Having trouble keeping your eyes open? Careful, you might hurt your neck snapping your lolling head up like that. Your sleep schedule may be inconsistent, but the demands of school and work continue whether or not you get enough sleep the night before.
Would it be better to take a break from work and just go lie down, or would this be bad for your productivity and that night’s sleep?
Before diving into the specifics of napping, it may be best to first have a better understanding of what happens in our sleep in the first place.
When you are asleep, you are undergoing 90-minute sleep cycles composed of 4 stages.
The 1st stage is the first 2-5 minutes that occur as you fall asleep. This is followed by the 2nd stage which composes the next 30 minutes. The 2nd stage is when your body temperature begins to drop, and your muscles start to relax. Waves of activity begin to spur across your brain’s cortex.
The 3rd stage is also known as “slow wave sleep”. This stage lasts for 20-30 minutes and is where you experience your deepest sleep. The 4th, and final, stage is REM sleep, which lasts around 10-20 minutes. In this stage, the brain becomes more active, its activity is similar to that of when you are awake. The conclusion of REM means the completion of one sleep cycle.
Now that that is out of the way, it’s time to discuss the reason that you’re here: napping.
Naps can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours, meaning that naps may include full sleep-cycles or only some stages of sleep.
30-minute naps are mostly composed of stage 2 sleep. Taking a 30-minute nap allows for “long-term potentiation”, meaning that the synapses between neurons are strengthening. This process is very important for learning. Waking up from a 20-30-minute nap is also relatively easier to do, since the nap ends before falling into the deep sleep of stage 3.
30-60-minute naps contain the benefits of stage 2 sleep plus the deeper sleep of stage 3. In stage 3 sleep, information from short-term memory is converted to long-term memory. A 60-minute nap has the power to help you retain new information. But be warned, stage 3 is the most difficult stage to wake up from, so the benefits of these type of naps won’t start until around 15-minutes after waking up.
These naps are long enough for you to enter the REM stage. Your prefrontal cortex, which is mostly in charge of your inhibition and cognitive control, is less active. At the same time, the amygdala and cingulate cortex, which are both linked to one’s emotion and motivation, are more active. This combination may result in peculiar dreams during the REM stage. 90-minute naps, usually help revitalize your memory and creativity, encouraging innovative associations.
The low activity of the prefrontal cortex may lead to bizarre associations while the high levels of activity of the amygdala and cingulate cortex mean that these associations may be between very emotional topics. So, if you have ever had a really weird dream where you and your crush are the stars of your favorite show/movie, yeah, you were probably experiencing REM sleep.
Another advantage of 60-90-minute naps is that they are easier to wake up from despite being on the longer side of naps, thanks to the brain’s energetic activity during REM sleep.
Other things to consider
It is also important to consider the time before you take your nap. Take note that a person’s need for stage 3 sleep increases throughout the day. It may be best that you take your nap as early as possible to prevent decreasing the sleep pressure you need to go to sleep at the end of the day. Taking naps earlier within the day also allows them to be REM dominated. Unlike stage 3, longer REM sleep occurs in the morning and decreases throughout the day.
If you’ve decided on taking a nap, make sure to set the scene to ensure the most comfortable napping experience. Remember that your body loses heat when sleeping, so you may need a blanket to prevent waking up from the cold. Eliminate excessive noise and light by using eye masks and ear plugs, or if you prefer listening to white noise/ambient sounds when sleeping, make sure to curate the perfect playlist for you.
Now if you need a BOOST boost, then you might want to try taking a “caffeine nap”. Drink a cup of coffee before taking your nap. The caffeine will take about 15-20 minutes for your body to digest, meaning that by the time you get up from your nap you’re going to be ready to go.
Still on the fence about taking a nap? Well, just know that those who nap usually display more cognitive benefits from napping versus non-nappers. This is because nappers can sustain a lighter sleep and pass through the sleep stages more easily. Non-nappers may go through more deep sleep when they do choose to nap, which leads to them being even groggier afterwards.
Did you make it to the end of this article with your eyes open? Maybe you didn’t need that nap after all!… But then again, it couldn’t hurt to try, right?
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