Did you know humans are pretty much the only species that do all their sleep in one big chunk? More than 85% of species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. While there are exceptions like toddlers and different cultures, most humans are in the minority of species – we divide our day into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness.
While there is also such a thing as too much sleep, globally most of society is becoming increasingly more sleep deprived. Experts link it to pressures to ‘have it all’. We’re on an eternal quest for a ‘perfect life’ – we want the thriving career, perfect relationship and the kids, as well as money for the dream house, holidays, clothes…the works. So at a time where the recommended eight hours sleep seems impossible, where does napping fit in?
What is a nap?
It may seem like a silly question but naps are not to be confused with restful sleep. Generally, a nap is considered snoozing for around 30 minutes – it’s definitely not a couple of hours. Once you hit an hour to 90 minutes of rest, you enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, which is no longer a nap. There’s a fine line between a power nap and zonking out for a few hours, which should be tread carefully.
The benefits of napping
Recharges the batteries
Naps have been proven to boost energy and improve motor performance, which is why you feel energised after taking one. A 20-minute snooze—called a ‘stage two nap’ - is ideal to enhance motor skills and attention, as well as being an effective way to say goodbye to the afternoon energy crash.
If you’re too stressed to sleep you won’t be doing your mental health any favours. When you sleep your cortisol levels – the hormone responsible for stress – decrease, helping to calm the mind and relieve anxiety.
Soothe muscle tension
Frequent and short naps help lower muscular tension. Those that lead a mainly sedentary lifestyle like an office job will particularly benefit from lying down and extending their spine, or if that's not an option there's plenty of hacks for secretly exercising at work ;)
As anyone short on sleep knows, an irritable mood the next day is pretty much a given. Sneaking in some quick zzz’s can help erase sleep-deprived irritability and help regulate your mood.
How to nap
Seemingly obvious but often done wrong; there is in fact an art to napping.
Ideally, nap between 1:00pm to 3:00pm when blood sugar and energy levels begin to dip
Find a restful place to lie down: it should be quiet, reasonably dark and a comfortable temperature
Set an alarm to make sure you don’t oversleep
Essential nap tips
Keep it short! When too long, it risks waking up groggy and interfering with your regular night time slumber.
Don’t nap too close to bed time
Avoid coffee (or at least cut back). As we know, caffeine affects your ability to drift off.
Adopt a mindfulness ritual like using a meditation app to help you drift off quicker and maximise time