Even if you get the required amount of zzz’s required for a good night’s rest, you may find yourself lagging in both brain and physical function during the day. Sometimes even a jolt of caffeine can’t break the cycle, which may clue you into a deeper issue.
Don’t panic, however. This isn’t uncommon, which is exactly why there are so many scientific studies behind the benefits of naps: which allow our brains to basically discharge and power back up. Taking naps doesn’t have to indicate any sense of laziness or underlying health issue, rather it is a seriously positive way to increase mental processes. Including a power nap and associated sleep cycle stages during the day can make you a more efficient, alert person overall.
Naps Are Normal
It is not always normal to have a monophasic sleep pattern where you get all your rest within one 24 hour period. Although it has been widely accepted by western cultures to adapt this pattern, it is considered highly irregular in other places in the world. In fact, many places shut down businesses completely for 2 to 4 hours each afternoon for a requires nap.
Biphasic, sleeping twice per day, or polyphasic, sleeping multiple times per day, are patterns many individuals all around the globe adhere to help boost job performance and reset physical stressors. Our brains and bodies are wired to a homeostatic sleep drive which defines our response to sleep after a period of prolonged wakefulness. It is a primary modulator of sleep in humans, and you probably experience it each afternoon but are unable to give in to it due to work and responsibilities.
Defining the Sleep Cycle
As the stigma of naps has begun to lift, more and more people have begun to incorporate naps into their workdays. But this does raise an issue: which is what the ideal nap length looks like. To fully understand the differing opinions about this, you have to first understand how the sleep cycle works and how it may personally apply to you.
As you sleep your body cycles through various stages of sleep. Knowing your own sleep patterns can help you best determine your own nap lengths since disrupting these stages, once they reach a certain point, can actually cause you to feel more tired than when you first closed your eyes. You can determine your typical stage lengths using various sleep cycle nap apps that help measure your physical body responses as you sleep.
These stages of sleep are defined by non-rapid eye movement and rapid eye movement (REM). Aptly named, non-REM defines a relaxation that has little to no eye movement, while REM is marked by constant eye movement and a fluttering of eyelids. Most people spend the majority of their sleep in non-REM patterns.
When napping, you ideally do not want to slip past the second stage of sleep as you will begin to disrupt a deeper pattern that may cause you to feel groggy, slow, and tired.
This lasts only about 10 minutes and marks the time between falling asleep and slipping into a light sleep stage. During this time your respirations begin to slow, heart rate drops, and your muscles begin to relax. You are generally very easy to wake during this time.
Stage 2 is a light sleep and can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes and is defined by muscle relaxation as well as a drop in body temperature. Your brain waves begin to slow and may only have periodic bursts of activity. You can generally awake from this stage easily without the feeling of discomfort.
This is a deep stage of sleep marked by a slow heart rate, slow breathing patterns, and low body temperatures. These typically last 20 to 40 minutes. Your brain function is slow, and it is very hard to wake somebody from this stage.
The REM stage of sleep is deeper than stage 3, but is marked by increased brain function. Most of your dreaming occurs in this stage and waking from this phase is also difficult and generally creates confusion.
Ideal Nap Lengths
Your nap needs to stay within stage 2 in order to keep yourself from falling into a deeper pattern of sleep that can create havoc with how your brain processes the disruption. Because of this, most studies suggest napping for only 20 to 30 minutes to ensure you are within the second cycle of sleep.
Alternatively, a 60-minute nap may also be considered, as it includes the deeper, more restful stage 3 without slipping into REM. BUT you will wake groggy and it may take some time to become alert once more. If you are willing to wake yourself up from this you will eventually feel more refreshed.
Many studies also suggest a 90 to 120-minute nap as that will allow you to experience all stages of sleep and still leave you in a lighter stage from which it is easier to wake from. Unfortunately, most people do not have this much time to nap each day.
Once you have an idea of how long you spend in each stage, you can better determine how long you can allow your naps to last. Most people find they have a fairly consistent length of time from night to night in each stage as they cycle through and back over and over. Once you have a good understanding of your personal sleep patterns, which can be determined through trial and error or sleep monitoring apps, you can start to create a nap schedule.
It is best to choose your naps based on how long you have been awake to tap into our naturally occurring sleep drives as mentioned earlier.
To see which times are best for napping when planning a biphasic schedule, take a look at the following nap wheel that illustrates power napping windows based on your waking hour. It works as a sleep cycle nap calculator and can be helpful to provide you an example of what times of sleep are best for you.
The idea being one longer period of rest each night, and a shorter window in which you nap ties very closely into the naturally occurring homeostatic sleep drive mentioned earlier. You most likely feel tired around the same time each day because your body is trying to tell you to rest and recharge. If you can take advantage of this ideal window, you will wake ready to tackle the rest of the day.
Even if you cannot hit your perfect nap time, try to incorporate a nap into the same time each day and your body will begin to adapt to this new schedule.
Polyphasic napping defines a pattern of multiple napping periods throughout a 24 hour period. There are multiple ways to plan for this, but what it comes down to is what works best for you. They are considered more effective if they are consistent from day-to-day. A few examples of this include:
Everyman Sleep Cycle
This cycle includes one longer period of rest (generally at night) that lasts a minimum of 3.5 hours. Three subsequent naps times that last 20 to 30 minutes are spaced evenly throughout the rest of the day.
Dymaxion Sleep Cycle
The Dymaxion cycle is not suggested to be used for long periods of time but can be helpful when time is of an essence. This includes 4, equally spaced naps of 30 minutes each for a total of 2 hours in one 24 hour period.
Uberman Sleep Cycle
Similar to the Dymaxion model, this option uses 6 equally spaced naps of 20 or 30 minutes each for a total of 2 or 3 hours respectively. This can be adjusted to include 8 naps rather than 6 as well.
Missing naps and throwing off your cycle can disrupt your pattern and make it completely ineffective, so it is important to keep to a very rigid time frame for your sleep.
If you feel like you are missing out on some vital sleep times and aren’t quite up to par both mentally and physically, then you most likely would benefit from a sleep cycle power nap. Not only will it help your body and mind to rest and recharge, but people who regularly tie these into their days are also found to be much more effective in their work and problem-solving.
Remember to keep to a consistent schedule no matter what type of nap schedule you decide to adhere to take full advantage of various stages of sleep. A sleep-app can help you determine your own personal length of sleep stages for a more personalized experience.