Have you ever stopped working for a few minutes to take a nap, and woke up alert, refreshed, and ready to finish a project? Or, have you ever tried to nap to reenergize and woke up groggy and even sleepier than when you fell asleep? The answer to why you may have different responses to napping could be related to the amount of time you were asleep.
The Power Nap
When you don’t have much time, or are just looking for a quick reboot and not so much an extra cycle of sleep, napping for 5 to 20 minutes is ideal. This length of sleep will prevent you from lapsing into deeper REM sleep, which makes it easier to wake up from and you won’t have that post-nap grogginess associated with longer naps. For an even bigger boost of energy, try chugging a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage right before you doze off. When you take a quick nap before the caffeine kicks in, your body will wake up refreshed and just as the rush of caffeine hits your brain. You will be ready to dive right in to whatever you were working on.
The Nap to Avoid
When taking a power nap, try not to oversleep, even 10 extra minutes. According to Dr. Michael Breus, from Valley Sleep Center, a 30 minute nap or longer may cause you to enter REM sleep, which is deeper and harder to wake up from. If you have ever felt groggy and sleepy after a short nap, it may be because you have overslept your power nap and slipped into REM sleep, which usually happens around 30 minutes. If you find you are dreaming or entering a deep sleep in shorter naps than 30 minutes, this could be a sign that you are sleep deprived. You may need to be getting regularly more sleep at night instead of relying on short naps.
The 60 Minute Nap
If a 20 minute nap is not going to do it for you, you may feel better after 60 minutes. You will enter deep, slow-wave sleep during this amount of sleep time and may experience some grogginess upon waking because of this. However, once the grogginess passes, your memory will be at top performance. This rejuvenating nap improves memorization and remembering facts and names. If you are studying for a test and having trouble making information stick, this 60 minute nap and a snack afterward to wake back up may be exactly what you need to recharge.
The Compensation Nap
If you are trying to get through the day on a night of little to no sleep, a short nap may not be adequate. What you need is a full sleep cycle, including the lighter and deeper stages of REM sleep, which is 90 minutes. It is typical to dream during this type of nap and will lead to improved cognitive abilities all around. You will benefit from better emotional and procedural memory and creativity. Have you ever been so tired you put the keys in the freezer or poured coffee on your cereal? This 90 minute full sleep cycle will help you keep sane as you make it through the day after a long night up.
Overall, the best nap to recharge, combined with regularly getting a good night’s sleep, is the 20 minute nap. Napping can work wonders on a tired brain, and may help you keep track of your keys before they freeze.