A quick power nap of 20 to 30 minutes can give you significant performance-based benefits. Furthermore, napping by choice also boosts your coordination, productivity, thinking, and problem-solving skills. A nap is a healthier alternative to a caffeine boost, as it gives you a healthy dose of energy minus the jitters.
However, the key is to not nap for too long. Although a short nap can be rejuvenating and restorative, snoozing for too long can immerse your body and mind into your deeper stages of sleep. When you wake up out of these stages, the chances are you’ll feel groggy and lethargic, defeating the purpose of your “power” nap. Furthermore, overlong naps can disrupt your biological clock, also called the circadian rhythm, causing wakefulness in the night.
Frequent long naps can also be a symptom of an underlying issue that is making it difficult for you to stay up during the day. One common sleep disorder that causes daytime sleepiness is sleep apnea. Taking long naps regularly is also linked to elevated risk for cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.
Keep reading to find out the benefits of short naps, how to optimize your naptime, and why you should be erring on the side of caution if your naps are long and frequent.
What Are the Advantages of Taking Naps?
If you’re like most people, you already know that feeling of overwhelming drowsiness and lethargy in the mid-afternoon hours. This is common, whether you’ve had your lunch or not. The feeling of sleepiness you get around 1 pm to 3 pm is often caused by a natural drop in your alertness. Therefore, if you find yourself battling your urge to sleep and you are someplace where you can sleep, taking a short nap can do wonders for your energy levels and focus.
Taking a nap is much like rebooting your brain. However, napping is more of an art, than it is a science. We’ve found some tips for the perfect nap, along with when and how long you should get some shuteye in the middle of the day. But let’s understand why we nap in the first place.
Why Do We Nap During the Day?
Taking some time to have a short nap can relieve sleepiness almost instantaneously, and improve your alertness for hours after you wake up. In general, people nap for the following reasons:
- To catch up on sleep
- To pass the time, for enjoyment or because they’re bored
- To avoid feeling sleepy later on, especially if you plan on working long hours
Napping is more common than you think. In fact, research published in PloS One states that 50% of people report taking at least one nap per week. Napping is especially common in countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and Greece that embrace the siesta culture and give importance to quiet time during early afternoon hours so that individuals can nap in their homes. In these countries, 72% of people report napping as much as four times every week.
What Are the Health Benefits of Napping?
Naps are not only useful in keeping us alert and awake, but they’re also known for boosting cognitive function, short-term memory, reaction times, and mood. Another study published in the journal, Biological Psychology, found that people who took regular brief naps had greater motor learning than people who didn’t nap at all. Motor learning is where your brain pathways are altered in response to acquiring a new skill.
The benefits of taking a brief nap can be compared to those of caffeine, without the harmful effects, such as crashes and jitters later in the day. In fact, one study published in Behavioral Brain Research, comparing the effects of caffeine, naps, and a placebo, found that daytime naps improved performance, whereas caffeine either impaired or had no effect on it.
Another benefit of taking short naps, over downing several cups of coffee, is that it does not disrupt your sleep cycle. Unless you’re napping for more than one to two hours every day, taking a brief nap often doesn’t keep you up in the night. The effects of caffeine, on the other hand, can last up to 8 hours, thus disturbing your natural circadian rhythm.
Here are a few more reasons to make taking short naps a part of your daily routine:
- Short naps can boost your concentration and memory.
- They help you maintain your weight. When you’re tired, you tend to eat more processed foods, rich in refined carbs, sugar, and fat. In addition to getting sufficient shut-eye in the night, a short nap can rejuvenate you, keeping you away from foods that only seem to give you more energy.
- They improve your mood.
- They reduce your stress and help you feel more relaxed
- They improve your skin health and keep you looking young.
- You become more productive after a short nap.
- Short naps lower your risk of heart disease.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Naps for Students?
Taking naps can be beneficial for students as well. Along with boosting energy levels, motor learning, and concentration, short naps can also help to enhance your memory. According to studies conducted by NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, taking short naps had significant positive effects on memory among astronauts.
How Long Should a Nap Be?
There are a few factors that come into play while determining how long you should nap. The amount of time you can nap really depends on how much time you have, along with what functions you want your nap to perform. If you’re looking for a quick energy boost, a 10 to 20-minute nap can give you the best bang for your buck. However, according to what you want your nap to do, there may be other nap durations that may suit you better.
10 to 20 Minutes
If you’re wondering how long you should nap to feel energized and you’re looking to getting back to work stat, a 10 to 20-minute power nap may be what you’re looking for. A short power nap can quickly boost your mood, alertness, and cognitive performance, right after you wake up. The benefits of a short power nap can last for a few hours after waking.
