A nap is something that is typically associated with something that children need to do before they reach a certain age. However, a proper nap could yield a host of positive ramifications in an individual when adult life is reached.

Why We Nap

In essence, a nap is a short period of sleep. It is usually taken during daylight hours as a means to supplement the sleep that an individual gets at night. Typically, naps are taken as a response to drowsiness that can occur during an individual's period of wakefulness.

In an adult, this period of drowsiness can coincide with a pattern that is known as a circadian rhythm. This internal function is essentially an individual's 'body clock'; that is, a biochemical mechanism that dictates various internal patterns within a 24 hour period. This rhythm dictates that an individual will have various peaks and valley of energy and functionality within the 24-hour cycle, with the downgraded times in the cycle being referred to as circadian dips. While the most prominent circadian dip occurs during a time where sleep normally occurs, it has been shown that another circadian dip occurs in the mid-afternoon. During this particular dip, it is shown that a person's levels of sleepiness increase while their level of alertness drops. It is at this time where the feeling of drowsiness kicks in and the notion of a nap becomes attractive to individuals.

Types of Naps

Essentially, there are three different types of naps that an individual can experience:

  1. Habitual napping - This particular nap type is defined by a person routinely taking a nap at the same time every day. While this is a common practice amongst children, this is also the type of nap that is taken by cultures that build siestas into their workdays.
  2. Emergency napping - This particular nap occurs when an individual gets overwhelmed by a sense of tiredness and cannot continue to engage in the activity that they were partaking in. This is the type of nap that can be taken as a means to combat drowsy driving or fatigue that may set in while using heavy and dangerous machinery.
  3. Planned napping - This particular nap is built around the concept of taking a nap before the individual feels tired. This nap can be used by an individual as a compensatory measure for times when they know that they will need to stay up past the time that they would normally go to sleep.

Benefits of Napping

It has been established that taking a nap can be linked to both psychological and physiological benefits. Some studies have shown that an individual taking a nap at least three times during the week could experience the lowering of risk related to heart-related death. Further studies have shown that napping yields the same kind of boost to certain memory tasks as a typical interval of sleep.

It has also been established that napping for 20 minutes - that is, the so-called 'power nap' of Stage 2 nap - can help cause a refreshment of the mind, boost overall alertness, improve mood, increase motor skills, and elevate overall productivity. This particular nap is designed to not only provide a quick revitalization to the individual, but it is also designed to end before an individual goes into NREM stage 3 sleep or slow wave sleep, which is the deepest level of sleep that and individual can experience. This is important because a person entering a pattern of NREM stage 3 sleep and then being re-introduced to wakefulness during that particular stage could cause a person to experience sleep inertia; a condition that makes the person waking up from the nap feel groggy, disoriented, and even sleepier than they did before the nap ensued.

While the typical power nap is usually referred to as being in 20 minute intervals, the actual duration of the nap does pertain to the individual's own sleep patterns. As such, it is thought that a power nap can range anywhere between 18 to 25 minutes.

Napping Versus Caffeine Intake

It has also been established that taking a nap is a better alternative than an individual elevating their caffeine intake as a means to rejuvenate. The reason for this is due the negative effect that caffeine has been shown to have on an individual's memory performance, as the presence of the substance tends to promote a decrease in an individual's ability to retain information.

Negative Effects of Naps

While naps are generally shown to be beneficial to an individual, they could pose as a risky action for people suffering from insomnia or depression to take. The reason for this is because in the case of both conditions, a nap may aggravate prior disruptions to an individual's rest/wake patterns, thus worsening the overall condition.

Additionally, a longer napping period could have an adverse effect on other sleeping periods as dictated by an individual's circadian rhythm. A nap that is lengthy or is taken too late in the day may end up adversely affecting the quality and length of the typical sleeping interval.

Tips for Effective Napping

While the concept of taking a nap is simple, taking an effective nap does require an adherence to some strategy. For example, a person taking a nap should always have some sort of timepiece with an alarm set up to wake them before they enter into the NREM stage 3 stage of the sleep cycle. Another strategy to deploy is to establish a proper environment that is conducive to napping. This would including retreating to a darkened room to block out light and staying warm by tucking in under a blanket, the latter of which is especially important since the body temperature drops during sleep. A third example of this strategy would be to keep a consistent nap schedule. Because of the dips that naturally occur within the circadian rhythm, the optimal time for building a schedule would be around the times of 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM.

By taking the time to take a nap, an individual can enjoy plenty of benefits that pertain to their mind, body, and personality. As such, naps are a crucial part of an individual's overall pattern of daily sleep.