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7 Surprising benefits of taking an afternoon nap

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Why naps can lead to a healthier and happier tomorrow

It's easy to confuse napping with laziness, but the two concepts just don't belong in the same sentence.

A well-crafted afternoon nap, in fact, can bolster your health and happiness faster than you might imagine. The benefits of napping reach far and wide, so the next time someone tells you that your napping habit is a sign of laziness, you can retort, "Science says it's an integral part of my day."

The beauty of a short nap

According to The Cleveland Clinic, people who struggle with insomnia should avoid napping for more than 15-30 minutes a day in order to protect their ability to fall asleep at night. The good news? The average napper can reap enormous benefits from just a few minutes of afternoon rest. Consider the following merits of a short nap:

1. Enhanced sense of gratitude. If you struggle to feel grateful, a nap might just turn around your mood. Research has shown that a short nap can quickly enhance your sense of gratitude, which is linked to a better night's sleep at the end of the day.

2. Reduced risk of accidents. Drowsiness can pose a huge danger if you need to drive or complete risky tasks at work. When you feel drowsy, a 20-minute nap can quickly reduce your risks of personal injury, since napping quickly boosts alertness.

3. Improve your performance. Here's the proof that napping is not a sign of laziness. NASA found that pilots who were allowed to take a short nap before takeoff improved their work performance by 34 percent.

4. Protect your heart health. Research out of Greece suggests that people who carve out time for a short afternoon nap a few times a week have a lower risk of coronary artery disease than those who don't nap.

Longer naps for increased health

Short naps are well and good, but what about the long nap? As long as you don't sleep away several hours of your afternoon each day, an occasional long nap can significantly boost your well-being, too. Here's what you can expect following a nap between 60 and 90 minutes.

1. Improved creativity. If you're able to nap long enough to get REM sleep, your brain can build new connections. The connections that occur in your napping brain are shown to increase creative problem-solving.

2. Increase your short-term memory. Toe to toe with caffeine, a long afternoon nap is significantly more effective at helping people improve and retain their short-term memories.

3. Naps build motor skills. If you're trying to learn a new motor skill — like a video game or calligraphy — a nap needs to be in your future. People who nap for 60 to 90 minutes after learning a motor skill demonstrate a huge improvement in performance after their sleepy time.

What are you waiting for? Your plush pillows and cozy comforter are calling — for the sake of your health.

This post is brought to you by The Cleveland Clinic. For more sleep tips to help you Dream Big, go to dreambigmattress.com.

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