Health and wellness

Power naps: now there’s scientific proof of their health benefits, what are sleep-deprived Hongkongers waiting for?

In China you can book one on a nap app, at Google sick leave dropped when sleep capsules were provided, and science has shown the health benefits of a nap. So don’t leave it too late – grab a blanket and feel the benefits yourself

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 December, 2017, 6:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 10:55am

Hongkongers are coming up short on the prescribed eight hours’ sleep a night, clocking up only six and a half if they’re lucky. Across Asia, sleep deprivation costs billions of dollars annually in compromised productivity and health issues – but experts say a power nap could help compensate.

Many global achievers understood the benefits. Winston Churchill advocated sleep in the afternoon, insisting it allowed him to borrow late night hours and plough on in peace and quiet when others were in bed. The late American presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan valued a siesta; Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, liked a couple of three-hour naps a day – not surprising since he was, literally, up burning the midnight oil.

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The appeal of a quick forty winks has commercial value: nap capsules are becoming popular, especially in China where you can prepay on a nap app and crawl into a pod complete with pillow, blanket and USB port so you can charge your phone while you slumber. Xingyu Space Capsule Hotel in Shenzhen sells time in sleep pods on Airbnb.

But why are naps useful? Naturopath Philip Watkins, who works at the Integrated Medicine Institute in Hong Kong, says that although adults should aim for seven to nine consecutive hours of sleep in every 24 hours, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that a short nap could reverse the negative health effects of a night of poor sleep. This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels.

Watkins says there is value in playing sleep catch-up, citing another study in mice that investigated what happens in the body when sleep was cut by a third for 10 days. It showed increased DNA damage by 247 per cent in the liver, 145 per cent in the gut and by 166 per cent in the lungs. But the damage could be undone by just two days of catch-up sleep, it found.

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There’s no particular prescribed length of nap, though some experts deem 10 to 30 minutes as optimum – it fits into your day and doesn’t leave you feeling groggy. The timing of a nap is important, says Watkins. “Look at taking your nap when you feel you’re at your lowest level of alertness during the day. It is important to note that napping too close to the end of the day could exacerbate insomnia, so some diligence is required to get it right in the beginning.”

Business titans are harnessing napping value in the workplace. Huffington Post, Procter and Gamble, Ben and Jerry’s and Google have all found naps to be good for business.

Watkins explains: “In 2010, Google added sleep capsules in their offices for employees to use to keep themselves energised. The effects of this on productivity as well as sick days taken are well documented, as people who can manage sleep deprivation better have a higher standard of health on the whole than those that don’t.”

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Watkins sees the advantage of using sleep pods. “A well-meaning 20-minute nap in a specialised sleep capsule potentially improves decision-making, creativity, recall, as well as reducing waking blood pressure and significantly improving cardiovascular health.”

Dr Neil Taylor, independent sleep expert and founder of The Sleep Consultancy in the UK, agrees that naps “increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and this may persist for a few hours”.

He stresses that we need to relax to be able to nap. “You have to be able to cognitively disengage from your surroundings. Some people are much better at doing this than others,” he says.

Dr Sara Mednick, a Harvard graduate and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, is the author of Take a Nap! Change your Life, which underscores her belief in the power of napping.

Her three top nap-prep tips? Darken your nap zone. Have a light blanket or throw to keep you warm, as your body temperature will drop. And, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for adopting this healthy habit.