Isn’t it funny how your perception of naps changes with time? As a child, you fight to avoid a nap. Naps are for babies and you just don’t know what you might miss while you are asleep. As an adult, you treasure them any opportunity you get as you pry your eyes open around 3 pm, hoping to make it until 5 pm without a fourth cup of coffee.
Types of Naps
Not all naps are created equal. Here are three different types of naps and how to properly use them.
Planned napping (also called preparatory napping) involves taking a nap before you actually get sleepy, and is a good option if you know that you are going to have a long day.
Emergency napping occurs when you are suddenly extremely tired and can’t continue to do whatever you were doing. This type of nap can be important to combat drowsy driving or fatigue while using heavy and dangerous machinery or making big decisions.
Habitual napping is practiced when a person takes a nap at the same time each day. Young children may fall asleep at about the same time each afternoon or an adult might plan a short nap after lunch each day.
The Benefits of Napping
Sometimes a nap just feels so right. Naps can restore mental alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. All of that is important, especially if you are in the middle of your workday.
A study conducted by NASA on military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day.
Other benefits of taking a nap include increased creativity and problem solving along with mood-boosting effects. We are rarely our best selves when we are tired. One study shows that taking a short nap can boost afternoon productivity more than a cup of coffee. Now you just have to convince your boss that you and your co-workers should have scheduled naps. It would save on coffee in the breakroom!
The Downfalls of Taking a Nap
Napping isn't always the best option for everyone. Some people have trouble sleeping any place other than their own bed, so taking a nap at the office or anywhere else is unlikely. (In stark contrast, some of us could fall asleep with our head down on the breakroom table just waiting for our coffee to heat up.)
Napping runs the risk of sleep inertia, especially when they last more than 10-20 minutes. Sleep inertia is the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come with awakening from a deep sleep. While this state usually only lasts for a few minutes to a half-hour, it can be detrimental to those who must perform immediately after waking from a napping period. Napping for the correct amount of time can be a delicate balance to achieve and even more so when you are really, really tired.
Napping can also have a negative effect on your sleep at night. A long nap or a nap taken too late in the day may adversely affect the quality and quantity of nighttime sleep. If you are known to have difficulty sleeping at night, a nap likely amplifies problems.
Should you take a nap?
Sleep is so important, and trying to function without it can be worse than not functioning at all. The need for “emergency napping” is often caused by a lack of regular sleep. Seven hours is the recommended amount for an adult, but 1 out of 3 people are not meeting that requirement.
Can keep your eyes open
Much of the time, sleep deprivation is mild and just makes you feel like you are moving a little slower than usual. You may have the droopy eyelids and frequent yawning, but it is not quite enough to constitute a nap. If you are at the point where you can barely keep your eyes open, you need an emergency nap. This is even more crucial if you have to drive, operate machinery, or make any important decisions.
A short nap is usually recommended (20-30 minutes) for short-term alertness. This type of nap should ideally provide the benefits of improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.
Micro napping or micro sleeping a strange but comment occurrence when you involuntarily fall asleep for anywhere from a fraction of a second to a full 15 seconds. This often happens when you are tired but fighting sleep. For those of us who have had early morning college classes or long elementary school performances to sit through, you may know the feeling. Though humorous in hindsight, micro napping can be dangerous and is a sign that you probably need to lay your head down.
If you are tired but functional and starting to feel restless, try taking a walk. Walking outside is best, but if the weather is bad, just walk around your home or workplace to get the blood flowing. Open curtains to allow for natural light, which should help regulate your sleep/wake cycle.
Getting Better Rest
Though naps may be an option for you, keeping them as short as possible will help keep you on track. Don’t forget to set your alarm or you could be out for hours! We’ve been there.
Getting enough sleep on a regular basis is the best way to stay alert and feel your best throughout the day. The amount and quality of sleep you get can have a big impact on weight loss or gain, stress level, and your immune system. Check out these tips on how to get better rest.