The best kind of nap

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Napping is somewhat of an art. It turns out the more regularly you practice napping, the better you will become and the more you will benefit from the nap.  Napping has tremendous benefits and multiple studies have shown how napping improves mood, logical reasoning, arithmetic and behavior. Napping has been effectively used to decrease sleepiness in shift workers and other high risk groups.

There are three well-known kinds of naps:

1. Appetite napping – napping for enjoyment eg. a siesta every afternoon for the duration of your beach holiday

2. Prophylactic napping – napping ahead of time when you know you are going to be missing out on sleep eg. before a big party or working through the night on a massive deadline.

3. Replacement napping – napping to catch up on lost sleep eg. after a long haul flight or a disrupted night.

The reason for the nap is as important as it will dictate the best time that the nap should be taken. Appetite napping or prophylactic napping occurs when you are already sleep-satisfied and so the nap will be more beneficial if taken later in the day after some hours of wakefulness ie. in the afternoon. Replacement napping on the other hand takes place when you are already sleep-deprived and so is more beneficial if taken closer to your time of waking ie. in the morning.

The length of the nap also has consequences. All naps have significant benefits, however, the longer the nap, the greater the ‘sleep inertia’ that will occur. Seep inertia is that awful half-awake-half-asleep feeling that usually takes about five minutes to pass after you wake up. It is the reason many people do not like taking naps: you feel groggy, confused and cognitively impaired. A 10 minute nap will cause no sleep inertia and improve performance within 35 minutes of waking. From 20 minutes there will be sleep inertia but the benefits will be longer lasting. Sleep for more than 30 minutes and the sleep inertia will be dreadful, however, you will have longer lasting benefits in terms of your mood, cognition and task performance.

For more information you can read: Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age and experience with napping by Catherine E Milner & Kimberley A Cote (2009).


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