Naps decrease levels of Interleukin-6 (inflammation marker) and helps the immune and neuroendocrine systems recover from sleep loss. They also assist with pain response, important because the pain threshold of people experiencing sleep deprivation falls up to 15 percent after one night of insufficient rest. (If you wake from a nap feeling groggy (called sleep inertia) you have slept too long for a 20 minute power nap and your brain has altered blood flows for a full REM cycle (1-1.5 hours), so try for one or the other)
The good news for people with conditions that interrupt sleep cycles such as young onset Parkinson’s, is that our wonderful brain and body can adjust to the day sleep carrying out much of the work done during a night sleep. So think of sleep more in terms of a weekly than nightly quota, which can be made up of different sleep patterns during the day or week. Instead of feeling guilty, find your own sleep cycle(s). If you only sleep 4 hours a night, have a long sleep during the day, adjust your lifestyle and work accordingly, and have a conversation with the relevant people about the advantages for both them and you to work out what is best.