What is a Nap?
A nap is a short period of sleep, usually taken during the day. Many find napping an effective way to relax and recharge, while others find naps unhelpful and disruptive to their sleep.
Not all naps are the same, and there are many factors that impact how helpful naps can be. By understanding the role of napping, you can learn to take effective naps that support your body’s internal clock and maintain your energy level throughout the day.
What Functions do Naps Serve?
- Recovery : They help in compensating for sleep loss if you are feeling tired and fatigued during the day after being deprived of good quality sleep.
- Prophylaxis : Getting ready for an overnight assignment or a night shift. Nap may prepare you to stay awake during your usual sleep hours.
- Fighting Illness : Naps boost immunity and helps body fight infection and illness
- Fulfilment : For infants, toddlers and children naps need to be scheduled for better physical and mental development.
- Recreational : Enjoy napping after a meal to feel fresh and provide a boost to your mood
How Long Should I Nap?
One important factor responsible for the effects of naps is their duration.
For healthy adults, naps between 10-20 minutes are ideal, as it typically takes longer than that to enter deep sleep or slow wave sleep. These are also called Power Naps. A good power nap has little to no impact on our night sleep quality and provides notable benefits.
Short naps or power naps may not be ideal for all. For infants and children undergoing development, senior citizens who have moved to a bi-phasic sleep pattern or those recovering from an illness a longer 90 min nap can be more beneficial. A complete sleep cycle comprising of various NREM and REM stages takes about 90 mins and napping for that duration provides all the usual benefits of sleep for them.
Naps shorter than 10 mins provide little to no benefit at all. While naps longer than 90 mins or between 20-90 mins can be a cause for sleep inertia or may negatively impact our night sleep. Waking up while still in deep sleep or slow wave sleep can leave us feeling sleepy or groggy up to an hour after waking up. This phenomenon is called sleep inertia and may defeat the purpose of the nap.
Naps in adults should be used in a planned manner when necessary. Power naps to boost productivity or recovery naps while overcoming an illness or after a period of sleep deprivation is beneficial.
Benefits of Napping
Napping during the day diminishes homeostatic sleep drive, which can help us feel more awake and perform better. As a result, napping can help with:
- Memory formation
- Reaction Times
Harms of Napping
Napping isn’t for everyone. In fact, some people find napping counterproductive. Although reducing sleep pressure can combat fatigue, it can also interfere with your ability to fall asleep at bedtime. People who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, for example, those with insomnia should avoid napping.
For those involved in tasks requiring precision and high level of alertness, an improperly timed nap may lead to sleep inertia and can be a deterrent to daytime performance.
There are studies which indicate that long naps in adults are harmful and strongly linked with lifestyle and mental illnesses.
How to Take the Best Nap
Taking a few key steps will set you up for your most successful nap.
- Reflect on the purpose of the nap
- Set an alarm to time your nap properly
- Nap halfway during your routine sleep and wake up time, typically in the afternoon
- Create a sleep friendly environment.
- Set aside your worries
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