Myth #1 – You Shouldn’t Nap For More Than 20 Minutes
The 20 minute nap is also known as the power nap, and it has become common for people to give you the advice that you shouldn’t nap for longer than this.
The reason they give that advice has to do with sleep stages and sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia is the slight grogginess you feel sometimes when you wake up. It can happen after waking from regular sleep as well as naps.
Sleep inertia happens when you wake from deeper stages of sleep.
This is where your brain waves are at their slowest, and the grogginess you feel is your brain trying to get active even though it’s still operating under these very slow brainwaves.
When you take a 20 minute nap, you generally remain in Stage 2 sleep which is relatively light. So when you come out of this stage there is virtually no grogginess.
The great thing about Stage 2 sleep is that it improves alertness and concentration. These powerful benefits from a short nap is why the 20 minute nap has become known as the Power Nap.
Why This Doesn’t Apply To Everyone
There are a couple of reasons you should evaluate whether a 20 minute nap is the best nap for your specific situation
The first has to do with your sleep debt.
If you’re short on sleep because of something like the fact that you’ve been working night shift, then you will definitely want to nap for longer than 20 minutes.
You’ll want to nap for as long as you can in order to eradicate your sleep debt. A sleep debt is like a financial debt – the sooner you can pay it off the less interest you’ll pay.
In the case of a sleep debt, ‘interest’ is equated to negative impacts on your health.
The second reason this advice shouldn’t be applied to you is that when you do have a large sleep debt, you can potentially slip into a deeper sleep faster than you normally would.
So even if you did wake yourself after 20 minutes there’s a chance you’ll experience some sleep inertia anyway.
Now having said all of that there is one situation where you may want to limit your naps to 20 minutes and that is where you are napping at work. If you need to wake from a nap and be back on the job, then avoiding sleep inertia takes on increased importance.
Myth #2 – You Should Always Try To Avoid Sleep Inertia
The idea that you should avoid sleep inertia is one that has been overblown.
Sleep inertia is something that you can overcome fairly quickly.
Splashing cold water on your face or doing some star jumps for a minute or two will generally be enough to kick-start your brainwaves and move them up a notch into the alpha or beta range which is where they normally site when you’re awake.
Sleep inertia is also something that is experienced differently from one person to the next.
You should nap for as long as you need to nap for, regardless of what stage of sleep you end up waking from.
Yes it would be great if you bounced up out of bed from your nap ready to take on the world.
But a 60 minute nap that ends with some slight grogginess is always better for you than a 30 minute nap that doesn’t if you have an accumulated sleep debt.
You can never become more tired by sleeping more. Sure you may initially feel less refreshed but that feeling will soon pass.
As we mentioned above, the one situation where you need to be aware of sleep inertia is when you’re napping at work.
If you nap at work, it’s a good idea to give yourself a short period of time after your nap to overcome sleep inertia.
Your decision making and motor performance may be slightly impaired in the immediate 10 – 15 minutes after a nap, particularly if you’ve napped for longer than around 20 minutes.
One good way to overcome sleep inertia after a nap at work, is to immediately follow it up with some Bright Light exposure.
Myth #3 – One Nap A Day
Many people don’t realize that you don’t need to limit your napping to just one per day.
If you can’t fit in one single nap of 60 – 90 minutes, then you might be able to find time for 2 cheeky 20 minute naps.
Or you might be able to get in a nap before work, and then another one half way through your shift.
You don’t need to limit yourself to one nap. Take many naps as you need to and that you can fit into your day.
Myth #4 – Naps Make It Harder To Sleep
Again this is a myth that has been spread because of specific issues around naps and insomnia.
If someone with insomnia is struggling to get to sleep or stay asleep then it’s possible that a nap will prevent them from getting over their insomnia.
Another situation where a nap might impact on sleep is where that nap is longer than 2 hours. But in that instance it would no longer before referred to as a nap – it would be daytime sleeping.
There have actually been studies showing that naps have no negative effects on sleep duration and in many cases can actually result in better sleep.
Myth #5 – Napping Is For Lazy People
There have been plenty of studies done that prove that strategically using naps results in improvements in your alertness, skill performance, decision making ability and stamina.
Basically when you use naps it allows you to perform better and get more done in less time.
So rather than being lazy, people who take naps are actually smart.
They understand that taking a nap is a performance enhancer.
So stop worrying about what other people think – trust the science and add naps to your life.
Myth #6 – I Don’t Have Time To Take Naps
Following on from myth #5, napping is a proven strategy for getting more done in less time. You think more clearly and act more decisively. You have more physical energy and a greater amount of stamina.
So if you’re tired and fearfully looking at a to-do list which seems too long to deal with, it’s very easy to think that there’s just no time for a nap.
But you need to reframe your thinking.
Yes that to-do list is long.
But a nap as short as 20 minutes can help you smash through that to-do list more quickly and effectively.
So making time for a quick nap is actually something you can do to free up some time as you get through your to-do list faster than you would have otherwise.
Myth # 7 – Napping Increases Your Risk Of Mortality
One of the reasons people give you for not being willing to take naps has to do with a fear of death.
Which is fair enough – I’m not super keen to die before my time either.
This fear has to do with various longitudinal studies that have shown a link between people who take daytime naps and an increased risk of dying.
Unfortunately when information like this gets pushed out into the public, people latch on to the statistic without exploring the evidence.
Yes links have been found showing higher risk of death for people who nap more.
But what the studies don’t separate out is purposeful napping (which is what we are talking about here) versus people who are being forced to nap more and sleep more due to an underlying medical condition.
Sleep is the most restorative state you can be in.
So when you are sick or suffering from a disease, your body’s best way to fight it is to sleep more and nap more.
Saying that naps increase your chances of dying young is like saying that the more nights you spend in hospital the greater your risk of dying young.
It’s not the nights in hospital that are causing you to die – it’s your illness or disease that is causing you to spend nights in hospital.
Same with naps. Naps aren’t going to cause you to die young.
But if you’re suffering from an illness or disease that is potentially life threatening, then you’re going to nap more and sleep more to try and fight that illness or disease.