Most mammals are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. For humans, days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness, which is a monophasic sleep pattern. However, this may be a product of living in an industrialized world and not the natural sleep pattern of humans. In many cultures, young children and the elderly take naps midday. Our bodies are programmed for two periods of intense sleepiness a day: between 2 and 4 am and 1 and 3 pm. Unfortunately, despite our biological vestige, we are having to consolidate our sleep into one long period.
Several short sleep periods are common among most mammals. There is solid scientific evidence napping lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke, excessive weight gain and diabetes as well as reducing stress.
A short 20-minute midday nap boosts mental alertness, mood, productivity, and sharpens motor skills. Naps up to 45 minutes can sometimes include REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which enhances creative thinking and sensory processing. If you need to spring into action upon waking, keep your nap below 45 minutes.
Naps can be categorized in three ways:
Planned napping: Taking a nap before you actually get sleepy. This is also called preparatory napping. You may use this technique as a mechanism to ward off getting tired earlier or when you know that you will be up later than your normal bedtime.
Emergency napping: Taking a nap when you are suddenly very tired and cannot stay awake to continue with what you were doing. This type of nap can be used to combat fatigue while using heavy and dangerous machinery or drowsy driving.
Habitual napping: Napping at the same time each day. A person might take a short nap after lunch every day or young children may fall asleep at about the same time each afternoon.
Tips for Getting the Perfect Nap
* First off, get over the stigma that you are being lazy for taking a nap. Recognize that napping will make you more productive and more alert after you wake up. Napping isn’t for the lazy or depressed. Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison are/were known to be afternoon nappers.
* Avoid consuming large quantities of foods that are heavy in fat and sugar or caffeine, which can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Instead, choose foods high in calcium and protein, which promote sleep.
* Find a clean, quiet place where passersby and phones won’t disturb you, preferably where you can lie down. It takes about 50% longer to fall asleep sitting upright.
* Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. Try to darken your room, or wear an eyeshade.
* Body temperature drops when you fall asleep. Raise the room temperature or use a blanket.
* Set your alarm for the desired duration to prevent oversleeping.
Notes on the Negative Effects of Napping
Napping isn’t always the best option for everyone in spite of its benefits. Naps that last more than 20 minutes can leave people with sleep inertia, a feeling of disorientation, and grogginess that last for half an hour or more. Especially for those who are sleep deprived, post-nap impairment, and disorientation can be more severe.
Another downside of daytime napping is that it may have a negative effect on other sleeping periods. A nap longer than 45 minutes or taken too late in the day may adversely affect the length and quality of nighttime sleep. If you usually have trouble sleeping at night, a nap may only aggravate this problem.