Power naps are amazing for your energy levels because you don’t feel that typical drowsy or sluggish feeling you get after taking a long nap. This is because a short nap keeps you in the light stages of your sleep, and doesn’t give you enough time to enter deep sleep. When you wake up from a deep sleep, you often rise feeling slightly disoriented and lethargic. This isn’t what you’re looking for if you want an immediate energy boost.
Taking brief naps anywhere during early to mid-afternoon hours can provide the greatest level of rejuvenation, compared to any other time of the day. However, if you’re having a tough time staying awake, a short nap anytime can help boost your energy levels.
For cognitive memory processing, an hour-long nap may be more suitable for you. 60 minutes is enough to include slow-wave sleep, which helps you remember and recall faces, places, and facts. The only downside is that you may feel groggy when you wake up.
When you wake up from light sleep, following a 10 to 20-minute nap, you often feel more alert and refreshed. However, waking up from a deep sleep can have the opposite effect. If you snooze too long and dodge the light stages of your sleep by the end of your nap, expect to feel lazy and sluggish. Luckily, this feeling is only temporary and will go away in a while, or after you have a glass of cold water.
90 minutes is long enough to include a complete cycle of sleep. This increases your creativity, as well as your procedural and emotional memory. If you have the time, taking a 90-minute nap could mean that you’ll be in your REM stage when your alarm rings, resulting in the least amount of sleep inertia.
When Should You Nap?
When deciding the best time to nap, you need to know your chronotype. To determine your chronotype, ask yourself what time you’d get up and go to bed if you were free to plan out your day.
If you’re a morning person, who wakes up as early as 6 am, and gets to bed by 9 pm or 10 pm, you may feel the need for a nap around 1 pm to 1:30 pm. This is the time your concentration begins to dip and your alertness declines.
If you’re a night owl, who prefers to get to bed after midnight and wakes up at around 8 to 9 am, your best bet would be to get some quick shuteye around 2:30 to 3 pm.
What are the Best Ways to Take Naps?
Feeling sleepy or tired during mid-afternoon hours is a common issue and most of us resort to grabbing a cup of coffee to fix this. However, even though coffee may give you a temporary feeling of wakefulness, it will result in a crash later on, making you feel even more tired.
Short naps are powerful, because they increase your alertness and productivity, without the crash and the jitters. With that in mind, try these tips to get the most out of your midday nap.
Take Naps Early
A nap is designed to enhance or complement a complete night’s rest. It’s not intended to make up for lost sleep when you had the opportunity to sleep but chose not to. This is perhaps the most significant mistake people make when it comes to their sleep, especially after they retire. When you have nothing keeping you from taking frequent daytime naps, your willingness to improve your night’s sleep also slims down.
Also, excessive naps can result in an inability to fall asleep during the night, even when you want to. This increases your urge to take longer naps, placing you in a vicious cycle. Therefore, aim to take naps early. Sleep doctors agree that an early nap adds to your night’s sleep, whereas a late nap reduces your forthcoming night’s sleep.
The best time to take a nap is usually in midafternoon, around 1 to 3 pm, according to your need for sleep and your sleep routine. This is when you experience lower levels of alertness and energy or your post-lunch drowsiness. More importantly, when you take a nap around this time, it’s less likely that it will affect your night’s sleep.
Schedule Your Naps
While an early nap is essential to ensure it is effective and doesn’t disrupt your sleep pattern, it is also equally vital that your nap is scheduled. The reason is simple. Your brain prefers to anticipate events and does not like to react to last-minute plans. Napping is no different.
This is why a planned nap is more functional than a random one. It also helps to have a consistent wake schedule. Have a set time for your nap every day, and make sure it ends the same time every day as well. This doesn’t mean you should nap every day, but when you do decide to, it should be at a pre-determined time.
This is an especially useful sleep tip for people with children. If you’re having trouble getting your kiddos to nap, find out whether they are following a consistent nap schedule – or are they just sleeping whenever they feel the need for it?
Many cultures, as well as sleep researchers, believe the period of drowsiness that occurs after lunchtime is the best time to take a power nap. In fact, researchers explain that humans are evolutionarily designed to take a nap at this time.
Just like you wake up from a night’s sleep at the same time every day, your nap should also have a termination time. This means that you should always follow a sleep schedule, planning when you’ll sleep and when you’ll rise. For example, you can decide that you’ll nap from 11 pm to 1:20 pm, despite whether you get good sleep, or don’t sleep at all during this period. For an added boost and a more potent experience for your brain, follow your nap with a few minutes of sun time or a quick workout.
Keep Your Naps Short
How long you nap is extremely important. A 10 to 20-minute nap is enough to boost your wakefulness, minus the post-nap fuzziness. We are talking about the dull, slightly headache-like feeling you get after a nap gets too long.
