One of the biggest sleep myths you see pushed around on the internet is that napping can make it more difficult for you to sleep and should be avoided as much as possible.
The fact is this couldn’t be more wrong – particularly if you’re only getting 6 hours sleep or less per night on average.
The only real situation where you might recommend someone avoid naps entirely would be if they were suffering from sleep-onset insomnia (i.e they struggle to fall asleep).
In that situation a nap (especially a longer nap) could be making the situation worse. So you might recommend they avoid napping until they have their insomnia well under control.
But even then you might get them to test napping as a solution because in many cases a nap may actually ease some of the psychological pressures of the need to fall asleep.
And their sleep-onset insomnia could diminish as a result of the daily nap.
Research Into Napping
You may not realize it but there’s a large and growing body of research into the benefits of napping.
For most of human history, it was normal for us to take a nap during the day as well as sleeping at night
It’s only in modern times that the majority of people have moved to consolidate their sleep into one single period each night.
But you only need to look across to Spain and it’s siesta culture to understand that biphasic sleep is something that humans are geared for.
The first example of scientific data demonstrating that biphasic sleep is part of our DNA was discovered in Germany in the 1950’s by Dr Jurgen Aschoff.
He renovated some old World War 2 bunkers and set them up for his sleep experiment in such a way that volunteers had no access to the outside world – there were no windows, no clocks, radios, TV’s or newspapers.
In essence there was no way of telling what the time was, or even if it was day or night.
Volunteers lived in these conditions for weeks at a time and various biological processes were measured and tracked.
After a brief period of transition to the new conditions, subjects generally settled in to a biphasic pattern where they would have one long chunk of sleep each 24 hour period, and roughly 12 hours later they would settle in to bed for a shorter period of sleep.
Subsequent studies again and again have confirmed these findings, reinforcing the idea that napping is a part of who we are and should be embraced for the benefits they deliver.
Benefits Of Napping
Research has shown that a nap can help you:
Increase your alertness. A brief nap can increase alertness by as much as 100%.
Speed up motor performance. A study carried out at Harvard showed that nappers were able to execute a learned motor performance at the same speed as people on a full night of sleep.
Reduce your levels of stress. Naps allow the body to release growth hormone which can have a positive impact on reducing cortisol levels which in turn can calm you down.
Improve quality of sleep and ability to fall asleep. Naps can help minimize the feeling of being ‘wired & tired’. This can make it easier to fall asleep and increase the quality of your sleep.
Improve decision making abilities. Naps can help reduce injuries that result from accidents caused by poor decisions.
Keep you looking young. Naps can help improve the regenerative abilities of tissue & skin.
Lose weight. Naps help you more effectively regulate your appetite, making it easier for you to avoid over eating unhealthy food options.
Lower your risk of stroke, heart attack & diabetes.
Improve your endurance.
Improve your sex life.
Boost your mood.
Help improve your memory and ability to learn.
Lower your dependence on alcohol & drugs.
When you have so many powerful benefits packed into an activity that can be done for free and takes up less than an hour of your time, why wouldn’t you be doing everything you can to nap yourself healthy.
Now that we’ve convinced you (hopefully) of the merits of napping, we’ll give you some practical advice on different ways to add napping to your life.
Different Types Of Naps
There are many different ways you can use naps as part of your sleep program
- You can nap for anywhere from 15 – 120 minutes.
- You can nap at different times of the day and get different benefits.
- You can nap more than once a day, with each of those naps delivering something different.
Effectively using napping is about more than taking 20 minutes of downtime when you get a chance.
It’s about analyzing what your sleep needs are and trying to use naps as a way to minimize the negative consequences of poor or deprived sleep.
Lets start by taking a look at the different types of naps, and then we’ll look at some specific scenarios and how you might be able to use naps effectively.
Different Types Of Naps
Prophylactic/Preventative Naps – taken in anticipation of sleep deprivation
If you knew in advanced that you were going to be forced not to eat for 7 days what would you do? You’d eat some extra food in advance right?
Well you need to take that same line of thinking with your sleep.
If you know in advance that you’ve got something coming up which will mean you’ll get less sleep, it’s in your best interests to try and ‘bank’ some sleep and nap in advance.
This can then minimize the impacts of the sleep you don’t get the next day.
Researchers have demonstrated that when people napped in preparation for an all-nighter, their performance the next day was far superior to those those who didn’t take the nap.
Alertness levels were up around 30% and mood was improved as well.
