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  • Writer's pictureSleep Well Blog

To nap or not to nap?

Do you nap? Do you have a siesta (can you even have a siesta given society's work expectations)?

When it comes to napping, you'll hear different recommendations from people. Some say that napping is essential and that we, humans, are hard-wired to nap in the afternoon. Indeed, many societies have been biphasic (fancy word for sleeping twice during the day) and our monophasic (fancy word for sleeping once at night, as we are wont to do these days!) sleep pattern is a fairly recent adoption, beginning with the Industrial Revolution.

The biphasic sleep pattern can still be seen in societies that have the siesta, although increasing pressure exists from society work schedules to do away with this afternoon nap. However, culture aside, is there a biological need to nap?

Well, yes.

Do you ever get sleepy after lunch?

It's actually quite normal as the circadian rhythm of most people dips in the mid-afternoon ... you know, I suppose that would be the time when people go for their coffee breaks to keep themselves awake (in another post, I'll be sharing about exactly how that afternoon coffee impacts your sleep!). This dip, of course, varies depending on your chronotype. However, let's keep the discussion centred on the average 9-to-5er.

So, given our tendency towards biphasic sleep and napping, does sleep hygiene recommend napping? Further, if people nap, can they get away with sleeping less at night?

Let's begin with the first question: Does sleep hygiene recommend napping?

In fact, no (unless you really need one).

Hmmm, yes, I know. Not exactly the cut-and-dried answer that most people want to hear.

Since monophasic sleep has become the standard sleep pattern, the afternoon nap isn't typically recommended. For most people, it may be difficult to get the nap that they need, although recommendations do exist on how to nap efficiently during the day. In addition, if a person has difficulty going to sleep at night and has to wake up very early the next day, napping could make falling asleep earlier more difficult. So, the general consensus is that napping is not recommended, unless absolutely necessary (the person is exhausted).

However, as you can imagine, there are definitely benefits to napping, such as improved cognitive performance and alertness. In fact, napping if done right can be great... again, though, you have to think about when you have to wake up in the morning and the time you need to go to bed.

This brings us to our second question: If people nap, can they get away with sleeping less at night?

Here is the thing: no

....that is if what you mean by "getting away" with it is still synonymous with obtaining that good night's rest that you need for restorative -- quality-- sleep.

Essentially, you still need your full night's rest, which is 7-8 (possibly 9) hours, for adults. However, if napping interferes with your ability to fall asleep early enough to wake up for work, thereby cutting short your sleep, then you will be sleep deprived.

This is where the "if you need the nap" thing comes into play.

If you are so exhausted that you cannot function, then do take that nap. Granted, it is not going to be easy to do if you have to work at that time. However, if you can use your coffee break for napping, then take a short 20-minute snooze. Any longer, though, and you may experience sleep inertia -- that woozy, sluggish feeling that comes over you when you awake too early from sleep. This happens once you reach slow-wave sleep, which means that you have entered into deep sleep and usually starts at the 30-minute mark, sometimes a little earlier or a little later.

So, keep that nap within the first stages of sleep, before you enter into slow-wave sleep at the 30-minute mark.

To keep it simple, if you need to nap, do so for 20 minutes.

If you feel as though you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes, then no worries. Take the time for a mental break and allow yourself to zone out for a few minutes. It may be possible that without your knowing it, you will have entered the lightest stage of sleep, when many people don't even realise that they have already fallen asleep (even though their brain waves clearly show that they have).

To recap, napping can be used wisely to contribute to sleep wellness; however, always be mindful to make sure that it doesn't interfere with your ability to get a full night's sleep.

Sleep well!


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