The Perfect Nap with the Most Brain Benefits
Have you ever wondered how long a perfect nap should be? We all decide to take naps because we feel our bodies and minds start to shut down, and the thought of doing anything productive just seems absolutely impossible. So what constitutes the perfect nap?
Your brain goes through five stages of brain activity during a sleep cycle. The first stage is falling asleep; it usually lasts five to ten minutes. This is the stage in which one may feel as though they are falling and their muscles may contract, causing what is called hypnic myoclonia. The second stage is known as light sleep. There are periods of muscle tone and muscle relaxation, along with a slowed heart rate and decreased body temperature. This is the body’s way of preparing for deep sleep. The third and fourth stages are the deep sleep stages, known as slow-wave or delta sleep. The highest arousal thresholds are seen in deep sleep, meaning that waking up is the most difficult during this stage. The final stage is called REM sleep, or rapid eye movement. The brainwaves during REM are very similar to those during wakefulness and heart rate, along with respiration, speed up. The eyes move rapidly in different directions, and intense dreaming occurs due to the heightened brain activity.
With that being said, it is now important to decide what the goal of your nap is. A nap of ten to twenty minutes yields mostly stage 2 of sleep, and therefore enhances alertness and concentration, elevates mood, and sharpens motor skills. Drinking coffee right before you take a “power nap” will aid in alertness upon waking, because it takes coffee about 20-30 minutes to fully kick in. Also try to sit slightly upright during the nap. This will help you avoid entering deep sleep and potential grogginess. It is important to note that if you find yourself dreaming during your power naps, it is a sign of sleep deprivation.
Taking a 60-minute nap has its benefits, but also has a downside. This nap allows for better cognitive memory processing, because some slow-wave sleep helps with remembering facts, places, and faces. However, waking up during slow-wave sleep causes grogginess upon waking. So the benefits will only be seen about 15 minutes after waking up.
A 90-minute nap typically involves a full cycle of sleep, including the REM sleep stage. This helps you clear your mind, aids in creativity, emotional and procedural memory, and allows you to recover from any lost sleep you experienced during the night. Also, waking up after REM usually results in less grogginess, or what is known as sleep inertia. There has been a study done at the University of California Berkeley showing that taking a 90-minute nap the day of an exam or presentation leads to significant brain power results. The group who took the 90-minute nap a few hours before an exam improved in their capacity to learn and had an increased ability to recall facts compared to the group who did not take the nap. So, the next time you try to cram right before an exam, try to fit in a nap first, and then your cramming might actually pay off!
Other factors to consider: If you are a night owl and like to go to bed late, any time past midnight, and wake up between 8:30 and 9AM, the best time to nap is between 2:30 and 3PM. If you are what they call a lark, and go to bed earlier, around 9 or 10, and wake up earlier in the morning, then you may feel the need for a nap around 1 or 1:30PM. It is ideal to nap anytime from 1 to 4PM, because napping after that may interfere with your nighttime sleep. We all have this “afternoon quiescent” phase in our physiology that causes midday drowsiness, diminishing our reaction time, memory, coordination, mood, and alertness. Therefore, taking a nap would actually increase productiveness levels. So now we don’t have to think that taking a nap makes us lazy; in fact, our bodies are built to nap!
The Perfect Nap: Sleeping is a Mix of Art and Science – The Wall Street Journal
How Long to Nap for the Biggest Brain Benefits – Conscious News Media
How to Nap – The Boston Globe