The secret of sleep power napping

A 30 minute sleep power nap works for pilots and footballers – and you too, says sleep coach Nick Littlehales.

A 30 minute sleep power nap works for pilots and footballers - and you too, says sleep coach Nick Littlehales.

A study by the University of Düsseldorf has shown that even very short naps enhance memory processing, while a Nasa study, looking at their effects on pilots on long flights, reported: “Naps can maintain or improve subsequent performance, physiological and subjective alertness, and mood.”

One of the authors of that report, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US, has said that “a 26 minute nap improves performance in pilots by 34% and alertness by 54%”.

Naps are of critical importance to pilots flying long-haul – they fit one in while the co-pilot takes over, later reaping the benefits of improved alertness. They are a significant performance enhancer for athletes, too, and they can have the same benefits for anyone. A 30-minute nap is the most practical.

If you want to try it yourself, have a coffee beforehand – espresso is a good, quick fix – so that it takes effect towards the end of your nap, or controlled recovery period (CRP). Don’t sip your coffee too slowly, as you might find it’s already taking effect as you begin your CRP, and be aware of the amount of caffeine you have already consumed.

When Nick Littlehales was working with Manchester United in the late 90s, the club introduced double training sessions pre season for the first time, and he suggested creating an environment for the players in which they could relax and have a CRP between sessions to improve their recovery.

Both Alex Ferguson and head physiotherapist Rob Swire supported the idea so they allocated a suitable room for up to 12 players at a time, put in some single sleeper loungers and coached the players on how to use the room.

It was all very basic – no whale noises or essential oils – but it did the job.

It was a key step towards where we are today with sleep recovery, and the players took full advantage with an open mind to day-time sleeping.

The truth is that we can nap anywhere.

The best way is to find a spot where you can make yourself comfortable at some point during the afternoon period – an unused office or meeting room, a quiet corner in the communal kitchen, the sofa in the staff room or even in the park or on a bench, when the weather permits.

Then close your eyes and just let go.

Easier said than done, you might think. Some people will be able to do this and fall asleep promptly. Others, those who steadfastly claim they simply “can’t nap”, won’t be able to fall asleep. But this is one of the revelatory aspects: it doesn’t matter.

What’s important is that you use this period to close your eyes and disconnect from the world for a short while.

Falling asleep is great, but so is catching that place on the verge of sleep, when you’re not quite awake but not quite asleep either. It’s tapping into that point of the day when you’re not really thinking about anything at all, when your mind is a blank.

After a nap, take five minutes to become aware of your surroundings and hydrate. Daylight lamps on your desk or getting out into natural daylight will reduce any inertia quickly, so that you will enjoy all the benefits of a CRP, just like those pilots who took the 26 minute Nasa naps.

Bright light increases sexual satisfaction in men

Exposure to bright light can lead to greater sexual satisfaction in men who have low sexual desire.

Exposure to bright light can lead to greater sexual satisfaction in men who have low sexual desire.

Scientists from the University of Siena in Italy found that using a light box, similar to those used to treat some forms of depression, increased testosterone levels.

And this led to greater reported levels of sexual satisfaction. But they said more research was needed before it could be used as a treatment.

The researchers carried out their study on 38 men who had been diagnosed with disorders which cause a lack of interest in sex.

One half of the group was treated with a light box, while the other half was treated with an adapted light box which gave out significantly less light.

They were treated for half an hour early in the morning for two weeks.

When they retested the participants, they found that the group exposed to the bright light tripled their sexual satisfaction scores while the control group’s scores stayed roughly the same.

The researchers also found that testosterone levels increased in men who had been given the active light treatment from around 2.1 ng/ml to 3.6 ng/ml – but the control group showed no increase.

Prof Andrea Fagiolini, who led the study, said the increased levels of testosterone explained the greater reported sexual satisfaction.

Light therapy is where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight.

A light box contains very bright fluorescent tubes – usually at least 10 times the intensity of household lights.

They are commonly used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

A patient looks into the light box and when light hits the back of the eye, messages are passed to the part of the brain that controls sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity.

Some people seem to need a lot more light than others for their body to function normally.
Mimics nature

And he went on to explain how the light box treatment works. He said: “In the northern hemisphere, the body’s testosterone production naturally declines from November through until April and then rises steadily through the spring and summer with a peak in October.

“You see the effect of this in reproductive rates, with the month of June showing the highest rate of conception. The use of the light box really mimics what nature does.”

Prof Fagiolini said he thought the light therapy inhibited the pineal gland in the centre of the brain, which allowed more testosterone to be produced.

There are several possible reasons for lack of sexual desire and treatment depends on the underlying cause.

It can be treated with testosterone injections, antidepressants, and other medications.

The researchers believe that light therapy in the future may offer the benefits of medication, but with fewer side effects.

But he said they were not yet at the stage where they could recommend it as a clinical treatment.

The paper was presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress in Vienna.

Obesity link to cancer not well known by public

Three quarters of people are unaware being overweight increases the risk of developing 10 different types of cancer – Cancer Research UK.

Three quarters of people are unaware being overweight increases the risk of developing 10 different types of cancer - Cancer Research UK.

It said the lack of understanding was “concerning” and criticised the government for its failed attempt to tackle childhood obesity.

Bowel, kidney, breast and womb cancer are most commonly linked to obesity.

