As a college student, I’m constantly being bombarded with homework, tests, meetings, papers, chores, and various social events. It’s hard to keep track of these things and it’s even harder to stay on top of them without losing some sleep. Due to this lack of sleep, I find myself frequently passing out for an hour or so at a time from exhaustion. After I wake up from these naps, I find that I feel just as tired as before, sometimes with an added headache or nausea. I know a lot of people say a 20 minute nap is best, but I wanted to look deeper into that and the reasons behind it. The null hypothesis of this search would be that naps have no effect on the body, whereas the alternative hypothesis is that naps effect the body in some way.
The Mayo Clinic is a reputable organization, so I turned to them for my first source. They first detailed the pros and cons of a nap. The pros included the obvious: reduced fatigue, improved mood, and improved performance (among some other things). The cons were sleep inertia (feelings of grogginess) and problems with sleeping at night, which is obvious if you’re doing all your sleeping during the daytime. The Mayo Clinic stressed the fact that certain disorders and illnesses will lead to an increase in fatigue, so if you find yourself tired frequently for no obvious reason, you may want to consult your doctor. The Mayo Clinic confirmed my hypothesis in that in recommends a 10-30 minute nap. They also recommend you nap in the early afternoon, so as to not interfere with your night sleep cycle. However, I did not get any reason why this is.
Scientific American discussed that why. As many people know, we undergo different cycles as we sleep. Most of our night is spent in non-REM sleep, where we relax, our body goes through recovery, and our hormones regulate. REM sleep (or rapid eye movement sleep) happens after about 90 or so minutes of being asleep and although our brains are awake, our bodies become immobilized. Scientific American asserts that waking during these 90 minute cycles of REM sleep is what causes our sleep inertia.
A study performed by NASA found that a 40 minute nap enhanced pilot performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. British researchers also performed a study in 2008 that corroborated that a short (20 minute) afternoon nap was more effective than caffeine in improving people’s performance in deal with the “afternoon hump”. In this study, 20 healthy adults who were screened for their usual night’s sleep were split into two groups that either received a nap or caffeine, and then were given two tests to measure their performance.
Conclusively, it seems that if you are able to nap within the time frame of 10-40 minutes, you should go for that nap as it seems to raise your performance and lessen your fatigue. If you’re a longer napper, like me, you should set your alarm or perhaps cut naps out all together as you could be doing more harm than good to your body.