Oh, the ever-so-lovely daytime nap. It’s a part of the college experience as crucial as afternoon coffee and weekend nights out. After a night or three of depriving yourself of nighttime sleep to finish reading those chapters and writing those essays, you, the tired college student, can always find solace in a quick nap after class the next day. You know your purpose in doing so—to refresh yourself and tackle the rest of your busy day. So why is it that sometimes you wake up feeling truly rejuvenated and other times you end up feeling groggier than when you entered that lovely sleep?
The big answer is simple: you slept for too long or you didn’t sleep for long enough. The ideal length for an energizing nap falls somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes’ worth of Z’s. If you nap a little too far beyond the 30-minute mark, you could be sacrificing your energy to a familiar case of sleep inertia, or that groggy, disorienting post-nap feeling. This is due to the fact that when you sleep for too long, you are allowing yourself to drift too far into the sleep cycle. Waking up before the cycle is complete could cause your body to crave more, hence the sleep inertia. It’s best to keep your naps between the first two stages of sleep instead of Stages 3 and 4, the deep sleep stages, if you hope to avoid this problem. That way you keep your sleep shallow, and waking up will come easily.
Another way you could be sabotaging your naptime experience is by deciding to clock out at the wrong time of day. In addition to your circadian rhythms, which determine your optimal sleep-wake time based on light, you also have arcadian rhythms. These tell your body what time of day it should be the sleepiest in order to efficiently keep up with a 24-hour schedule. This creates a feeling of sleepiness that could be felt at its heaviest between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., as well as 1:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. To best obey what your body wants, you should be napping sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. It’s ideal to spend this time frame renewing your depleted energy reserves.
You should also be making your place of napping a temporary sanctuary, with sunlight eliminated and comfort surrounding you. You’ll want to maintain a cozy temperature and minimize distracting noises. For some of you, it may prove helpful to turn on a sleep machine or use a relaxation app to guide you to your sleep destination.
Before you visit the land of dreams, assure yourself that you’re maximizing your nap’s benefits by setting an alarm. It is far too easy to forget this step and your 30-minute nap can stretch to four hours in a flash, which would not be ideal.
Be sure to always keep in mind your individual needs when approaching sleep and napping. What works for you may not work the same way for your roommate. Get to know your sleep cycle. Ask yourself: What time do I normally go to bed? What time, then, do I actually fall asleep? How long do I usually stay asleep? When you know the answer to these questions, you should then be able to understand the perfect time for you to nap and what kind of napping works best for you.
Naps can be beneficial to you on many levels. Aside from keeping you alert, they can also improve your cognitive performance, boost your mood, and sharpen motor skills. Find your time, pick your place, and get to napping. Your mind and body will thank you.
By Melissa Espinal