The benefits of an afternoon nap


How many hours sleep do you get every night? Is your sleep uninterrupted? How does lack of sleep affect the health of your brain?

Sleep is divided into two major phases of brain activity:

  • rapid-eye-movement (REM)
  • non–rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep.

Neuroscientist Dr Sarah McKay says that when you first fall asleep you experience NREM sleep, and then 60 to 90 minutes later, REM sleep kicks in. During the course of a normal night, a healthy adult will experience 4 to 6 consecutive sleep cycles of REM and NREM.

When you’re in NREM sleep, your body is able to move, but your eyes don’t; your breathing  and heart rate slow and your blood pressure falls. Blood flow to the brain decreases, and electroencephalograms (EEGs – recordings of brain activity) show slowing of brain activity.

When you cycle into REM sleep, your body becomes immobile and yours eyes move about rapidly. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate increase, and blood flow to the brain increases (and my gentlemen readers can attest to blood flow into other areas of the anatomy too). EEG activity also increases and you being to dream.

Neuroscience has shown that NREM sleep is essential for learning and memory. In fact, Dr McKay says that neuroscientists have been gathering evidence for some time that rats need NREM sleep to learn.

In this interview she explains the benefits of an afternoon nap. Sarah says there’s no harm in giving your brain a break if you are tired – but it’s important not to indulge in a long sleep during the day.

Balance Team

This article was written by the brains trust of Balance . We are a talented team of writers and contributors with real life experience and a passion for finding balance.

1 Comment

  1. Felicity

    September 3, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Really appreciate having these short easy to consume snippets of information about our health, especially the areas of dementia and brain health. Both my parents have (Dad had Alzheimer) dementia, I’ve been quietly concerned for myself and what it may mean for my partner, this is the first time I’ve started to look at my situation and begin to educate myself of the early signs. I was away when it started for my parents it was only when I came home did I realised there was a problem, have been looking after Mum for 15 years now. Time to start looking at myself and checking I’m alright. So thank yo for making it more comfortable to look at it, actually I think my partner deliberately left this open on the latop for me to read…

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