Nip lethargy in bud with nap
You may be familiar with that feeling of overwhelming sleepiness during the mid-afternoon.
It’s common, occurs whether you’ve eaten lunch or not, and is caused by a natural dip in alertness from about 1-3pm.
So, if you find yourself fighting off sleep in the middle of the day and you’re somewhere where you can have a nap, then do it. It’s good for you.
Taking the time for a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness almost immediately and improve alertness for several hours after waking. And there are many other benefits too.
The perks of napping
Naps are not only beneficial because they make us feel less sleepy and more alert, but because they improve our cognitive functioning, reaction times, short-term memory and even our mood.
Our research (not yet published) has found those who regularly nap report feeling more alert after a brief nap in the afternoon when compared with those who only nap occasionally.
Another research group found motor learning, which is where brain pathways change in response to learning a new skill, was significantly greater after a brief afternoon nap for regular nappers when compared to non-nappers.
In fact, the overall benefits of naps are similar to those experienced after consuming caffeine (or other stimulant medications), but without the side effects of caffeine dependence and possibly disrupted sleep at night.
How long should a nap be?
The amount of time you spend napping depends on the time you have available.
Generally speaking, the longer a nap is, the longer you will feel rejuvenated after waking.
Long naps of one to two hours during the afternoon will mean you are less sleepy (and require less sleep) that night. This could mean it will take longer than usual to fall asleep.
If you are planning to stay up later than usual, or if taking a little longer to fall asleep at bedtime is not bothersome, time your nap for about 1.5 hours.
This is the length of a normal sleep cycle. You will experience deep sleep for about an hour or so followed by light sleep for the last half an hour.
Waking up during light sleep will leave you feeling refreshed and alert. However, waking during deep sleep will not.
If you sleep too long and miss the light sleep at the end of a nap, chances are you will wake up feeling sluggish and drowsy. If you do feel drowsy after a nap, this feeling is temporary.
Try a ‘power’ nap
Brief naps of 10-15 minutes can significantly improve alertness, cognitive performance and mood. The benefits typically last for a few hours.
Power naps are great because you won’t experience any sluggish or drowsy feelings after waking.
This is because you do not enter any deep sleep during this brief time. Research suggests a brief, early-to-mid-afternoon nap provides the greatest rejuvenation when compared to naps at any other time of the day.
Long naps of one to two hours in the afternoon mean you will be less sleepy that night.