When you nap too long or take erratic, unscheduled naps, your brain can enter the deep sleep stage. Deep sleep is when the body restores and repairs damaged tissue. It’s just so good; your body doesn’t want to get out of it. Therefore, waking up from a deep sleep can feel uncomfortable and unpleasant.
If you’re not careful and extend your nap even a little bit, you may risk yourself leaving your energizing light sleep and diving into a mind-numbing deep sleep.
What are the Disadvantages of Napping?
While a short power nap can improve your productivity, alertness, motor learning, and overall cognition, napping for too long can disrupt your body’s internal clock, resulting in sleeplessness and even insomnia during the night.
Staying up late hours in the night promotes late-night snacking because your energy and appetite spikes at odd times. Your hunger hormone increases late in the night, causing cravings for sugary or high-fat snacks. This can increase your day’s caloric intake, and result in weight gain. Insomnia is strongly associated with obesity and related diseases.
Studies also link frequent napping with increased risk for type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, taking naps for more than an hour may be associated with a 32% increase in risk for mortality. However, does this make napping the new smoking? No, it doesn’t.
If you notice your naps are getting longer or more frequent, understand that this may be a symptom of a problem. In most cases, people take long naps in the daytime because they don’t get proper sleep at night, making it difficult for them to stay up during the day.
What Are the Causes of Daytime Sleepiness?
Taking naps for more than an hour every day may indicate that something is wrong with your sleep or health. If you feel sleepy during the day and take long, frequent naps, despite feeling like you get enough sleep in the night, an underlying condition could be to blame. Some common conditions that cause excessive daytime sleepiness include sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy.
Obstructive Sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder that affects 20 million people in the US. In literal terms, apnea means cessation of breathing. A person with sleep apnea experiences pauses in their breathing periodically throughout the night. These cessations in breathing can occur hundreds of times every night, lasting up to 1o to 20 seconds at a time.
This sleep disorder is caused by an obstruction in the upper respiratory airways, where the tongue falls back, the throat muscles collapse, or enlarged adenoids or tonsils block airflow. In many cases, people don’t even know they have obstructive sleep apnea, until their partner in bed reports to them about their apnea episodes.
Since obstructive sleep apnea wakes you from sleep, even without you realizing it, it can disturb your quality of sleep and sleep pattern. Sleep apnea causes poor sleep because your brain is constantly fighting past obstructions in the airway. Even though you may feel you’re getting enough sleep in the night, having sleep apnea may cause you to wake up not feeling refreshed and in need of frequent naps.
Narcolepsy is a common sleep disorder that affects 1 in 2000 individuals. It is an autoimmune neurological disorder where the brain is unable to control your sleep and wakefulness cycles. Daytime sleepiness is most commonly seen in people with narcolepsy. Not only does narcolepsy increase your urge to sleep all the time, but it also causes sleep attacks (lasting several seconds to minutes) where your intense need to sleep takes over your will to stay awake, causing you to fall asleep while working, watching TV and even driving.
Most people experience sleep that occurs in different stages, which cycle between NREM (non-rapid eye movement sleep) and REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). If you have a normal sleep pattern, you’ll have roughly five 90 minute cycles that alternate between NREM and REM sleep. Approximately, 75% of your sleep is spent in NREM sleep.
During NREM sleep, your body relaxes for repair and development of tissues and bones and the strengthening of your immune system. During REM sleep, your brain is most active, and this is the period you see dreams. If you have narcolepsy, your sleep will almost immediately start in the REM phase, and pieces of REM involuntarily takes place during hours you’re awake.
Although the exact cause of narcolepsy is not unknown, scientists have found that people with this condition have significantly lower levels of hypocretin, a neurotransmitter that supports wakefulness. People suffering from narcolepsy often have 90 to 95% fewer neurons that produce hypocretin than people without the condition.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is a neurological condition where the sufferer has an uncontrollable urge to move their legs. Signs of restless leg syndrome include:
- Unexplained pain
- Discomfort in the body
- Crawling feelings in the legs
- A constant urge to move your legs while resting
Symptoms of restless leg syndrome are often prominent while the sufferer is resting and is most noticeable when they are trying to sleep. Discomfort from restless leg syndrome can range from annoying to painful.
Since the condition causes discomfort, annoyance, pain, and the frequent leg to move your legs to reduce symptoms while you sleep, it can severely affect the quality and the amount of sleep you get per night. Most people with this sleep disorder report having trouble going to sleep and maintaining their sleep, thereby experiencing unwanted sleepiness in the daytime.
If you suspect that any underlying condition is causing you to take long or frequent naps, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. Your doctor will help you determine the cause of your daytime sleepiness and advise you on appropriate treatment.