By now we should all know that a good, uninterrupted eight-hour sleep is one of the pillars of health that contributes strongly to our overall wellbeing. But does taking a daytime nap have any additional health benefits?
There are many people in the world who swear by an afternoon nap, or a midday snooze – take the Spanish for example for whom a daily siesta is part of the fabric of their culture. The desired effect is that of feeling re-energised for what is to come in the remainder of the day. People can be affected differently by sleeping during the day, some finding themselves feeling the opposite of energised, being left groggy and more tired than before they napped. So, is napping actually good for us or not? Is there a secret recipe to the perfect nap?
Sleep specialists respond to this by saying that a siesta is a positive addition to your lifestyle aiding our performance and effectivity for up to four hours post-nap. Taking this into account, as well as your regular bedtime, you can work out the best timing to suit your day. If you go to bed around 10pm for example and work until 6pm then a siesta finishing around 2pm would be your time slot to be most effective at work. If you want to keep yourself energised for an evening out then a later nap would be more beneficial. However, it is recommended that you allocate a regular time slot and stick to it to promote a healthy routine.
If you’re feeling drowsy throughout the day, this could indicate that a nap is not what you need but a better nightly sleep pattern; you may be lacking in the deep sleep department. There are plenty of tips to help encourage those eight-hours of slumber. Stick to a regular bedtime, increase the comfort of your bed, make sure the room is dark, use ambient scents to help relax you, have a nightly routine which will inform your body and mind that sleep is on its way, cut back on caffeine and alcohol, and increase the time between using a screen and bedtime, remove devices from the bedroom, and find ways to soundproof your room in order to reduce disturbance.
So if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and you’re still feeling like a siesta might do you good, then how long should you sleep for?
Sleep doctors claim that due to our natural sleep cycle taking between 90-110 minutes we ought to either keep naps to around 20 to 30 minutes or a full hour and a half. The reason being that when we sleep we pass through different phases, or types of sleep; light, deep and REM. To wake up after a half an hour or a full ninety minute sleep cycle should reduce the risk of disturbing us during a deep sleep (which could render us groggy and feeling worse off) but rather wake us up during a light sleep phase of the cycle. If you awaken during a deep sleep it can take up to an hour to recover from ‘sleep inertia’, and feel ourselves again.
This obviously relies on us falling asleep straight away, which apparently is easier to do during the day, but once you know how long it takes you to fall asleep, more or less, then incorporate this into your nap time for setting the alarm.
The time at which you take a siesta depends on, as mentioned above, when you need to be alert and perform well during the afternoon/evening, but also we can take into account our individual rhythm. Listen to your body and notice at what time you experience a dip in energy and body temperature. The most important factor to consider is that our nightly sleep is not affected by the daytime nap. The main point being made here is that an afternoon snooze should add to your day rather than take away from it; you want to enhance your daily routine, support your body clock, not interfere with nor disrupt it.
Obviously napping time and requirement depends a lot on age. Babies and toddlers needing to take multiple naps during the day and elderly people often require more rest, so these guidelines will vary based on your age as well as your individual rhythm.
Taking a siesta during the day doesn’t work for everyone, some simply do not need or benefit from it, others simply can’t allocate the time, however for many of us it can be a positive and helpful tool for maximising daily performance. Research reports that a good sleep can improve cognitive performance and help regulate emotions.
To encourage the nap to be a quality one you’ll need a sleep-friendly environment – maximum comfort and minimal disturbance, and always set an alarm to avoid waking during a deep sleep. To aid falling asleep try a guided meditation or some ambient music. Plan ahead and set your intention for the nap, for example, “I want to wake up feeling energised and ready for action” as this can help achieve the desired effects.
If you do decide that napping is something you will regularly do, psychologists recommend that we question ourselves as to why we are doing so. What is causing the desire to sleep? If it comes down to stress or an underlying health issue, for example, then we must also work on reducing the cause rather than using napping as a quick fix. If you do happen to be a ‘natural napper’ and some days are not able to find the time to snooze this often will mean that you end up reaching for a sugary drink, caffeine, or anything to get that energy boost during the day, which isn’t the healthiest way to re-energise. For this reason, and of course the increased productivity angle, many employers around the world are providing spaces for workers to take a siesta during the day.
Bottom Line: If you’re a napper try to optimise your sleep and stick to a routine. If you really can’t get to grips with sleeping in the day then maybe you’re doing just fine without a daily snooze! Listen to the rhythm of your own body and mind and take the sleep that you need.
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