Who doesn’t love wintertime? You let your body hair grow out, you consume as much food as possible to keep yourself nice and toasty in your own body fat, and you get to fall into a deep slumber for a few months. But wait, you’re not a bear – so unfortunately it is not socially acceptable to sleep for that long. The student species must survive through the bitter cold months using Red Bull and Berocca to stay awake and be prepared for the approaching attack of the vicious mid-terms and (dare I say it) Christmas exams. While we may not be able to sleep for as long as bears, there are many benefits to taking, what some might call a ‘mini hibernation’, or, in layman’s terms, a nap.
No one needs to be told that a lack of sleep can seriously affect your mood. We have all experienced the crankiness, the short temper and stress of a day where we just want to crawl back into bed and never get up. There have been a number of studies which have shown that napping for a short period can not only cure these short term problems, but can have extensive physical and mental health benefits. A study of 23000 men and women of varying ages, by the University of Athens Medical School, found that the people who took naps of any duration frequently had a 34% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who did not. Researchers also found that working men who took regular siestas had a 64% lower risk of dying from a heart related disease. They concluded that this was due to lower stress levels in the nappers.
It has also been found that napping not only reduces stress, but also can greatly improve performance and concentration. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. A Japanese study, specifically focused on sleep-deprived students came up with similar results. Students who had been restricted to four hours sleep the previous night and took just a 15 minute nap after lunch showed much higher levels of alertness and logical reasoning in a test of cognitive function than those who did not.
With the recognised benefits of napping, some universities have come up with unique ways of ensuring their students are getting enough sleep. The University of East Anglia was the first university in the UK to designate an area especially for students to nap. The Nap Nook was opened by their Student’s Union earlier this year, and offers students an opportunity to book 40 minute slots to nap on bean bags, mattresses and couches while being safely supervised by CCTV. Students have responded positively, relaxing in the room which is carefully air conditioned to a comfortable temperature for sleep, with soothing sounds such as whales and chirping birds to drown out campus noise. The popularity of this initiative would not be confined to the British students as I am sure there would be queues (á la the queue for James Joyce during study week) every day to use this facility were one to open in UCD.
But how does one nap effectively? Most studies have recommended a nap between 15-40 minutes. Anything over this can lead to sleep inertia, a period of grogginess following waking up. This can also occur if you sleep too late in the day, so it is recommended that you take your siesta between 1pm and 5 pm. Lying in a flat position in a dark, quiet environment and eating food like milk, almonds or porridge before a nap are good ways to help you get to sleep faster. If you really want to be alert following your nap, a trick often employed by night-shift workers, is to drink coffee before you nap. The coffee takes about 15-20 minutes to metabolise in your body so after a short nap you will awake buzzing to take on that 5000 word assignment.
We are well into the second half of the semester now and the summer days of lounging around are long gone. Most students are beginning to feel the stress of college workload (or the stress of passively watching your workload pile up). So go on, catch some zzz’s. You will wake feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the work that is (unfortunately) still there when you wake up.
- By Tara Casey, Features Contributor