The Power of Naps

by Deirdre Jackson
The Power of Naps

In celebration of National Napping Day (observed annually the day after daylight savings time returns), and as parents who don’t always get enough sleep due to both work and kids, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about the benefits of naps for parents.  As an avid and habitual napper, I find myself more rested and energetic after a short bit of shut-eye and use my naps as a mental reset for the day.  Read on for more information on why napping can be a great thing for not just kids, but adults!

U.S. Culture and Napping

Historically speaking, cultural acceptance for and traditions of nap-taking have been around for thousands of years.  You may have heard of the term siesta, a Spanish tradition that is still somewhat common in Spanish-speaking nations. In U.S. culture, however, napping can often be seen as a lazy endeavor as we are consistently encouraged to do more with less time and fewer resources.

Still, more and more workplaces have started to recognize the benefits of napping and some even encourage workers to nap with dedicated nap spaces.  Sleep.com explores 5 firms where napping is encouraged to boost productivity.  Even a handful of U.S. airports (Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Philadelphia) currently offer travelers specialized sleep space.  While still not commonplace, it appears that the U.S. is becoming more aware of the benefits of napping for adults.  If you can shake the stigma associated with naps, you’ll find they can be a powerful tool to keep you healthy, happy, and energetic.

The Benefits of a Nap

Greater acceptance of napping in the U.S. comes on the heels of scientific studies that have found quite a few health benefits to napping.  While there are a few drawbacks, like potential interference with nighttime rest, the benefits of napping include greater mental alertness, improved cognitive performance, and even improvement of mood.  Other benefits include preventing burnout and even improving your health overall!  Think about how much better the cranky kids feel after a nap–parents may likewise feel more relaxed and well rested with routine naps.

Types of Sleep

When napping, it’s important to keep in mind that there are 2 different types of sleep–rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement sleep (NREM).  REM sleep is also known as “active” sleep, where the eye has rapid movements which may be linked to dreams and arms and legs are temporarily paralyzed.  NREM sleep is broken down into 3 stages (N1, N2, and N3), each a more progressively deep sleep. Sleeping typically starts with NREM sleep and progresses through its stages until a sleeper enters REM sleep.

Sleep Cycles

As outlined by the Harvard Medical School, the first typical evening sleep cycle for an adult looks something like this:

  • NREM N1 lasts 1 to 7 minutes (light sleep, easy to wake up)
  • NREM N2 lasts 10 to 25 minutes (light sleep, heart rate slows and body temperature drops)
  • NREM N3 lasts 20 to 40 minutes (deep sleep, harder to wake up with disorientation if someone woke you)
  • NREM N2 lasts 5 to 10 minutes (light sleep again)
  • REM lasts about 10 minutes in the first stage, longer as more REM stages are reached, up to an hour (intense dreams, heart rate and breathing quicken)

Sleep cycles get longer as one sleeps and can last anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes.

Tips for Napping

Knowing the stages of sleep will help you to get just the right amount of nap time in without waking up at a time that might leave you groggy.  It’s recommended that you plan to nap a specific amount of time to get the best benefit from napping.  Keep these times in mind when considering a nap:

  • 10 – 20 minutes: Keeps you in NREM sleep and is known as a power nap; great for a quick boost of energy and a mental rest
  • 30 minutes: Keeps you in NREM sleep, but crosses over into the possibility of waking up disoriented
  • 60 minutes: Keeps you in NREM sleep, can boost memory but there is the possibility of waking up disoriented
  • 90 minutes: Goes through a full sleep cycle, can boost creativity, memory, and mood; less likelihood of feeling groggy when waking

A great infographic provided by Daily Infographic shows more information on napping:

Just remember, for the best rest, try to get a power nap if you are running short on time (10-20 minutes) or a full sleep cycle (90 minutes) if you have more time.

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