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7 ways nurses can take naps to the next level

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Daytime Naps Once or Twice a Week Can Be Good for Your Heart, Study Finds A new study says just one or two naps per week can reduce the chances of a heart attack. The five-year analysis can be found in the medical journal, Heart. Nearly 3,500 subjects were tracked by a team from Switzerland's University Hospital of Lausanne. All of those involved in the study ranged from 35 to 75 years old. To get results, researchers observed the relation between cardiovascular disease development and napping regu

Naps are ‘an underutilized strategy for staying sharp and engaged in the course of a shift’

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Nurses and other essential workers didn’t have the opportunity for extra naps in 2020 like some other groups that started working remotely.

And that’s a shame, because a 20-minute power nap “improves alertness — a finding consistent with centuries of human experience,” according to nurse researcher Karen Farmilo in the American Journal of Nursing. She described naps as “an underutilized strategy for staying sharp and engaged in the course of a shift” and recommended that administrators “promote 10 to 20 minute power naps.”

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Even if work-sponsored naps are a remote possibility, short naps can be a very good thing.

According to 2019 research published in the journal Sleep, “There is a wealth of evidence that brief daytime naps of 10–20 minutes decrease subjective sleepiness, increase objective alertness, and improve cognitive performance.”

In addition, while most nurses are sleep-deprived on at least one occasion, nap benefits accrue even for those who are getting ample sleep. “Even in well-rested individuals, napping can enhance alertness, performance, and productivity for several hours,” the study added.

Naps help those who are spending time with their families or relaxing, too. They benefit your overall mind-body health, not just your work or study performance. “Daytime napping facilitates creative problem solving and logical reasoning, boosts the capacity for future learning, and consolidates memories,” the authors explained. “Daytime naps also allow for the regulation of emotions, relieve stress, and strengthen immune system function, reducing levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine and normalizing levels of interleukin-6 an immune-regulating molecule.”

So, sign you up for one per day, starting now, right? Here’s the catch. Certain naps are far more beneficial than others.

While intuition and pampering articles may have you thinking next level naps would involve bath salts or longer and longer sessions, the science indicates you’ll enhance the benefits by reconsidering timing, location and your attitude.

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Follow these tips for next-level napping skills:

Succumb in the early afternoon. It’s so tempting to crash while dinner bakes or nod off in the car while someone else drives in the morning. But the most beneficial time to nap is when your body is already giving those cues. Your brain experiences a distinct change in the hypothalamus from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“During an average work afternoon, a disproportion of the circadian alerting signal to the rising homeostatic sleep pressure occurs, resulting in increased sleepiness and reduced alertness,” according to the Sleep journal article. This happens even if you got a solid seven hours of sleep the night before, rose and jogged three miles and are having a relaxing day. So work with it. “The afternoon energy downswing creates an ideal opportunity to nap, as you’ll be that much more likely to nod off efficiently,” Charlotte, North Carolina-based physician Monique May told the blog for Weight Watchers, which promotes a weight loss program designed from evidence-based research.

The added advantage of this timing: “You’ll awake with a good chunk of the day still ahead of you, allowing your body sufficient time to cycle back to sleepiness when you’re ready to turn in for the night,” WW added.

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Set a limit. Sorry, marathon nappers. While the two-hour snooze fests may feel great, they don’t do much for your alertness, mood or immune system. Instead, you want to schedule a nap with a 10-30 minute limit. “You’re trying to just skim the surface of sleep and not ascend into a cycle of deep sleep where your brain thinks it’s night,” Dr. W. Christopher Winter, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia, told WW. “You want to get in and out before you get to that point.”

With each minute your nap extends beyond a half hour, you’re increasing the risk of waking with a groggy, “what month is it?” sensation, Winter added.

Try to nap around the same time every day. If you’re a night or swing shift nurse, you have an advantage here. It’s a good idea to attempt to nap at the same time each day, even if you’re only able to catch extra Zs on your days off. “By sticking to a schedule, your body learns when to power down, so you can fall asleep faster and be less disoriented when you wake up,” Philip Gehrman, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, told Women’s Health.

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Never nod off within four hours of bedtime. “Snoozing that late can sabotage nighttime winks, so instead, try to hit the hay a half-hour earlier,” Women’s Health added.

Get comfortable. You may need to shift your attitude a bit to be able to set up for a nap that is productive. Instead of thinking you’re somehow failing by nodding off, or that you need to be uncomfortable so you won’t sleep too long, try to acknowledge that you need a nap and make yourself comfortable. Skip the fitful tossing and turning without a blanket, and avoid dozing off in a chair with your feet propped up. You don’t want to “condition yourself to link putting your feet up with wakefulness, which, in the long run, can mess with your ability to fall and stay asleep,” Gehrman added.

Psychologist Sara Mednick, author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” recommended the couch to Women’s Health. “I wake up easier from my sofa, because my mind separates it from actual bedtime,” she explained.

Sleep in your best nighttime position. If you sleep best at night stretched out on your side, barefoot and with a fan running for ambient noise, the same position will afford the best nap.

Don’t expect too much from yourself. This is a tall order, but the most beneficial naps occur when you’re settled and not stressing. Instead of placing an expectation that you’ll fall asleep immediately, have uninterrupted slumber for a solid 20 minutes, and then immediately bounce back to fulfill your obligations, be realistic.

“If sleep happens, that’s awesome, but make your goal just to rest,” Winter told WW. “There’s a good chance you’ll feel renewed even if you don’t technically doze off. Research has found that whether or not people fall asleep, simply lying down for a short midday break is correlated with positive changes in mood.”

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