If you find that your energy level tends to dwindle after lunchtime, you’re definitely not alone. Many adults, despite getting a restful night’s sleep, often feel tired in the afternoon and struggle to remain productive throughout the entire day because of it. And turns out, there’s a scientific reason why this happens, and fortunately, a science-backed solution that can help. Enter the almighty power nap. Although most of us outgrow the need for naps in adulthood, the right kind of nap can be especially beneficial for grown-ups too. To take advantage of them, it’s all about getting the timing right.
The ideal nap should last 20 - 30 minutes, and shouldn’t be taken later than the early afternoon. Here’s why:
A short afternoon nap won’t inhibit nighttime sleep
The Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults aim to nap at the midpoint of their day, or halfway between the time you wake up in the morning and the time you plan to go to bed. Napping past the early afternoon will compromise your body’s physiological sleep drive, which needs to build over extended time awake for more restful nighttime sleep.
You won’t fall into a deep sleep
When you sleep, your body goes through sleep cycles that last from 70 - 120 minutes a piece. Each cycle contains four stages of different brain activity and states of consciousness. Stopping a nap before you enter the deep sleep of stage 3 can help prevent that groggy or disoriented feeling after waking. Most people don’t enter deep sleep before the 30-minute mark, making the optimal nap time 20 - 30 minutes for an energy boost with no subsequent drowsiness.
It may improve your mental state and memory
Relieving some of the sleep pressure that builds throughout the day with a short nap has been shown to provide a boost in alertness and productivity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Additionally, short naps have been shown to improve memory retention and assist with learning new material.
A catnap won’t throw you off schedule
Similar to a quick workout, a 20 or 30 minute nap duration is convenient and easy to fit into your day. Sure, you could potentially complete an entire sleep cycle by snoozing up to 2 hours, but who has the time?
It’s important to set yourself up for success with the proper environment to get the most out of your catnap. It may not always be possible to take a nap in your own bed, but mimicking the comfort of your bedroom as closely as possible will help. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a few things you can do to tailor your surroundings for productive sleep:
Using these tips and practicing them each time you nap will help you drift off quicker and make the most of your time asleep.
If you’re one of the lucky adults who doesn’t experience any daytime sleepiness, there’s not necessarily any reason to start a daily nap routine. Although, if you depend on caffeine to keep you alert and productive all day, you may consider trading your trip to the vending machine or coffee shop for a nap as a free alternative.
However, if you feel tired in the afternoon, it’s best not to ignore that feeling and catch a few zzzs if you can. If you follow the guidelines above, you’ll likely be impressed with the results.
Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night for optimal health. One study showed that while short naps can offer a brief energy boost and alleviate some sleep pressure, they can never make up for a good night’s sleep.
Used properly, the 20-minute power nap is a great short term solution to help you make it through the mid-afternoon slump until it’s time for bed. But if you’re fighting true sleep deprivation due to lack of nighttime sleep, you’ll likely need to dig a little deeper to find the root of the problem.
References and additional resources:
Napping by The Sleep Foundation
Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock by The Sleep Foundation
Stages of Sleep by The Sleep Foundation
Napping: Do's and don'ts for healthy adults by The Mayo Clinic
What’s Considered a Catnap and Is It Beneficial? by Healthline
How to Make a Sleep-Friendly Bedroom by The National Sleep Foundation
Slow-wave sleep during a brief nap is related to reduced cognitive deficits during sleep deprivation by Oxford Academic
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