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Nap time! Researchers say sleeping twice a day is good for you

TODAY logo TODAY 3/12/2018 Scott Stump
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Here's a way to celebrate the lost hour of sleep after switching daylight saving time —and it's not an extra grande cup of coffee. Take a nap. And if you needed any other motivation: It's National Napping Day.

Actually, every day should be nap day, according to research.

Plenty of studies show that losing sleep is bad for your health, and a series of recent studies show that the days after the time change may see a rise in serious heart incidents in particular.

In fact, we should be sleeping twice a day in shorter chunks instead of one long block of tossing and turning through the night, according to Australian researchers.

A 2016 study from the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia, find that having two separate sleep periods provides "two periods of increased activity, creativity and alertness across the day, rather than having a long wake period where sleepiness builds up across the day and productivity wanes."

The researchers also noted that having two sleep periods was once the norm at various points in history across the world.

Melinda Jackson, a senior research fellow at Australia's RMIT University, and Siobhan Banks, a senior research fellow quoted a passage from the 1840 Charles Dickens novel "Barnaby Rudge" where a character refers to his "first sleep" — which presumably came before losing limbs to dangerous factory machinery and inhaling soot — and then taking a second nap.

Jackson and Banks believe the Spaniards are on to something with their traditional siesta, a two- to three-hour lunch break taken at 2 p.m. typically used for a nap.

Our body clock naturally lends itself to the siesta because of a reduction in alertness in the early afternoon, which is also probably why there was a national uproar when Spain's prime minister announced in April that he wants to put an end to siestas.

They cited a 1990 study by psychiatrist Thomas Wehr that found that "bi-phasic sleep," which is a science-y phrase for two separate four-hour blocks of sleep, is "a natural process with a biological basis."

While the benefits of a split sleep schedule also include allowing more flexibility with work and family time, reducing the instances of insomnia, serving as an alternative to night shift work, and increasing alertness, there are some downsides, according to the researchers.

Namely, telling your boss you want to take a three-hour nap in the middle of the day instead of closing the Heffernan account doesn't usually go over too well in most American workplaces.

Plus, the timing has to be right for each sleep session in order to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep, so just flopping onto a bed or couch at two random times during the day won't necessarily produce positive results.

But, if you can steal 20 minutes of quick nap time about eight or nine hours after you wake up today — a restorative nap doesn't need to be longer than that — that will help you conquer any lingering daylight saving grogginess.

This updated story was first published in June, 2016

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