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Napping - The Good, The Bad, And How To Do It Properly

December 2016 - As we've covered here before, daytime napping can be disruptive to sleep patterns. Which can in turn be disruptive to your health in general. However, a great many people swear by napping. Both Edison and Einstein liked a quick snooze in between bursts of scientific brilliance. Winston Churchill did not let even the pressures of wartime governance prevent him from taking his afternoon nap. Napoleon Bonaparte was a prolific napper, as were Presidents Kennedy, Roosevelt, and Reagan. How can naps simultaneously be a bad thing, and utilised to great effect by all of these great individuals? Well, what you get out of a nap depends largely upon two factors: who you are, and how you nap.

What Can Naps Do For You?

Naps, if used wisely and correctly, provide several health benefits:

  • Energy. As you'd expect, naps can provide an energy boost. This is particularly useful if you're in a high-powered job which requires your full cognitive capabilities for extended periods of time. This, perhaps, is why so many world leaders swear by the power of the nap. However, if you nap too little or too long, you can wake up feeling groggy and more sleepy than you were when you went to bed. It's a fine balancing act. We'll expand later on optimum napping technique.
  • Stress. When everything is threatening to become a bit overwhelming, it can help to put your brain into downtime. Going to sleep may seem counterintuitive, but, in fact, your brain does a lot of its emotional processing while your 'higher functions' are sleeping. There's a reason why things look better in the morning - it's because, while you've been unconscious, your brain has been working through your problems and doing the kind of psychological processing you need in order to cope. Given that stress is not only distressing but can cause a whole host of nasty medical conditions, which only the best insurers will cover, anything which can battle stress has to be considered a very good thing!
  • Creativity. A nap long enough to complete a cycle of REM sleep will allow your brain to form new connections, which may help you to get over a creative stumbling block. Shorter naps, sadly, don't tend to cut it in this respect - you need around 90 minutes to complete a full REM cycle.
  • Mood Boosts. If you're feeling less tired, more inspired, and less stressed, you naturally experience a boost in mood. Which is good not only for you, but for everyone around you!
What's The Problem?

If naps can do all of this, what's the problem with them? Well, as good as naps are, if you use them incorrectly, they can cause more issues than they solve. Some people simply aren't designed to take naps - usually because their body clocks are so finely tuned to their own schedule that naps will throw everything off. Importune naps can disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to loss of sleep and peculiar patterns of appetite. Furthermore, naps taken at the wrong time, or lasting for too long or too short a duration can leave one feeling groggy and lacklustre. It's worth noting that coffee and other caffeinated drinks can also have a deleterious effect on sleeping patterns, but napping tends to be viewed with more caution due to their potential to render people sleepy for the rest of the day. It's important, therefore, to do napping right in order to get the benefits.

How To Optimize Your Napping

In order to harness the power and avoid the pitfalls of napping, follow these simple steps:

  • Avoid napping if you're an insomniac. Until you've got your sleeping patterns under control, it's best not to try napping - however tired you are!
  • Nap for the right amount of time. 20-30 minutes is good for a quick energy boost. 90 minutes is good for a more comprehensive recharge. 20-30 minutes, you see, is about enough to complete the first stage of sleep, and your brain starts to 'lift' naturally into lighter sleep, before plunging you deep into REM. Bringing yourself out at this 'lift' will leave you energised and not groggy. At the end of 90 minutes, you again 'lift' into lighter sleep, after a full sleep cycle, making 90 minutes another good nap cut off point. Anything in between these times, however, will drag you out of an unfinished sleep cycle you're not ready to wake from - leaving you feeling groggy.
  • Nap at the same time. Good napping and sleeping habits are all about circadian rhythms - the internal 'clock' which dictates sleeping, waking, appetite, and so on. Napping at vastly differing times each day can confuse your circadian rhythms. Napping at roughly the same time, however, will help to solidify your circadian rhythms, leading to a lot of potential benefits.
  • Don't nap within 6 hours of bedtime. Later naps won't leave you enough time to 'run down' naturally, leading to potential insomnia.

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