Taking a nap almost always beats a cup of coffee, according to sleep researchers, because a nap restores worn out synapse connections while coffee just pushes them to perform longer.

In memory tests conducted at the University of California, researchers found that naps helped individuals consolidate their thoughts, aiding in the formation of memories. On the other hand, caffeine inhibited memory formation by increasing amounts of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine—a kind of neuro-grime that blocks the smooth flow of certain electrical signals.

But not all naps are equal, say the researchers. Nap duration and the time of day when rest occurs change how shut eye works on the brain. REM sleep, which can help individuals arrive at creative solutions to difficult problems, occurs after about sixty minutes of sleep.

"[I]f you’re looking for a restorative nap, you should sleep later in the day when you have an increased amount of slow wave sleep. And if you’re looking for a nap that might aid your creativity, you should sleep earlier in the day when you experience more REM."

At Big Think, sleep researcher Shelby Harris explains what happens to the brain during REM sleep:

Shorter naps that last about ten minutes, i.e. the power nap, can improve cognitive performance for up to 155 minutes after the nap, while naps longer than twenty minutes create sleep inertia that can leave you feeling groggy afterwards.

Businesses would do well to help employees realize the benefits of afternoon naps. Some companies, like Massachusetts software maker HubSpot, have created dimly lit rooms with hammocks or cots.

On the consumer front, the company NeuroOn is developing a sleep mask that can monitor sleep cycles, possibly waking you gently once you've had the optimum amount of sleep.

Read more at BBC Future

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