How Effective are Naps?


| 3 Comments
As college students, napping is a common way to get a quick boost of energy between classes and meetings. Lately I've been taking more naps, and surprisingly, I always seem to feel worse when I wake up. I think that this could be due to the time and duration of the nap, but it could also be due to the extraneous variable of me fighting a viral infection two weeks ago, and I still feel a little sick.

After looking into naps and finding out how effective they really are, I found multiple benefits of them, according to an article by Brett and Kate McKay from the "Art of Manliness:"
  • increases alertness
  • improves learning and working memory
  • heightens senses
  • increases creativity
  • improves mood
  • decreases stress
Of all of the benefits, I think the best one is the decrease in stress. Especially with all of the work and events to go to in college, I often feel overwhelmed and overworked. Sleep deprivation leads to an excess of the hormone cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, in the body. Cortisol helps the body deal with fight or flight responses, but if there is too much cortisol, the immune system is weakened and memory and learning is more difficult (McKay). Napping is a great stress reliever--depending on when and how long the nap is. 

The best time to take a nap is between one and four in the afternoon, and it should last between 10 and 30 minutes, according to an article by George Dvorsky in the "Daily Explainer." If a nap is longer than 30 minutes, it could lead to "sleep inertia," which is a long-lasting feeling of grogginess after waking up from sleep. It is bad to take a nap after 4pm because it could interfere with your regular night sleep (Dvorsky). 

There are several types of naps: power naps, ultra-short sleep episodes, 60 minute naps, and 90 minute naps. Each serves their own purpose. For example, 60 minute naps are good to increase cognitive memory processing, and ultra-short sleep episodes (6 minute naps) improve a type of long-term memory that allows people to recall facts and knowledge (Dvorsky). 

The effectiveness of a nap all depends on the sleep cycle. There are five stages of sleep (McKay):

  • Stage 1: This stage lasts 2-5 minutes. It is where the mind is transitioned into sleep, and thoughts are loosened up. 
  • Stage 2: 50% of sleep time is spent in this stage. Energy and stamina are strengthened in this stage. 
  • Stage 3 & 4: 30% of sleep time is spent here. These stages are called "Slow Wave Sleep." It is when your body stops releasing cortisol, and stress is lowered. The mind is cleared of excess information.
  • REM Stage: 20% of sleep time is spent in this stage. This is the point in the cycle where the most recent memories are transferred from the hippocampus to long-term storage in the brain. 
The sleep cycle takes about 90-120 minutes to complete. If the cycle is interrupted early or in between stages, you will feel groggy and unrested. A 90 minute nap is the most effective in terms of feeling refreshed because it gives enough time to complete the entire sleep cycle (McKay). 

Naps aren't always a good thing, though. For those who are depressed or have insomnia, naps are harmful. They can increase symptoms of depression, especially if the nap is taken in the afternoon, according to an article on "Fit Day's" website. 

In general, naps are great. Especially for those of us who have a lot to do (like this puppy). 

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Photo by PuppyLover/Google Images

3 Comments

I found this blog post very helpful because I too have found myself more tired than usual. After the majority of naps I take I find myself even more tired than when I was originally, but I continue to follow the same napping process. I generally take a one hour nap after class around 4 or 5 and wake up feeling groggy and tired like the article mentioned. After reading this article I will try to change my napping methods by extending my nap time to the recommended hour and a half or by shortening it to a half hour instead. Hopefully this change in my napping will help. If it doesn't help me get more rest I might just have to get that puppy to help relieve some of my stress.

Sierra,
I never used to take naps until I came to college. I am now a sophomore here at Penn State and I can very confidently say that naps are key to surviving some of the long weeks during the school year (especially when you have multiple exams in one week on top of all your other class work!) Your blog was very helpful in letting me know when I should and should not take naps because, sometimes, I am guilty of napping too late in the day. By the time it is time to go to bed, Im not tired and I end up going to sleep super late at night (or early in the morning if you want to look at it that way) and end up just being exhausted again for the next day. I have experienced sleep inertia after naps before which I forgot to set my alarm to wake me up and it almost feels like I should just sleep more even though I napped for two hours! Last year in psych my professor told me that sleep deprivation causes people to not be able to pay attention and absorb information as well which is why studying all night long is never a good idea. According to an article on the Harvard University website, naps are also supposed to be taken in cold temperatures and dark places so that you fall asleep faster. If you feel like checking out this article, here is the link to the website:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2009/November/napping-may-not-be-such-a-no-no

this was a very informative and interesting blog post. i knew that naps were helpful but i didn't know that there was so much to naps. i think that it is interesting that different type of naps can help different parts of your brain. i also didn't know that there is a key time frame in which to take naps. the time period kind of correlates with the "2:30" feeling, but maybe that could be because our bodies are naturally supposed to take a nap around that time. i also think its interesting that there are stages to sleep in a nap.

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