Napping can be great! But sometimes when you wake up after a nap, you feel groggy, almost as if you are more tired than you 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.”
So what are the most ideal ways to nap? Napping can be seen 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 are back up to speed. The brain is quite similar in that as you nap, even for very short periods of time, benefits can be seen in a number of areas.
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Benefits of Naps
Sleep experts suggest that taking a 10-to-20-minute power nap can give you a quick burst of alterness and mental clarity when you don’t have much time. This can be used throughout the day, late at night, before something important, or 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 the extra quickness.
When I was interested in trying to maximize my time awake (which I still am, but haven’t tried much lately) I did some research into sleeping cycles and 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. I found that after the 20 minute naps, I felt great – I was very alert, my mental clarity was high, and I was ready to go for the next 3 or 4 hours easily.
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 got 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 are said to be good for 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:
We also recently came across a great article about sleeping at Healthy Holistic Living (HHL), and wanted to archive it on our website alongside a few that we’ve already posted on this subject. Sleep is still somewhat of an enigma in the scientific world – from the correct way to sleep to why we need it, the study of sleep still has a long way to go before we fully understand its intricacies.
As HHL points out, approximately 85% of all mammalian species sleep more than once a day, and scientists are not completely clear if humans are naturally monophasic as opposed to polyphasic. Has modern society conditioned us to be so, just as it has influenced so many other aspects of our health?
If we examine the topic from a historical perspective, the work of historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech is a good start. In 2001 he published a paper that included over 15 years of research. It cited an overwhelming amount of historical evidence which reveals that humans used to in fact sleep in two separate blocks of time. You can read more about that (and access the paper) here.
Regardless of our historical sleep habits, however, it’s quite clear that many human beings suffer from a lack of sleep for various reasons, one of which very well may be that we don’t take time out during the day to have a nap.
Various studies have clearly outlined the many health benefits associated with napping. For example, a 2008 study showed that naps are better than caffeine for improving verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning.
A NASA study from 1995 (pdf) looked at the beneficial effects of napping on 747 pilots. Each participant was allowed to nap for 40 minutes during the day, sleeping on average for 25.8 minutes (which is just about right). Nappers “demonstrated vigilance performance improvements from 16% in median reaction time to 34% in lapses compared to the No-Rest Group.”
In a study carried out in Greece, researchers found that adult males who took an afternoon nap at least three times per week were 37% less likely to die from a heart related disease compared to men who never take a short afternoon nap.
The health benefits of napping are clear and substantial. You can find out more of those benefits from the HHL post here.
Below is a great TEDx talk by Dr. Sara Mednick, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Her work on sleep research continues to shape the way we understand the importance of healthy sleep hygiene. In her talk, she argues for everyone to take a break.
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