What Exactly IS Napercise?
Napercise seems like a bit of an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Life would literally be a dream if going to the gym meant lying down for 30 minutes instead of pumping iron tirelessly. Well, Harry Hanson of Hanson Fitness in New York has found a way to combine two of the most important aspects of health; exercise and sleep into one relaxing workout class.
The original idea came about when Hanson himself started taking power naps on a daily basis and noticed a huge difference in his overall well-being and energy levels. He notes that “If you go into a deep REM for even 20 minutes, it really helps your body recover faster, refreshens your brain and helps you be more productive”.
So what exactly happens in these “napercise” classes? Well... it’s a lot more complicated than just crashing on a pillow. Clients lay out on soft mats in a room set to 65 degrees farenheit (which is 18 degrees celsius). Sleep experts claim that this slightly cool temperature is optimal for deep sleep. Hanson will put on some relaxing music while trainers stretch out clients as they’re laying there. They’ll slowly go into nap mode which will hopefully last for the next 45 minutes. When they awaken, they’ll feel refreshed and fully recovered.
The aim of napercise is to boost mood, increase focus and give the client more energy. It may seem like a gimmick, but as we all know, it’s the quality of sleep that matters, not quantity, and Hanson is providing his clients with a high quality nap routine and optimal sleep environment.
For those who are struggling with their sleep quality, perhaps a little “napercise” before bed would do just the trick, but what does science have to say about the controversial power nap?
According to a study done by the University of Dusseldorf, very short naps can enhance memory processing. A similar NASA study reported that “Napping can maintain or improve subsequent performance, physiological and subjective alertness, and mood”. One of the authors of the study goes as far to say that a “26-minute nap improves performance in pilots by 34% and alertness by 54%”.
It appears that most studies claim that the ideal length of nap is around 30 minutes. Take a nap longer than a half-hour and you risk “messing up” your circadian rhythm, also known as your “internal alarm clock”.
Is napping good for you?
Nick Littlehales, author of “Sleep: Redefine Your Rest for Success In Work, Life and Sport”, notes power naps as a must-have in anyone’s daily routine. He claims that most people can take a nap anywhere; the staff room sofa, a yoga mat in your office, an unused meeting room or even a nearby park.
You might be thinking...impossible! I have a hard enough time getting to sleep in my own bed! What makes you think I can take a nap on a park bench? Littlehales says it doesn’t matter, even catching a few moments of that state “right before sleep”, can have a positive effect. The act of laying down, closing your eyes and disconnecting from the busy world will do wonders to calm your mind and lighten your mood.
Matthew Walker, renowned sleep expert and neuroscientist also recommends short, 30-minute power naps along with the following 12 tips:
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Matthew considers this to be one of the most important tactics when it comes to sleep hygiene. If you don’t do any of the others on the list, do this one! It’s important to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Sleeping in will only make it more difficult to go to sleep the next night. If possible, set an alarm for both when you wake and retire.
2. Don’t exercise too late in the day
Exercising can often bring about a burst of energy and endorphins. Though this is beneficial in the morning, it can render one too “energized” to get to sleep.
3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine
Avoid these substances from the afternoon onward. Even treats like chocolate and teas have small amounts of caffeine that can affect one’s sleep.
4. Avoid alcohol before bed
Alcohol has been known to disrupt REM sleep due to the high amount of processing it requires. Be sure to avoid this substance before bed.
5. Avoid large meals before bed
For those who are sensitive, large meals can cause disruptive sleep due to an over-activation of the digestive system.
6. Avoid medications that disrupt sleep
Certain medications can interrupt sleep including asthma, blood pressure and allergy medication. Taking these medicines in the morning can prevent them from interfering with sleep.
7. Nap before 3pm
Keeping your naps as far away as possible from your bedtime is crucial to get the full benefits of them.
8. Relax before bed
Take a page from Harry Hanson’s book and establish a wind-down routine before bed. Light a candle, spray some lavender and put on some relaxing music. All of these things will encourage a restful sleep.
9. Take a hot bath
The heat of the bath actually causes your body temperature to “drop” once you’re out of the tub. A lowered body temperature is optimal for deep sleep.
10. Keep your bedroom dark and cool
If you don’t like baths, make sure you keep your bedroom completely dark and cool. It’s as easy as running a fan and blacking out the windows. Oh...and keep your gadgets and screens out of the bedroom. Exposure to artificial light before bed has been known to down-regulate melatonin.
11. Get exposed to sunlight
Did you know that before there was electricity, our circadian rhythms were governed by the sun? Getting at least 30 minutes of sun exposure per day is a great way to keep your internal alarm clock in check.
12. Don’t lie in bed, awake
If you find that 20 minutes has gone by and you still haven’t gotten to sleep, don’t just lie there stressing about it. Get up and do something else and try again when you start to feel sleepy.
It’s important to note that there are five stages to sleep: 1, 2, 3, 4 and finally, REM. The first stage is when one drifts in and out of sleep. Muscle activity slows and eyes dart. This is the stage in which “sleep hygiene” habits, like those listed above, really matter. Staying asleep is a matter of establishing a regular sleep routine as mentioned by Matthew Walker being his “number one” tip.
These 12 tips along with a high-quality sleep supplement and the occasional power nap will do wonders for your sleep hygiene and will undoubtedly get you on the fast-track to deep, refreshing sleep. A nightly sleep routine is essential for long term sleep health.
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