Nap time is generally something that we don’t do as grown ups. But, did you know naps serve many useful purposes through adulthood? Did you know 85 percent of mammals actually sleep for short periods during the day?1 Modern science supports the idea that planned napping can be beneficial for health. This makes plenty of sense. The demands of modern life often mean people aren’t getting the sleep they need. Naps, especially power naps, could help bring some balance.
So how can you nap for maximum benefits? It requires more than planning. You should understand how different durations of sleep help your body. And once you do, you’ll be able to get the most out of your next power nap.
Sleep And The Human Body
Ever get sleepy during the day? There’s a reason for this. This stems from something called the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms determine sleeping and feeding patterns. 2 Generally, this pattern begins with wakefulness during the day, and increasing sleepiness at bedtime. But, it’s not uncommon for there to be a small “hump” of sleepiness in the afternoon.
There are other things that can cause us to feel like we’re ready for bedtime in the middle of the day. Humans have something called a homeostatic sleep drive. It generally runs parallel to the circadian rhythm. If you are awake for over 16 consecutive hours, or work a night shift, this throws things off. Your period of wakefulness may begin and end earlier, leading to grogginess.3, 4
The Science of Napping
Scientists have long studied the effects of naps on the sleep deprived. NASA looked at sleepy military pilots and astronauts, to see if they benefited from naps. They found a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent. The pilots’ and astronauts’ alertness increased by 100 percent.5
Another study focused on the elderly, a group more likely to nap than others. The results showed that napping had a twofold effect. Healthy older individuals increased their total sleep time while decreasing daytime drowsiness. They also enjoyed measurable cognitive benefits.6,7
Getting The Most Out Of Nap Time
Napping isn’t the same for everyone. Have you ever wondered why you wake from naps feeling more tired than before? So have scientists. The reason isn’t clear. Some believe genetics may play a role.8 As you will see, there is a correct way to take a nap, though.
When it comes to naps, one important thing to consider is timing.
Ideally, you want to shoot for a 15-20 minute nap.
If you nap for longer than this, you may trigger something cause sleep inertia. Sleep inertia occurs when you awaken from one of the deeper stages of sleep. If this happens, you’ll feel groggier when you wake up.9
If you have more napping time to work with, try to shoot for around 90 minutes.
This allows you to reach the REM sleep stage and go through one full sleep cycle. In one study, people who’d napped for 60-90 minutes were tested for visual perception. They performed the task as well as those who’d gotten a full night’s sleep.10
Another thing that’s important when it comes to napping is a proper atmosphere. Collapsing on your work desk isn’t likely to be as helpful as your bed or couch. Be sure to look for a quiet room or comfortable area. Other sleep aids may help, like earplugs or an eye mask. One study showed that both earplugs and eye masks helped promote sleep and hormone balance among participants.11
Napping Benefits In Review
Science supports two main things about napping. The first is that napping can have several potential health benefits. The second thing to know is that these benefits are not guaranteed for everyone. Different people get different levels of benefits from naps. Some nappers may actually feel more tired when they wake. Scientists are still investigating why.
For people looking to take more naps, what is a bit more uniform are the things you can do. Timing your naps to fit your needs and creating a restful environment are a good start. If you want to go the extra mile, tools like a sleep mask may help as well. Test out what fits you best, and you may find that that little power nap is exactly what you needed.
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