Ideal Nap Times
Today, we are going to learn how the duration of naps can affect what we get out of them.
For most people, the ideal nap is the one that gives you the best of all worlds—a good dose of stage 2 and an even mix of slow wave sleep and REM sleep. In the image below, we took our sleep pressure graph and overlaid it with our shadow REM cycle graph. You’ll notice a nifty little intersection right between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. Now it typically takes about 90 minutes to get through an entire sleep cycle, so assuming you woke up around 7 AM, your ideal nap would start sometime close to 1 PM and last 90 minutes.
The ideal nap isn’t always realistic for everyone, though, so let’s talk about some alternatives.
Stage 2 sleep is the transitional element between the other stages. But what’s really important to know is that when you first go to sleep, stage 2 lasts for about 17 minutes. So, if it takes about 2-3 min to get through stage 1 and 17 minutes to get through stage 2, then a 20-minute nap will be almost all stage 2. You may have heard of the power nap. It’s a stage 2 nap, meaning it can make you feel more alert and can stop performance decline in its tracks.
Now you might say, if 20 minutes is good, how about 25? And this is where things get dicey, all because of another phenomenon known as sleep inertia. After 17 minutes of stage 2 sleep, you move into slow wave sleep. And as we’ve seen in previous lessons, slow wave sleep is a deep, dark, heavy place. If you’re way, way down in slow wave sleep and something wakes you up, you’ll likely feel more wrecked than you did before you laid down in the first place. It’s very hard for your brain to prematurely pull itself out of slow wave sleep. It’s much better to wake up while in stage 2 or REM. In fact, when people say they don’t nap because it makes them more tired, it is most likely because they’re timing their wakeup to coincide with slow wave sleep. Of course, there’s a pretty simple remedy. First, you can plan to sleep 20 minutes or less, but if you wake up with that groggy feeling, go back to sleep for 20 minutes until you’re back in stage 2 and wake up then.
What’s cool about all of this is now that you understand the different sleep stages and what they do for you as well as the shadow cycles, you can strategically time your nap to achieve specific benefits. Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few case studies to help you define the naps you need.
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