Sleep Talk | Gotta Sleep Blog

Naps: When, Why, and How long?

Author: Allen Eliuk

Waking up early and going to work can be a hard task for some. Luckily, we tackled that problem earlier with 5 apps to help you fall asleep, as well as an article on coffee and How to Fall Asleep Faster. If you follow the advice in those articles, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. 

How long does that energy last though? Most people naturally feel drowsy between 2 pm and 4 pm. This is caused by the natural cycle of drowsiness called the circadian rhythm. This cycle affects what times you fall asleep, and when you feel most awake and active. It’s a natural and inescapable fact of life that people get tired or feel burnt out by the afternoon, though most people choose to power through it with a cup of coffee and unshakable willpower. 

There is a better way to get through that slow period and increase your productivity, health, and happiness. Give in and take a nap! Taking a nap in the afternoon is shown to improve your cognitive function and overall mood if done correctly.

Sleep Cycle

To best understand how long you should sleep for, it’s important to understand how the sleep cycle works. We cover it in a different article, but we’ll recap the basics now. 

The sleep cycle has 5 stages, four stages of Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep, as well as a single stage of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. The first two stages of NREM are a light sleep in which your body slows down and begins to rest, though it is still easily woken up. The last two stages of NREM are called deep sleep and waking up from these stages is difficult and will leave you groggy. The final stage of sleep is called REM sleep and is the dreaming stage. In this stage, your body is paralyzed and your mind is active. Waking up from 

REM sleep is disorienting and can affect your cognitive functioning for a short time. Based on how easy it is to wake from each stage, and the effects of waking up from each stage, it’s easy to see why many experts suggest that waking up during the first two stages of NREM sleep will allow for the most beneficial and refreshing nap. 

How long? 

Most experts agree that a nap should last between 10 and 20 minutes. The reason being that within that time, the mind goes through the first and second stage of sleep and will allow you to wake up easily from your slumber before you enter stage three, which is deep sleep. Sleeping for less than 10 minutes will not allow the body to rest enough and will not imbue the health benefits of napping during the day. You will wake up feeling a little disappointed, but otherwise unaffected by the nap. Likewise, sleeping for more than 20 minutes will have the opposite of the desired effect. You will wake up groggy, disoriented, and your productivity and mood will suffer because of it. 

napping for 10-20 minutes has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and mood during the day for up to 3 hours, which will get you through that afternoon slump. It’s more effective than a cup of coffee, and has fewer adverse health effects. 

When and How? 

Most people experience a period of increased drowsiness between 2 pm and 4 pm. Essentially after lunch, lots of people get a little sleepy. Taking a nap during that time is recommended, as it is easier to fall asleep when you’re tired, and you will have a more restful sleep because your body is prepared. Of course, everyone is different, and some people may not even feel this sense of drowsiness. Listen to your body and determine when you feel the most tired during the day. Although discipline is a key component to keeping a structured and healthy life, sometimes it's better to just give in to the wants of your body. 

The exception to sleeping when your body feels tired, is if its close to bedtime. Taking a nap 1 to 3 hours before bed will increase sleep latency, which is to say that you will have a harder time falling asleep at night. The longer it takes for you to fall asleep, the less time you spend asleep, leading to sleep deprivation, which can be a very serious condition. A cup of coffee might be your go to for when that happens, but it’s best to just keep your sleep schedule on track and avoid the liquid energy. 

Another trick to taking naps during the day is to keep the temperature of the room you nap in between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius. That is the optimal temperature for falling asleep and will help you use your nap time efficiently. Find your comfort zone within that range, and you’ll be snoozing in no time. 

When you put a bird in a box, they fall asleep quickly, because without the sun, they think it’s night time, and their circadian rhythm is influenced by the sudden lack of sunlight, and interprets that as bedtime. People are kind of like that too. Simulating night time conditions will make falling asleep easier. Finding a room with limited natural light will stimulate the production of melatonin, which is the chemical that makes us sleepy. 

Summary

Taking a nap in the middle of the day is sometimes seen as a leisurely activity and a hindrance to productivity, but in fact, it is the opposite. A short 10 to 20 minute nap after lunch will energize you, improve your cognitive functionality, and boost your mood, so that no matter what kind of job you need to tackle, you’re ready to face it. Just be careful not to take any naps too close to bedtime, and remember to sleep in a cool and dark environment to use your nap time efficiently. So nap on, reader, and sleep well.