Public Health England said it was working with the food industry to reduce sugar in its products.

There is evidence to show that carrying too much weight increases the risk of developing cancers, contributing to more than 18,000 cases of cancer each year in the UK.

Cancer Research UK said its online survey of more than 3,000 people across the UK indicated the message about the health risks of being overweight had not got through to the general public.

Fewer than one third knew of the link between obesity and breast or womb cancer, and more than half did not know pancreatic cancer was linked to obesity.

Research suggests 40% of womb cancers are linked to obesity.

However, there was better awareness of the link with bowel cancer and kidney cancer.

Number of cancer cases linked to being overweight or obese in the UK each year:

Bowel – 5,400 cases
Breast – 4,300
Womb – 2,900
Kidney – 2,400

But the survey found men were less likely than women to be aware of the increased risk of cancer caused by obesity and people from poorer backgrounds were less likely to know about the link.

With a quarter of adults in the UK being obese – defined as a BMI or body mass index of over 30 – and about 60% classified as overweight or obese – a BMI over 25 – eating a healthy balanced diet and taking regular exercise is key to helping people lose weight.

CRUK has 10 top tips for a healthy weight, which include eating smaller portions of food and choosing water to drink instead of sweetened juices or alcohol.
Image copyright Thinkstock

 

Cancer Research UK said making the public more aware of the link between obesity and cancer was the government’s responsibility and it should start by focusing on the health of the nation’s children.

 

The latest figures show that one in five children starts primary school overweight or obese, and, at the age of 11, one in three are in this category.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said it had launched a programme to get the food industry to remove at least 20% of the sugar in their products by 2020.

“The link between obesity and cancer shows just how important it is to cut back on calories, sugar and saturated fat to maintain a healthy weight,” she said.

There are many possible factors that contribute to cancer risk include family history, age and lifestyle.

The link between obesity and cancer is still not completely clear, but there are three main theories:

  • Too much fat in the body causes the level of sex hormones, such as oestrogen, to rise. For women, after the menopause, fat becomes the main source of oestrogen, and in those who are overweight this can make cells multiply more quickly in the breast and womb, increasing the risk of cancer in these organs
  • Too much fat can cause levels of insulin to rise, which can tell cells to divide more rapidly
  • Obesity may lead to tissues becoming inflamed, which can in turn help the growth and spread of cancer

Healthiest human hearts found in the world

 

The healthiest hearts in the world have been found in the Tsimane people in the forests of Bolivia, say researchers.

The healthiest hearts in the world have been found in the Tsimane people in the forests of Bolivia, say researchers.

Barely any Tsimane had signs of clogged up arteries – even well into old age – a study in the Lancet showed. Tsimane is pronounced “chee-may-nay”.

“It’s an incredible population” with radically different diets and ways of living, said the researchers.

They admit the rest of the world cannot revert to a hunter gathering and early farming existence, but said there were lessons for all of us.

There are around 16,000 Tsimane who hunt, fish and farm on the Maniqui River in the Amazon rainforest in the Bolivian lowlands.

 

What is a health heart Tsimane diet?

  • 17% of their diet is game including wild pig, tapir and capybara (the world’s largest rodent)
  • 7% is freshwater fish including piranha and catfish
  • Most of the rest comes from family farms growing rice, maize, manioc root (like sweet potato) and plantains (similar to banana)
  • It is topped up with foraged fruit and nuts

It means:

  • 72% of calories come from carbohydrates compared with 52% in the US
  • 14% from fat compared with 34% in the US, Tsimane also consume much less saturated fat
  • Both Americans and Tsimane have 14% of calories from protein, but Tsimane have more lean meat

How fit are they?

They are also far more physically active with the men averaging 17,000 steps a day and the women 16,000.

Even the over 60s have a step count over 15,000. It makes most people’s struggle to get near 10,000 seem deeply insignificant.

“They achieve a remarkable dose of exercise,” says Dr Gregory Thomas, one of the researchers and from Long Beach Memorial medical centre in California.

How healthy are their hearts?

The scientists looked for coronary artery calcium or “CAC” – which is a sign of clogged up blood vessels and risk of a heart attack.

The scientists scanned 705 people’s hearts in a CT scanner after teaming up with a research group scanning mummified bodies.

At the age of 45, almost no Tsimane had CAC in their arteries while 25% of Americans do.

By the time they reach age 75, two thirds of Tsimane are CAC free compared with the overwhelming majority of Americans (80%) having signs of CAC.

The researchers have been studying this group for a long time so it is not simply a case of the unhealthy Tsimane dying young.

They also smoke a lot less, but they do get more infections which could potentially increase the risk of heart problems by causing inflammation in the body.

One idea is that intestinal worms – which dampen immune reactions – could be more common and this may help protect the heart.

Prof Gurven said: “I would say we need a more holistic approach to physical exercise rather than just at the weekend. Bicycle to work, take the stairs, write your story on a treadmill desk.”

Dr Thomas said: “It could be to maintain health we need to be exercising much more than we do. The modern world is keeping us alive, but urbanisation and the specialisation of the labour force could be new risk factors for an unhealthy heart.

“They also live in small communities, life is very social and they maintain a positive outlook.”

“Simply put, eating a healthy diet very low in saturated fat and full of unprocessed products, not smoking and being active life long, is associated with the lowest risk of having furring up of blood vessels.”