Compensatory Naps – taken once you’re suffering the effects of sleep deprivation.
A compensatory nap is the nap that you take to try and make up for not getting enough sleep.
Ideally this sort of nap would be taken on the same day as you missed out on some sleep. The sooner you can pay back your sleep debt, the less impact it will have.
Operational Naps – on the job napping.
This can be a controversial subject in some workplace environments – the medical/healthcare field being a good example.
But the idea of the operational nap is that at some stage through your shift you would take a 20 minute nap which is pure Stage 2 sleep and thus provides you with a boost to your alertness and concentration levels.
Naps can also be defined by the length of the nap. The three most common nap duration’s are:
The Twenty Minute Nap (Power Nap)
The Power Nap is possibly the most well known of all the naps.
It has seen something of a surge in popularity in corporate America and the idea of using power naps to boost performance at work is becoming more commonly accepted.
The 20 minute nap allows you to stay in Stage 2 sleep and wake from your nap with virtually zero sleep inertia which is the grogginess you can feel sometimes when you first wake up.
You can increase both your alertness and performance levels with the 20 minute nap.
The 90 Minute Nap
The 90 minute nap allows you to go through all of the stages of a complete sleep cycle.
It means you’re getting some Stage 2 sleep, some physically restorative Slow Wave Sleep and some cognitively restorative REM sleep.
The 45 – 60 Minute Nap
The next most common nap duration is in the 45 – 60 minute duration.
This nap takes you from stage 2 sleep, through to some SWS and potentially into some REM sleep.
This nap is great when you don’t have quite have time for a full 90 minute nap. The SWS you get will be crucial in alleviating some of the sleep debt you’ve built up.
And if you can time it correctly you’ll wake up in REM sleep which means less sleep inertia than if you wake from SWS.
Using Tech To Optimize Your Napping
If you have a limited window for a nap, then you want to get as much out of that short period of time as possible.
Using auditory tools such as binaural beats can help you to quickly transition your brainwaves to the relaxed alpha state, and from there into the slower waves of sleep.
There are even apps that allow you to select the sort of nap you want and the binaural beats will be of a specific setup to help you get that specific nap.
You should also look to use things like sleep masks and white noise machines when you nap. It’s generally going to be daytime, so you need to counter the extra light and noise that are going to be present.
If you’ve already got your bedroom setup with blackout curtains, then you should definitely be using these when you nap as well.
Just as with regular sleep, light is the enemy of naps, particularly when those naps are longer than 20 minutes.
One great strategy you can use turns your power nap into a Super Power Nap.
The idea is to use caffeine and a power nap to create a powerful one-two punch to deliver the maximum alertness and performance.
Here’s how it works.
Just before you take your nap you drink a shot of cold coffee.
Caffeine takes around 20 – 30 minutes to kick in.
So if you can drink your coffee as a cold shot rather than sipping it as you normally would, the entire power of that caffeine hit should come at once just around the time that you’re waking up from your 20 minute nap.
Ideally you’d only use this strategy once a day, and you wouldn’t do it after about 2pm so that you give your body time to get rid of the caffeine before you need to sleep that night.
Tips For Effective Napping
Give It Time
Much like anything new, don’t expect to become a ‘good’ napper straight away, especially if you’ve never really been the sort to take naps before.
Many people think that if they don’t fall asleep they haven’t really had a nap. They therefore give up on any napping program before it’s had a chance to work.
But what happens is that Stage 2 sleep is relatively light, so often times you won’t realize how long you’ve been napping for.
I came to this realization myself when I started looking at my alarm clock immediately before starting a nap.
When I was done ‘trying’ to nap I would often look across in surprise to find that half an hour had passed where I thought I might have just been laying quietly with my eyes closed for 10 or 12 minutes.
Experiment With Different Nap Lengths
Everybody has a different experience with naps & sleep inertia.
Some people are champion nappers – they can lay down and be out in minutes, then wake up bouncing around 30 minutes later.
Other people really struggle with the sleep inertia.
If you’re one of those people who seems to perpetually come out of naps suffering sleep inertia, the first thing to do is test naps of different length.
Test 25 minute naps, test 40 minute naps, test 60 minute naps – test them all. If you find a nap length that works well for you, then become really good at taking naps of that length.
Consistency Has Benefits
Consistency is important for napping, much like it is with sleeping.
So if you can find a time slot each day where you’re going to nap that will help with the quality of your naps – particularly for those naps that are in the 60 – 90 minute range.