Is napping a wise choice, or not?
Imagine it’s Saturday morning, and you’re slow to get moving. There are weekend chores to do—like cleaning the house, laundry, and grocery shopping—but your mind-body system is whining, “I don’t wanna . . . !” So you make a deal with yourself: you can always nap later if you want to!
This internal conversation can certainly get you motivated to start your day. But you might still have some big questions about naps, including:
- Why do I sometimes wake up more tired from a nap?
- How long should a nap be?
- Will napping affect my ability to sleep tonight?
- In general, is napping a wise choice, or no?
Asking constructive questions about the latest craze is always a good idea. Let’s take a look at some answers together.
Why do I sometimes wake up more tired from a nap?
As you may know, the sleep cycle is comprised of 5 different stages, described by the type of brain wave activity experienced in each. The most widely known stage is REM (Rapid-Eye-Movement); others include alpha, theta, and delta brain waves. When we sleep at night, we cycle through the 5 stages repeatedly. Each cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes.
Depending on how long you nap for (see the next question), you may wake up in the middle of a sleep stage. Like the surprising “to be continued” at the end of an engaging TV program, waking mid-stage (or without ever entering the stage you most need) can make the nap feel incomplete at best. At worst, you’ll feel even more tired than before you started.
How long should a nap be?
With the increase in articles and studies about napping lately, the “ideal” duration of a nap is all over the place. Some say 15-20 minutes; others say 30-40; yet others say 60-90 minutes. Is just about the time you have available, or is there some standard to follow here?
Going back to the sleep stages, there are choices. If you know the quality of your sleep the night before was garbage, and you have the time, aim to complete an entire 90-minute sleep cycle. If you’re supplementing a brief disturbance from the night before or just looking to recharge your batteries for the afternoon, touching the theta wave stage (2) is likely enough, and will occur with about 20 minutes of nap time. Your mind-body system will go into a state of deep relaxation, which might be just the boost you need.
Will napping affect my ability to sleep tonight?
Sleep is a complex process that’s impacted by many variables and is experienced differently in different people. In my experience, a nap (of the durations previously suggested) should not significantly affect nighttime sleep. A few more important factors to consider are an overall ability to rest / relax; the amount of energy consumed within several hours before going to sleep (including food, drink, exercise, and information!); and the timing of your 7-9 hour sleep window. (More on these in future articles!)
In general, is napping a wise choice, or not?
As with many things, the answer is “it depends.”
Are you unable or unwilling to pull yourself away from activities to get to bed at a reasonable hour? Are you using daytime naps to get yourself through fatigue or exhaustion because you have unresolved problems with sleeping at night?
In other words, if you’re napping to honor your body’s natural request for some rest throughout the day, that’s one thing. If you’re using naps to cope with or avoid a problem with insomnia or short sleep because it feels easier, then naps are still acting as a “band-aid.”
Granted there are worse quick fixes out there, but what are you going to do when taking a nap isn’t feasible? What if you’re in an important meeting and can’t keep your eyes open? If your company hasn’t adopted the nap pod yet? What if you need to pick your kids up and you’re too tired to drive because you couldn’t fit in that nap?
Bottom line: an occasional (or even daily) nap could be exactly what you need. But feeling a consistent call to napping can also be symptomatic of a larger problem with chronic sleeplessness–one you’d be much better off addressing now, before it leads to more serious health issues.
Napping might be all the rage, and there’s still NOTHING as powerful as learning how to sleep efficiently and effectively at night!
Have another question about napping? Comment and let me know!
(And if you deal with chronic sleeplessness, you can learn more about Sleep Wellness Coaching here.)