One of the most overwhelming aspects of parenting is sleep deprivation. Lack of proper sleep can take a toll on your well-being and put you at increased risk of illness and depression. As you struggle to cope with your baby's sleep patterns, don't forget to look after yourself. Here is how a little nap of your own can go a long way helping you cope and stay sane.
You might think a 30 minute nap won't make much of a difference to your health, if you're only getting a couple of hours sleep each night. However, recent studies have found that when we are dealing with sleep deprivation, your brain compensates by rendering naps more restorative than usual. Just two 30 minute naps a day can entirely normalise your stress hormones and the immune system, which were disrupted due to sleep deprivation. Additionally naps have been shown to provide a long list of other benefits, including improved alertness, enhanced motor performance, improved mood, better memory and reduced fatigue.
And if you can't get yourself to nap, even just resting your eyes is better than nothing. In fact, if you are lying down with your eyes closed, you might even be asleep without realising it!
Benefits of Napping
Normalises Your System
Among many other things, sleep deprivation leads to suppressed immune system, increased sensitivity to pain, and an increase in levels of norepinephrine - a chemical in the body that acts as both a neurotransmitter and a stress hormone. Norepinephrine increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar. Recent studies have found that when we are dealing with sleep deprivation, your brain compensates by rendering naps more restorative than usual. Just two 30-minute naps a day can entirely normalise your immune system functions, pain threshold and stress hormones.
Boosts Your Alertness
Naps boost alertness and improve motor performance in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day.
Boosts Your Mood
As anyone who has suffered from a sleepless night knows, it’s hard to be chipper the next day. Sneaking in a nap can help erase that sleep-deprived irritability. A nap can be a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Improves Your Memory
A recent study from Germany suggests that a longer nap has the power to improve normal memory retrieval by five times. These researchers hypothesize that a nap during the school or workday could positively impact the learning process.
Types of Naps
Naps can be categorised as follows:
Planned Nap (Also Called Preparatory Nap)
Planned napping involves taking a nap before you actually get sleepy. You may use this technique when you know that you will be up later than your normal bed time or as a mechanism to ward off getting tired earlier.
Habitual napping is when you take nap of the same duration at the same scheduled time each day. Young children may fall asleep at about the same time each afternoon or an adult might take a short nap after lunch each day.
Emergency napping occurs when you are suddenly very tired and cannot continue with the activity you were originally engaged in. This type of nap can be used to combat drowsy driving or fatigue while using heavy and dangerous machinery. Unlike the afternoon sleepiness that is normal for most people, the need for an emergency nap can happen at any time.
When is The Best Time to Take a Nap?
There is no single perfect timing for a nap; however there is a commonly recommended window. For most people, early afternoon is best. Your body resists sleep after 8am in the morning and before 8pm at night, apart from between 1pm and 4pm in the evening. Somewhere between 1 and 4 pm, your blood sugar and energy level starts to dip and your brain experiences a dip in alertness. A quick nap at this time can help you feel more alert for the rest of the day without interfering with your night-time sleep.
How Long Should I Nap For?
Studies suggest that the benefits from napping are correlated with the duration of the nap you take. Some studies point to longer naps being more beneficial, and others showing that shorter naps are just as effective. It helps to understand Sleep Cycles and different stages of sleep to get a better understanding of the below nap durations:
Lie Down Nap (3 minutes)
If you can't get yourself to nap, even just resting your eyes is better than nothing. In fact, if you are lying down with your eyes closed, you might even be asleep without realising it! It has been found in numerous studies that subjects who were awakened from the first stage of sleep often denied they were asleep at all. A nap that consists of only first stage sleep may not have significant health and alertness benefits, but it may make you feel less tired. And in the process of resting your eyes if you manage to fall into second stage of sleep - for even for just a few minutes, your nap will have recuperative effects.
Ultra Short Sleep Episode (6 minutes)
A brief six minute nap, known as Ultra Short Seep Episode, can improve declarative memory, a type of long-term memory that aids your ability to recall facts and knowledge.
Stage Two Nap (20-30 minutes)
Also known as a Power Nap, this type of nap provides significant benefit for improved alertness, enhanced motor performance, and a better mood, without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with night-time sleep. This nap is just long enough to reap the benefits, but without any unwanted effects of "sleep inertia" - the state of impaired cognition, grogginess, and disorientation commonly experienced on awakening from deep sleep. The aim here is to nap through the lighter stage of non-REM sleep, and to wake up before you slip into deeper sleep, making it easier for you to get up and go after your snooze session. This nap is usually recommended for 20-30 minutes. If you've taken a 30 minute nap and you wake up feeling groggy, then next time decrease you nap time to 20 minutes.
Groggy Nap (40-60 minutes)
One of the negative side effects of napping is sleep inertia - also known as sleep drunkenness, this is the period immediately after waking when a person feels groggy or suffers decreased cognitive function.
A nap of 40-60 minutes takes you into stage 3 and 4 sleep, characterised by deep, slow-wave sleep. Abrupt awakening from stage 3 and 4 sleep can produce more sleep inertia than emerging from stage 1 or 2 sleep, while emerging from REM sleep tends to result in intermediate grogginess. Sleep inertia also tends to last longer when emerging from deep, slow-wave sleep. Hence the reason why most experts suggest avoiding naps between 40-60 minutes in length, and some even recommend avoiding 30 minute naps, just to be safe.
If there is chance that you'll wake from a deep, slow-wave nap, then make sure you've given yourself enough time at the end of your nap, around 30 minute window to able to function normally again.
REM Nap (90 Minutes)
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the final stage of a sleep cycle, the dreaming stage. REM sleep stage usually kicks in between 60-90 minutes mark.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to lie down for 90 minutes, your body should have time to make it through one complete sleep cycle, so you’ll wake feeling refreshed. Additionally longer naps that include a period of REM sleep has unique set of benefits, including increased creativity and improved emotional and procedural memory (valuable when learning a new skill) – while minimizing the effects of sleep inertia.
Tips for napping
Not all people are able to nap easily during the day. Here is some advice that may help you to nap:
- If you take a nap too late in the day, or for too long, it might affect your night-time sleep patterns and make it difficult to fall asleep at your regular bedtime.
- If you try to nap too early in the day, your body may not be ready for more sleep.
- Nap in a quiet, dark place that is at a comfortable temperature. Close the curtains or wear an eye mask to make it as dark as possible. Ear plugs are a cheap way to block out loud background noise.
- If you are out on the road and when you get ready to take a nap you should make sure you are in a safe place. If you are in your car, make sure you park away from the road, preferably at a rest stop.
- Be mindful of the risk of sleep inertia after waking from a nap. At the end of every nap, be sure to take enough time to wake up fully before starting anything that might be of danger. If you nap during a break from a long drive, take a few minutes to walk around the car after your nap and only get back behind the wheel when you are fully alert.
- Use an alarm clock, so you know that you won’t sleep for longer than intended.
- For useful tips on how to fall asleep faster, read our How to Get Back to Sleep article.
Getting enough sleep on regular basis is the best way to stay alert and feel your best. But when you are a parent there is never regular or enough sleep. When fatigue sets in, a quick nap can do wonders for your mental and physical stamina.
But at some stage a proper catch up sleep becomes necessary. Use weekends or other times when you can let a friend or family member watch your baby while you catch up on some sleep.
Trust your instincts, and if something feels wrong with you and your baby, consult with your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
Remember that things will get better.