Should You Take That Afternoon Nap?

Taking a nap is like rebooting your brain - it's magical. Whether you bow down to the ritual of a mid-afternoon siesta or never stop to snooze, you may think twice about the power of napping after reading about their benefits.

A recent study from the Journal of Sleep Research found the power of a nap can have any large number of benefits, including things like improvement in reaction time, decreased fatigue, decreased confusion, and improved psycho motor speed. 

Despite the many obvious benefits, napping still tends to get a bad rap from society. There’s a stubborn perception that napping is a sign of laziness, but in fact, it’s just the opposite. When it comes to the cat nap, there is one main process to get your head around: the circadian system.

Our circadian system regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day, and dips and rises. An adult's strongest sleep drive occurs between 2.00am and 4.00am and between 1.00pm and 1.30pm in the afternoon. What does all of this have to do with napping? Quite a lot, actually! 

In addition to a regular rhythm, a robust rhythm involves maximizing the difference between the peak (daytime alertness) and trough (sleep) of your day. Resisting the impulse to nap or stay inactive during the day CAN increase your alertness - however, that's also not to say that we should rule out the power of naps all together. 

If you're going to nap, keep in mind at the wrong time of day can be counterproductive.  For instance, napping near dinnertime throws off your regular bedtime schedule, since it’s tough to relax when you’re not fatigued.  Luckily, there’s a sweet spot on the clock: The best time to take a nap is after lunch, between 2.00pm and 3.00pm, when the body’s energy naturally starts to flag.

You should also be mindful of your siesta's length - If a little napping is good for you, more must be better, right? Not necessarily. Sleeping for an hour or more is too much during the day and will likely set you up for nighttime troubles. A good  amount of time for a refreshing nap is about 20 minutes.  This short window of zzz’s will put you in the non-REM or lightest stage of sleep. If you snooze for longer, you’ll enter a deep sleep stage  and may wake up feeling less alert than when you started. If you're after the magic number and you've got the time, you'll find that 90 minutes, no more or less, is the ideal amount of sleep your body needs for a nap. This is because 90 minutes is the length of one full sleep cycle - which includes all the light and deep (REM and dreaming) stages of sleep, which can improve procedural and emotional memory.

When you’re ready to take a quick nap, be sure the spot you pick is conducive to good sleep. The ideal environment for a snooze is one with a comfortable temperature, limited light, and minimal noise.  If you are travelling, consider packing noise-canceling headphones and a Silk Sleep Mask to help you relax no matter where you are. 

Tags: Science, Wellness