The proven way doctors can boost brain power

By Physician Sense, for MDLinx
Published November 14, 2019

Key Takeaways

Feeling groggy? Before you reach for coffee, you might want to consider a different approach, doctor. Ever consider napping? Find an empty hospital bed or exam room, or go out to your car, crank up the AC, and nod off for 15-30 minutes. Research suggests that there are numerous reasons why physicians should nap.

But before we cover the researched reasons why you should nap, we need to knock out some of the nap-related stigma. First, napping isn’t just for kids. According to a 2009 Pew study, nearly a third of American adults say that they nap. And napping is not lazy. Thomas Edison, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Albert Einstein—among a myriad of others—were all ardent nappers and definitely not lazy.

The “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” attitude and practice may in fact be deadly. Increasingly, research is showing sleep’s inexorable link to the quality of our health, even linking sleep deprivation to the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. Not sleeping was cool in the ‘80s. But so were acid wash jeansdouble-breasted suits with wide ties, and doing cocaine.

A nap improves cognitive function

You know what is cool? Improving your cognitive function. What doctor wouldn’t benefit from that? A 2009 meta-analysis of sleep studies published in theJournal of Sleep Research puts a great deal of recent nap research findings in one place. For a doctor struggling to stay awake, the research shows that he or she can expect improved vigilance, logical reasoning, and reaction time.

Here’s some particularly applicable research, incorporated into the meta-analysis. A 2007 study published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms looked at the effects of napping on healthcare shift workers. Nursing staff and “scientists” received 30-minute nap breaks during shift work. Researchers measured the hospital workers’ self-reported levels of sleepiness and performed alertness tests on shifts when test subjects received and didn’t receive naps. On shifts during which the participants napped, the hospital workers had improved reaction times by 10% and lower levels of sleepiness. Researchers add that the improvements persisted until the end of the workers’ shifts.

The benefits of napping aren’t exclusively cognitive. If you find yourself short on patience with patients or colleagues on sleep-deprived days and nights, a nap might be just what you need. A 2015 study published in Personality and Individual Differences looked at participants’ abilities to handle impulsiveness and frustration with and without naps. Results showed that the nappers were better able to cope with frustration and reported feeling less impulsive. Those who didn’t nap reported the opposite. For the purposes of this study, the participants received a “brief, midday nap.”

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