Lessons From Dogs… Take Time For Naps
Remember the good old days in kindergarten when we got to lie down on our mats after lunch and have a little rest and quiet time? Wouldn’t that be wonderful to do at work every day? I distinctly remember the feeling of “calm” I felt as we were allowed to get up and put our mats away. The entire room had changed, the energy was soft and quiet… I liked that feeling!
Every morning after I feed my dogs, they go outside for a potty break, play for about 10-15 minutes and then go to their favorite spot on the couch or one of the doggie beds and are fast asleep within minutes. Mind you, they have been awake for less than two hours at this point after sleeping all night (and hogging the bed). This is their routine every day, like clockwork, unless some major excitement or disruption emerges in our household.
I got the opportunity to see this pattern as I was home with them almost every day for four months last spring while recovering from a broken leg and surgery. I found myself settling in right with them every morning on the couch as I lay there with my leg elevated and iced. We would sleep for almost two hours every day while I recovered. Just like in kindergarten, when I awoke each morning from our nap… I LIKED THAT FEELING! I felt rested and calm, yet energized. I allowed myself to surrender and listened to what my body needed, which was a lot of extra sleep to heal from the trauma.
Dogs don’t sleep the way we do; they take a lot of short naps throughout the day. As predators, they are genetically designed this way. These short bursts of sleep help them recharge their energy quickly, so they can be ready to get up and go again. Dogs in the wild have to hunt for their food and this is strenuous work. They also must be ready to protect their territory and pack from other predators at any moment. Their genes have developed according to these needs.
It should come as no surprise that our dog’s sleep patterns are very different from our own. For instance, although people can nap, it’s not a need. Humans sleep in long intervals. Most people need a solid eight hours of sleep a night. Dogs, on the other hand, get their sleep in short bursts, spending most of their time napping.
Dogs and humans alike experience REM—or rapid eye movement—sleep cycles. These are the deepest sleep cycles, necessary for the brain to process information. Because dogs sleep for short periods of time, they need to sleep more often to get enough REM sleep and be able to keep their brains in top working condition. It takes humans 90 minutes to reach REM sleep stage; dogs are able to reach REM in as little as 15 minutes! This allows them to wake and go back to sleep—and be back in that vital REM sleep quickly to adapt to their environment and energy needs.
Quality sleep provides a lot of health benefits such as better heart function, hormonal maintenance, and cell repair and boosts memory and improves cognitive function. Sleeping gives your body a chance to process and sort through everything that happened during the day as well as repair itself and reset for tomorrow.
A body which is deprived of sleep actually harms us in multiple ways such as an increase in inflammation and interruption of hormone function. Yet, one of the most obvious and bothersome harms is that we have trouble focusing when sleep deprived.
Studies of napping have shown improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking and memory performance. We are naturally designed to have two sleeps per day according to our circadian rhythm. Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University says that “we’re naturally designed to have two sleeps a day: a long one at night and another one in the early afternoon. Early afternoon is when our energy naturally dips lower than usual and we have a harder time focusing.” Because of the natural cycles of our circadian rhythms, we are at our most tired twice during a 24-hour period. One peak of sleepiness is usually in the middle of the night, so the other, 12 hours later, falls smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon. If you have ever traveled to Spain or Mexico, you’ll know that most businesses close during this time for “siesta” which means afternoon rest or nap. The world’s population sleeps in a variety of ways and at different times of the day. Millions of Chinese workers will put their heads on their desks for an hour or so for a nap after lunch. Daytime napping is also common in countries such as India and Italy.
In one study of 23,681 Greek men over a six-year period, the participants who napped three times per week had a 37% lower risk of dying from heart disease.
Sleep experts are finding that daytime naps can help our body in many ways such as increased alertness, boost in creativity, reduction of stress, improved perception and stamina. Naps improve motor skills and accuracy, enhance your sex life, aid in weight loss, reduce the risk of heart attack, brighten your mood and boost memory.
Sleep prepares the brain like a dry sponge to soak up new information as it processes and files away memories from the day. The left side of our brain takes some time off to relax during sleep, but the right side remains active as it clears out our temporary storage areas. As we sleep, the right brain is pushing information into long-term storage and solidifying memories from the day (learning and cognition).
The amount of time a person naps is very individual, as are their levels of physical and mental activity. Typically, napping longer than 90-minutes is not beneficial or refreshing as you will only begin another sleep cycle. Also, if you take a snooze too late in the day, it will contain too much slow-wave sleep leaving you sluggish and groggy.
A body that is fatigued, or struggling to function related to illness, injury or disease will need more sleep to restore and repair damaged tissue. In such instances, naps are key to healing and recovery. As you might imagine, a body which is exposed to chronic stress such as excess work/school difficulties, mental and/or emotional upset and chronic pain or physical disabilities may often experience burnout. Burnout is a sign that indicates you are unable to take in or process more information in your brain until you have had sleep. Unfortunately, a reality in our country is that far too many people try to work on a regular basis while in this state. Excessive stress and lack of sleep lead to chronic inflammation as our body does not get a regular opportunity to regenerate and repair cells. Chronic inflammation leads to disease, and it is no surprise to see how 90% of disease in this country is STRESS related.
Those of us who struggle to get a full 8 hours of sleep at night on a regular basis or who have chronic stresses affecting our life in one form or another may need naps more often to allow our immune system and brain to re-charge. Those who get regular sleep at night my still consider the amazing benefits of napping simply to improve our cognitive function and memory!
Here are more wonderful reasons to add napping to your wellness regimen:
- Your immune system releases cytokines. While you sleep, your immune system releases small proteins called cytokines which help the body to fight inflammation, infection and trauma. Just as my body needed naps during my recovery.
- Cortisol (often called the stress hormone) levels lower during the first few hours of sleep.
- Your brain sorts and processes the day’s information and is actually quite busy while you sleep. This is important for creating long term memory and learning.
- Hormones flood your body during sleep. Melatonin is released by the pineal gland and controls your sleep patterns. Growth hormone is released by the pituitary gland which helps your body to grow and repair tissue and bone.
- Your sympathetic nervous system chills out! This is what controls our fight or flight response, and when we sleep, it gets a chance to relax. When we are deprived of sleep, sympathetic nervous system activity increases as the body thinks it is being threatened, and blood pressure and muscle tension remain elevated. Scientists studying coronary disease are investigating whether there is a relationship between decreased sleep duration and an increased risk of heart disease.
This LESSON FROM DOGS tells us to listen to our body and quiet our ego. When you “feel” tired or sleepy….REST! We are actually much less productive and less efficient with our time and energy when we are tired and fatigued. Never pass up the opportunity to snuggle up for a restorative nap with your pack!
Lisa Adams is nurse, Health and Wellness Coach and Certified Flowtrition Practitioner. She has combined over 25 years of experience as a registered nurse with training in Flowtrition and health education to provide her clients with the most comprehensive and holistic approach to preventive healthcare and wellness. Lisa believes that wellness starts from within and that if we trust in our body’s ability to heal as it is designed, amazing things happen. She also believes that optimal health is achieved in a multi-system approach that includes not only physical wellbeing, but also mental and emotional wellbeing. Lisa’s passion and objective in coaching is to increase awareness in individuals about the way their body functions and especially how it responds to stress.
“The body cannot begin to heal
while in a constant state of tension.”
~ Lisa Adams ~