The Science of a Perfect Nap

Ah yes, napping. Are you a huge fan of Sunday afternoon naps like me? If so, then you know that there is both an art and a science to the perfect nap. Naps are the perfect way to unplug, even if it’s just for a brief period.

Napping is a global phenomenon that begins as an infant and continues through adulthood. It’s the one thing parents and teachers look forward to, while kids dread. But did you know that having the right sleep pattern can provide you with a lot of health benefits? Yup.

Sleep experts say naps make for a better, more functional worker.

Sleep studies provide enough evidence that napping reduces sleepiness while improving cognitive functioning, psychomotor performance, short-term memory and mood. Wow! This sounds like something that we all should be doing right? Well, one study surveyed that only one-third of people actually take naps. So today, I am here to help you uncover what science experts have discovered in their laboratories. But before we go into the study, keep in mind, how much we gain from napping is determined on how long we nap.

The Science of a Perfect Nap:

Power Nap: 10 to 20 minutes

Most sleep experts agree that if you want to have a quick jolt of alertness, vigor and/or decrease fatigue, take a 10 to 20-minute nap. So for example: if you are taking a road trip and begin to feel the effects of drowsiness with no Red Bull in sight, pull over to the side of the road and take a quick nap–it packs a big punch!

Grogginess Nap: 30 minutes

Some studies have shown that when you take a longer nap, the effects of sleep inertia begin to settle in after you wake up. This is the brief period of grogginess you feel when you first wake up in the morning. Your body is still in a state of rest and parts of your brain are not full awake yet. One way to combat this is to set your alarm at the end of one of your 90-minute sleep cycles, rather than in the middle of it. So the best time to wake up would be somewhere between seven and a half to nine hours after you have begun your sleep cycle.

Short-term Nap: 60 minutes

We all know that somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes is when we start to graze the surface of our deep sleep cycle. This is when our brain waves begin to slow down and will have some benefits like:

  • Remembering facts
  • Remembering places you’ve been
  • Remembering names and faces

In one study, a group of researchers asked one set of participants memorize a set of cards and then told them to take a 40-minute nap, while the other group had to stay awake. After the 40 minutes, the groups were tested on the memory cards. Who do you think rated the highest? Yup, you guessed it. The group who took a nap recalled 85% of the patterns on the cards, while the non-napping group recalled just a little over 60%.

It seems that napping pushes our memories to our neocortex while we sleep (our brain’s permanent storage facility), preventing us from losing any sort of data. The downside to a short-term nap is that the moment you begin to wake up, you will feel minor effects of grogginess (sleep inertia).

REM Nap: 90 minutes

And finally, we have REM (rapid eye movement) napping. This when you have reached your full sleeping cycle and dream. A 90-minute nap has been said to improve:

  • Creativity
  • Emotional and procedural memory, such as learning a new skill

A nap this long helps you avoid sleep inertia and makes it much easier for you to wake up. Now, sleeping for 90 minutes may not fly with your boss, but it sure does have its perks when you need some rejuvenation. You probably should save this one for the weekends.

Experts say that the ideal time for a person to take a nap is generally between 1–4p.m. Napping later than that could interfere with your night schedule. And, if you find yourself dreaming while you are napping during the day, this may mean that you are sleep deprived and will need to re-adjust your sleep schedule so that you can get adequate rest at night.

Happy napping!

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Originally published at www.scienceofpeople.com on September 20, 2016.