If you have ever woken up after a nap and felt more tired than you were before, you are in the right place.
If not done right, what is meant to give you an energy boost can end giving you sleep inertia instead!
But napping can be good too. It is a great way to relax and get an energy boost. How then can you take advantage of some of the sleeping science to make your naps rock?
To better understand that, we are going to go over some basic information about how sleeping works. The part that we are interested in here is our sleeping cycle. Once we have figured that out, we can plan our naps without worrying about how we wake up afterwards.
As with most things in life, taking the time to understand something a little bit better can go a long way.
Let’s see what is there to know about how to take a nap!
Your Sleeping Cycle:
The first step towards better understanding your sleep and how to take a nap, is to understand the 4 stages of your sleeping cycle.
When taking a nap, there is a fine balance between how far you go into that cycle. A nap that was cut too short or one that almost became a full nights sleep is not going to have the desired outcome.
So how does your sleep fluctuate?
Light Sleep – Stage 1
Being the first stage of your sleeping cycle, it is where the sleeping process begins. At this stage, you are not exactly asleep yet.
Here it is where your body starts to relax and brain activities start to slow down.
Depending on how tired and relaxed you are, this stage is going to last for only a few minutes. It is very easy to wake up from this stage without feeling drowsy.
Stable sleep – Stage 2
Stage 2 of stable sleep is like a transition stage right before deep sleep takes place. It is also the first stage of real sleep, both your heart rate and breathing are slowed down while brain activity fluctuates to help you stay asleep.
This stage lasts up to 30 minutes for the first cycle of your sleep. When you sleep at night, you go through a few full sleeping cycles and for every new cycle, the duration will differ. After your first cycle, stage 2 might increase in duration.
It is still relatively easy to wake up from this stage as you have not reached deep sleep yet. The deeper into your sleeping cycle, the harder it will be to wake up.
Deep sleep – Stage 3
Right after is the deep sleep stage. At this stage, your body is fully relaxed and your breathing becomes even slower.
This part of your sleeping cycle is very important for the restoration of damaged tissue and recovery. It is a necessary part of your body’s health as well as the immune system overall.
While at this stage, it becomes difficult to wake up. Even if you do wake up though it would mean breaking your sleeping cycle in half. The effects of that would be feeling really tired and taking a long time to become fully awake.
This stage lasts between 20 and 40 minutes increasing after each complete cycle.
Rem sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) – Stage 4
An equally important part of your sleeping cycle for cognitive functions will be the REM Sleep stage.
This stage unlike the previous one is characterized by brain activity similar to being awake.
It takes longer for you to reach this stage of sleep. It will also last longer with each cycle, just like the rest of the sleeping stages. This stage’s length will depend on how long you have already been asleep, ranging from 10 minutes up to an hour.
While on this stage, your body is in a phase of atonia, meaning that your muscles other than the ones responsible for breathing are going through a state of paralysis.
Learn the Sleep Stages = Learn how to take a nap:
Learning how sleeping works, will help you understand how to structure your naps, but it will also help you improve your sleeping quality overall.
When taking a nap, it is preferable to wake up at the end of a sleeping stage. If you are planning on short rest, it is better to stay within the first two stages. For maximum rest, it is even better to complete a full cycle of sleep before waking up.
Waking up in the middle of a stage or cutting a sleeping cycle short, is likely to cause sleep inertia.
Sleep Inertia is the result of waking up during REM sleep or any other stage of deep sleep. REM sleep being the last stage of the sleeping cycle requires the most time to be achieved. The more you sleep, the more your body produces melatonin which causes sleepiness.
During REM sleep, melatonin levels are at the highest, meaning that waking up during that stage will result in fogginess and feeling groggy. Similar results will be caused by an overall incomplete cycle or stage. Your body does not like to not complete things.
Napping can cause sleep inertia as well, sleeping for an amount of time greater than 25 minutes can lead to dropping all the way to deep sleep, depending on how tired and sleep-deprived you are.
But if I am tired, isn’t even just a little bit of sleep better?
Well yes and no. You can plan your naps in a way that actually helps you. That means that you can choose a nap duration that will help you avoid sleep inertia as much as possible. Going for a nap and setting a random wake up time is not going to be the best option.
How to take a nap:
How then do I take a nap?
In order to prevent sleep inertia, we can time our naps and plan them out so they work better for us!
Let’s now go over some of the napping regimes that you could be following:
The full cycle nap: Having gone over the sleeping stages, we conclude that a full rotation between the sleeping stages, or a full sleeping cycle, lasts for about 90 minutes. Sleeping for 90 minutes will get you around a full cycle. Meaning you can wake up rested and refreshed without breaking it in half.
The power nap: What makes a power nap, a power nap, is the duration. You want to hit that sweet spot of the ending of stage 2 sleep. As seen above stage 2 is the stage right before deep sleep where brain activity is still unaffected and you can wake up relatively easy. The perfect duration for a power nap is between 15-25 minutes. It is the perfect amount of time to give yourself a break to recharge and feel refreshed.
The Coffee nap: Coffee takes about 20-30 minutes to kick in. Which is the perfect time to take a power nap while waiting. If you want to supercharge your power nap, you can have a cup of coffee right before going to bed. That will make waking up easier and you will have the energy boost from both.
General tips on how to take a nap:
- Sleeping at the same time every day. Whether that is for a nap or for sleeping at night, being consistent with your timing will benefit your rest drastically.
- Timing is going to determine how effective napping can be. Too early in the day and you might struggle to fall asleep. Too late and you might affect how well and how fast you fall asleep at night. Early afternoon between 1 and 4 p.m. will be an advisable time to nap.
- A Dark and cool room will make for the best napping experience.
- If you sleep for too long you might cause an opposite effect from the one you were aiming for.
- Take a blue light exposure break. In other words take some time off your phone, laptop and tv in order to help yourself fall asleep faster.
Naps can be the perfect way to relax, recharge and rest. You can recover some of the lost sleep if you did not sleep enough at night but is advisable that you take care of that first. Naps are meant to be complementary to an already balanced sleeping schedule.
If you need some guidance on setting up a balanced sleeping schedule, have a look at How To Sleep Better.
As long as you take some of the simple steps above, you can turn your napping into an equally efficient part of your day. Make sure not to neglect how you set up your resting time as it is key to your overall performance.
References and Useful Links:
- Healthline, “How to Fall Asleep in 10, 60, or 120 Seconds”, Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, Written by Christal Yuen
- Healthline, “Everything to Know About the 5 Stages of Sleep”, Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Written by Eleesha Lockett
- Healthline, “Your Complete Guide to Taking the Best Nap of Your Life”, Medically reviewed by Raj Dasgupta, Written by Brittany Risher
- Valley Sleep Center, “12 Facts About Sleep Inertia”
- Sleep Cycle, “How To Power Nap”, Written by Neil Clark