Feeling a little tired throughout the day? Often, nothing sounds better than a nice, long nap! It’s easy, though, to listen to popular opinions about napping (like that a midday nap will make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night) and avoid them all together. You may have even experienced some of the more confusing aspects of napping yourself: Why do you sometimes wake up more tired than before you went to sleep – and then other times wake up entirely rested and refreshed?
Many doctors believe that napping is a natural part of the circadian sleep/wake cycle for humans. In fact, most countries around the world enjoy some type of downtime or afternoon siesta during the day. The National Sleep Foundation says that 85% of mammals are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they sleep for short periods of time throughout the day (think of your dog or cat’s sleep habits!). Humans, however, are monophasic sleepers, which means we have distinct periods of sleep and wakefulness. Research is divided on whether monophasic sleep is the natural sleep/wake cycle for humans or if our species adapted to accommodate 9-5 work schedules.
Dr. Benjamin Smarr, a sleep research expert and National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, states that 20 to 30 minutes of napping during the day actually improves overall function and makes people more productive for longer. You know how tired you get around 2 to 4 p.m. every day? That’s a natural slump time for humans. Smarr says that taking a nap break during that time frame will greatly increase our productivity in the late afternoon/evening – when research suggests we’re actually the most productive. He states that napping gives us better retention, focus and overall emotional health.
In truth, that time frame really is the sweet spot for napping. Attempting to nap too early in the day will likely be ineffective, because your body won’t be ready for more sleep, and napping too late in the day can disrupt your rest at night. Most adults should attempt to stay within the 20-30 minute time frame –a power nap, as it’s commonly called, is all most of us need to boost alertness.
Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO of Reverie, the mattress and customizable sleep system company, says that naps should either be 20-30 minutes or 1.5 hours. Setting your timer for 30 minutes will ensure you’re refreshed, but woken up in the early stages of the sleep cycle (meaning you won’t feel groggy), while a 90-minute nap ensures that a full cycle has taken place. Anything in between will likely make you feel worse than before you laid down. Ninety-minute naps should be reserved for particularly poor nights of sleep, an extreme workout, or sickness.
Tips for Napping
While this research may convince you to think that you should be taking more naps, napping is really just a suggestion backed up with research — not a rule. Depending on a variety of factors, including a person’s schedule, exercise routine, and overall health, some might find napping more beneficial than others. You should always listen to your body — if you find it particularly difficult to restart after a midday nap, for example, don’t feel bad about avoiding them.
However, if you are going to enjoy a nap, make sure you get the most out of it:
- Ensure you’re in a cool, dark, and quiet napping environment
- Wear an eye mask to limit light
- Avoid napping on a couch, as this can put your neck or back in odd positions
But if, over time, you find yourself still feeling tired or irritable throughout the day, despite pausing for a nap, you may actually be suffering from a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. The disorder, characterized by cessations in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep, interrupts the sleep cycle and causes several micro-waking episodes throughout the night that contribute to persistent fatigue.
Obstructive sleep apnea sufferers experience an irregular relaxation of muscles during sleep, and when these muscles relax, it diminishes the support of oral tissues, causing them to fall back and partially obstruct the airway and breathing. A person suffering from sleep apnea will experience low quality rest and will likely feel groggy and tired throughout the day, regardless of the number or length of naps he or she takes.
If you’re curious about sleep apnea and want to learn more, contact us today.