I’ve heard so many people, countless times, express desire to become small children again just to take naps. Napping, however, is not only reserved for these tiny humans. These quick little naps are central to the daily routines of many people around the world: Spain, Italy, Mexico, Greece, the Philippines, among others. Many companies, too, such as Nike and Google have shown their support for the napping lifestyle. And, it is a practice I think everyone needs to take advantage of. I feel so exhausted after school some days, either physically or mentally, that I need to just lay my head down and get a few minutes of shut-eye. Now, you may be thinking, a few minutes? That’s definitely not going to do anything. When I say a few, I mean at least 20 minutes.
The Sleep Cycle
Let me break it down – there are five stages of sleep (sometimes stages 3 and 4 are grouped together). And every night, we go through this five-step cycle multiple times, skipping step one after the first time, about every 90 to 120 minutes, according to “How To Power Nap For All-Day Energy,” by Christopher Ketcham for The Huffington Post.
Stages 3 and 4 of the sleep cycle are deep sleep and the last is REM sleep wherein brain activity similar to that of a conscious person occurs, causing dreams. The key with naps is to wake up before entering deep sleep. This is because stage 2 is where light sleep occurs and neurons involved in muscle memory are strengthened, meaning that after this phase of sleep one can perform tasks more accurately and with increased energy without entering deep sleep.
How Long To Nap (but not for too long)
Stages 1 and 2 usually lasts close to 30 minutes, but Ketchman states that a 20 minute nap can still reap the benefits of a power nap. Sleeping through a whole cycle and waking up just before deep sleep is also an option, but that can range from 110 to 140 minutes. That’s a huge window and, when napping, your timing must be relatively accurate.
Before taking frequent and long naps every day, it is good to considering managing your energy level in other ways such as exercise, vitamin levels, time management, and sleeping at night.
Multiple studies and many sources show that napping can leave you feeling rejuvenated, more alert, and help prevent you from crashing until it’s actually time to go to sleep. However, waking up at the wrong time – such as during sleep stages 3 or 4 – will make you feel even worse than before. That means grogginess, moodiness, and the general feeling that your head and limbs have turned into bricks. So make sure to set an alarm and aim to wake up in the middle of stage 2, just in case your timing is off.
Of course, sometimes we don’t have time to plan out our nap and set an alarm. Sometimes we’re so tired that we essentially pass out. But, if your exhaustion has reached that level, then you definitely need more than a 20 minute nap anyways. Also, make sure that your naps don’t disrupt your normal sleeping schedule: humans are designed to sleep for a part of the day and remain active for the other part (instead of alternating between active and resting). Before taking frequent and long naps every day, try to manage your energy level in other ways such as exercise, vitamin levels, time management, and the amount of sleep you get at night.
Hopefully this information will help you keep your energy up and stress levels down. Happy sleep cycling!
For more information, visit the National Sleep Foundation website.
To read more about the role of napping in other countries and cultures, read this article by Sleep.org – a website by the National Sleep Foundation.