The Science Behind the Perfect Nap

Katie Jones

Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill are amongst some of the most influential people in human history. Despite being run off their feet painting beautiful masterpieces, developing the general theory of relativity, and leading Britain through World War Two; they all still found time for a well-earned nap. But, what is the key to a successful nap? Why is it that sometimes they make us feel groggy and other times they put a spring in our step?

Recent evidence suggests that there are three main types of sleeping. Planned napping, this is where a nap is used to prevent tiredness that might occur later in the day. For example, if you know you won’t get to bed till later than usual, you may want to have a nap earlier in the day to keep yourself going. In contrast, when you suddenly become hit by a wave of tiredness, an emergency nap may sort you right out. This type of nap can combat drowsiness and means you can carry on the activity you were originally engaged in with a new lease of life. And finally, there’s habitual napping, often seen in young children who may fall asleep at the same time every day.

sleep flickr

Image Credit: Flickr

Napping for different lengths of time have varying effects on our brain, and can alter the effectiveness of the nap on relieving tiredness. Recent evidence suggests that naps of different duration provide us with different benefits.

The common Power Nap (15-20 minutes) is suggested to provide a quick jolt of alertness and decrease fatigue – and is often claimed to be the most beneficial length of nap. A nap of between 40-60 minutes is thought to help in memory by forcing memories into the long term memory store of the brain whilst we sleep. However, a sleep for this length of time can lead to grogginess for around half an hour after the nap. This grogginess is technically referred to as sleep inertia, and can be dangerous if alertness is required immediately after waking from the nap. A longer nap of around 90 minutes is referred to as an REM (rapid eye movement) nap. A nap this long avoids the sleep inertia that is experienced with other, shorter types of nap, and is also claimed to improve creativity and memory.

Achieving the best nap possible, requires a room that is as dark and quiet as possible; lying in a comfortable position, and not putting undue strain on your back or neck. The time of the nap is also important, too late and it may disrupt your nightly sleeping pattern. Experts suggest that an ideal napping time is around 4pm.

Often, napping is associated with laziness and a weak work ethic, however a lot of companies now see the benefits of napping to their employees and are beginning to offer “energy pods” or “quiet rooms” that can be used as a napping spot.

Now armed with your new found napping knowledge, plan yourself the ultimate nap and wake up rejuvenated and ready to face the day (or whatever’s left of it).

 

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