Sometimes it’s good to get some shut-eye during the day. Carve out a chunk of lunch time for a nice catnap. Whether you’re counting sheep in the breakroom or on the couch, finding time to “power off” and relax can revitalize you and help you get through the rest of the day. For this week’s Wellness Wednesday, we’re looking at the reasons why you should make time for naptime.
What Are the Benefits of Taking a Nap?
A well-timed, uninterrupted nap can offer major benefits. For starters, it can energize you about as well as a cup of coffee without the risk of any sugar crash. A nap induces a state of relaxation that reduces fatigue, eases stress levels, improves mood, and increases alertness. Naps can sharpen memory skills and reaction time, as a bit of sleep can do wonders for your cognition.
How Do Naps Work?
Our bodies go through a four-stage sleep cycle:
- The first two stages are the “light” stages. These involve non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. In this state we experience a decrease in breathing rate, heart rate, body temperature, and brain activity. Because this is a light state, it’s relatively easy to wake up without any consequences.
- The third stage is “deep” sleep. Our body continues to decrease activity as we enter a state of deep relaxation, a form of sleep that is hard to be roused from without feeling confused and off-kilter.
- The fourth stage is rapid eye movement (REM) in which we experience a spike in brain activity and erratic eye movements. Our heartbeat and breathing rate increases. This is the stage in which dreams are most likely to occur. REM sleep usually occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep.
Naps of the ideal length tend to fall within the first two stages of sleep.
How Long Should a Nap Last?
When it comes to naps, it’s best to err on the side of shortness. A good nap length for adults is 20-30 minutes. The reason is that it’s just enough time to get some light sleep, which can confer most of the benefits of sleeping without entering a deep sleep. When you sleep for longer than 30 minutes, you’ll slip into a state of deep sleep. Waking up “early” from deep sleep (i.e. after an hour or so without the whole sleep cycle) can cause grogginess and irritation. Instead of feeling rested and energetic, waking abruptly from deep sleep can make you feel MORE sleepy.
That being said: sometimes a longer nap can be beneficial. If you have the time to spare, taking an hour and a half to nap can get you to a sleeping sweet spot where you enjoy some of the benefits of deep sleep without feeling out of sorts upon awakening. Be careful not to exceed 90 minutes, though, as that can put you back in the deep sleep danger zone.
What’s a Good Time to Nap?
The timing of a nap is critical. It's best to nap earlier in the day, before 2 p.m. If you nap later in the day it can disrupt your nocturnal sleep cycle. When we nap earlier, we go through a combination of light and REM sleep. The later afternoon hours tend to put us in slow-wave sleep. This is the deep, deep sleep that can be disorienting to come out of.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Can you nap too much? Studies say yes: research has found that people who nap on a frequent basis tend to show signs of high blood pressure and are at greater risk for strokes and heart problems. That doesn’t mean, however, that naps are inherently harmful; scientists have discovered that people who frequently nap usually do so because of underlying health problems that contribute to issues like poor cardiovascular health. If you have trouble sleeping and often feel fatigued, you are more inclined to take regular naps. The occasional nap is harmless; frequent (or even daily) naps are a sign that you should talk to your doctor.
Having Trouble Taking a Nap?
There are a few ways you can help yourself get a nice catnap while the sun is up.
- Sleep in a restful environment. Find a space that's dark, quiet, and has a comfortable room temperature, preferably a space with few distractions (like electronics).
- Play soft ambient music, nothing with lyrics or sudden spikes in volume. Try something calming and meditative.
- Use a sleep mask and/or earplugs. If you plan to sleep with earplugs on a regular basis, make sure to frequently change them out or clean them if you’re using non-disposables as earplugs can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Drink lavender tea and other sleepytime teas like chamomile that can help you get relaxed enough to slip into a nap.
- Never forget the power of the food coma. Foods that are heavy in tryptophan like turkey, milk, cheese, chicken and chocolate can give you a strong case of the sleepies.
Article by Austin Brietta
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