Humans and Health

The Art of Napping: How to Doze Off Effectively

koala sleeping
Izzy Morris

Let’s set the scene.

Your 9am lecture just finished. You’re shattered, you’re cold, you’ve not quite got the energy to face the rest of the day. You’ve got a couple of hours before your next one…

Then an idea enters your head. No, you couldn’t possibly…

And before you know it, you’re wrapped up like a Love Joe’s burrito in your duvet, zonked out.

We’ve all heard the term ‘power nap’, and so many of us (Izzy Morris included!) swear by catching a cheeky forty winks in the middle of the day to push through till the evening. But is having a nap a healthy strategy to recuperate energy, or is it just another bad habit?

First let’s have a look at some of the potential benefits of a good old nap. According to Jennifer Goldschmied from the University of Michigan, having a 60 minute nap at midday can make dealing with people easier, reducing frustration and impulsivity. So, if you’re struggling to regulate your emotions, perhaps a nap is the answer. Other benefits include better memory consolidation, improved perceptual learning as well as greater alertness and attention.

Napping is a skill

Dozing off can still be risky business though, as many veteran nappers will know. If you nap incorrectly, you risk feeling groggy, disorientated and entirely unmotivated to leave the confines of your duvet. Napping is a skill. Really. And it’s all got to do with that lovely buzz phrase you’re bound to have heard before – you’ve got to consider REM cycles.

But what actually is a REM cycle? Rapid eye movement sleep (REM) is the stage of sleep wherein our memories are consolidated, our emotions are processed, and our dreams come to life. Our eyes flicker rapidly under our eyelids in this stage, hence the name, which makes sense as there’s a lot happening in this stage of sleep. If we don’t get enough of it, that’s when problems emerge.

Your first cycle of REM sleep occurs somewhere around the 60-90-minute mark of sleep. This phase prepares you to be awake again, but before that point, you risk feeling particularly groggy. Therefore, if you’ve got the time for it, it’s a good idea to complete your REM cycle before waking up, taking a 90-minute nap, rather than rounding down to the hour.

I’ve coined the term ‘danger nap’ – a nap that takes place after 3pm

But what if you’re just opting for a smaller power nap? Experts recommend drifting away for 15-30 minutes, setting an alarm to make sure you don’t fall into a deeper slumber. This prevents you from falling into a deeper sleep phase but you should still reap some of the benefits of increased alertness while avoiding sleep inertia.

Another thing to consider is the time of day that the nap is taking place. Recently, I’ve coined the term ‘danger nap’. A ‘danger nap’ is a nap that takes place after 3pm, that risks affecting your overnight sleep. Of course, the actual threshold for what can be a ‘danger nap’ for you might differ based on whether you’re a shift worker, or whether you’re up early to go to the gym in the mornings, but it’s important to consider your sleep schedule in relation to your napping habits. There’s nothing worse than sleeping through the day but being unable to fall asleep at night.

Make sure you don’t sleep through that late lecture

If you get it right, you’ll be feeling good, performing well and you’ll be ready to take on the world. But nap with caution, dear reader. Set your alarm to make sure your rest is not wasted. Much like many of the best things in life, nap in moderation and everything’s golden.

So, what have we learned?

  • If you’re going for a deep restful sleep, respect your REM cycle, and nap for 90 minutes.
  • If you’re opting for a power nap, set an alarm for 15-30 minutes to avoid falling into a deep sleep.
  • Don’t nap in the afternoon! However tempting, it’s best to wait for your bedtime.

And most of all, make sure you don’t sleep through that late lecture; your degree will thank you for it.

Izzy Morris

Featured image courtesy of Cris Saur via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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