To Nap or Not to Nap? That is the Question

It’s 3pm and you’re exhausted. You can barely keep your eyes open, but you have a lot to do today!

Should You Nap?

Taking a nap during the day can have benefits for some people, but whether or not it is a good idea depends on several factors, such as your individual sleep needs, daily schedule, and health status.

Napping can be beneficial for people who are not getting enough sleep at night or have irregular sleep patterns. A nap can help to improve alertness, mood, and cognitive function, and may help to reduce the risk of accidents and errors.

However, napping for too long or at the wrong time of day can disrupt your sleep cycle and make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Additionally, napping may not be recommended for people with certain health conditions or sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.

The DL on Naps

When it comes to napping, a short nap of 20-30 minutes is considered ideal for most people because it allows you to enter the first two stages of NREM sleep, but not the deepest stage of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) or REM sleep. This means that you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and alert, without feeling groggy or disoriented. 

During NREM sleep, which makes up about 75% of a typical night’s sleep, the body enters a state of restful and restorative sleep. NREM sleep is divided into three stages, with each stage becoming progressively deeper. During the third stage of NREM sleep, the body repairs and regenerates tissue, strengthens the immune system, and consolidates memories.

While that sounds great, the third stage of NREM sleep (N3) is what we know as “deep sleep,” from which it can be hard to wake up.

REM sleep, which makes up the remaining 25% of a typical night’s sleep, is characterized by rapid eye movements, increased brain activity, and vivid dreaming. During REM sleep, the brain processes and consolidates memories and regulates emotions. Interrupting REM sleep can do more harm than good.

Naps that involve N3 and REM sleep can lead to sleep inertia, which is a feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can last for several minutes to several hours after waking up. This can be especially problematic if you need to be alert and productive right after waking up. It also can lead to problems falling asleep later in the evening. 

So, When You Do Nap, Keep it Short … 

Understanding the cycles of sleep and the benefits of short naps (also called power naps) can help you improve your productivity and overall wellbeing as long as they don’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. Power naps, when done correctly, can have many benefits. They can help improve your alertness, mood, and cognitive function. A quick nap can also help keep you safe if you drive or operate heavy machinery.

… Unless you Have a Severe Sleep Debt

There are people who can really benefit from longer naps. People who have accumulated a sleep debt or who have irregular sleep schedules can use naps to catch up on what they are missing at night. We all need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, which include several cycles of NREM and REM sleep. If you are operating with a large sleep deficit, research shows you can make some of that up during the day. A longer nap of 60-90 minutes can allow the brain to go through a complete sleep cycle, which can help to improve memory consolidation, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

It’s important to note that napping too close to bedtime can interfere with nighttime sleep and may not be recommended for everyone. It’s good practice to experiment with power naps and determine when is too late for you to take a nap. This can be different for everyone (like caffeine in the afternoon). Additionally, if you have certain health conditions or sleep disorders, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating napping into your daily routine.

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