A good nap is a wonderful thing. But sometimes they can leave us feeling groggy, or even more tired than we were before taking the nap. Why does this happen? According to Dr. Michael Breus, “If you take it longer than 30 minutes, you end up in deep sleep. Have you ever taken a nap and felt worse when you woke up? That’s what’s happening — you’re sleeping too long and you’re going into a stage of sleep that’s very difficult to get out of.”
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Benefits of Naps
So what are the most ideal ways to nap? Well, we can view napping as a quick reboot or boost for the brain. Think of when your computer is starting to perform slowly and things aren’t responding up to par — after you shut everything down and do a reboot, things return to their normal speed. The brain is quite similar in that naps, even very short ones, recharge certain functions.
Sleep experts suggest that taking a 10-20 minute power nap can give you a quick burst of alterness and mental clarity when you don’t have much time. This trick can be used intermittently throughout the day, late at night, or before an important event or task (or, you know, right before you are trying to beat the final boss of a video game you’ve been playing all night and you know you’ll need quick reflexes).
When I was actively seeking ways to maximize my time awake, I did some research into sleeping cycles, specifically on how to minimize the amount of sleep you need while still being able to function well. I ended up choosing a cycle that gave me a core sleep and then several naps throughout the day that lasted about 20 minutes each. I found that after the 20 minute naps, I felt great — I was very alert, my mental clarity was high, and I had energy to burn.
I found, though, that near the beginning of my experiment with cycles, I would start to lose cognitive clarity as I got closer to the end of the day. While this was part of the transition portion of the cycle, I was able to feel what it’s like when the brain just isn’t getting enough deep sleep. According to Dr. Mednick, this is where longer naps of 60 minutes or so can come in handy, increasing that cognitive power again. Mednick also states that the 90-minute nap will likely involve a full cycle of sleep, which aids creativity and emotional and procedural memory, such as learning how to ride a bike. Waking up after REM sleep usually means a minimal amount of sleep inertia.
A study evaluating the recuperative effects of short and ultra short naps found that napping for 5-10 minutes can create a heightened sense of alertness and increase cognitive ability when compared to not taking a nap at all.
If you are looking for a quick recharge: Nap for 5-20 minutes.
If you are looking for deeper sleep rejuvenation: Nap for 60-90 minutes.
Final tip: When you take your shorter naps, sit up slightly, as it will allow you to avoid falling into a deeper sleep. If you dream during these power naps, it could be a sign that you are sleep deprived.
The Scientific Power of Naps:
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