Happy National Nap Day!
As we continue to celebrate Sleep Awareness Month with our 8-hour Sleep Challenge, we wanted to dive into naps and how they help (or harm!) our sleep cycles.
National Nap Day, March 11th, falls the day after the return of Daylight Savings Time to help ease us back into a new time zone. The unofficial holiday started in 1999 when Camille and William Anthony, a professor at Boston University, wanted to help educate people about the importance of getting enough rest.
While we believe that a full eight hours of sleep is important to lead a healthy life, we know that not every night is going to be a win. Sometimes the baby wakes up sick, or an emergency at work pops up, or any number of daily happenings keeps us from getting eight consecutive hours.
Can napping help repair the damage done by missing out on a full night of sleep?
What do the experts say about napping?
Matthew Walker, PhD, author of “Why We Sleep” doesn’t seem to think that naps can do much to help you catch up on lost sleep; however, he cites a fascinating study that ended up creating one of our favorite concepts—the power nap. David Dinges and Dr. Mark Rosekind set out to study the napping habits of long-haul pilots.
Landing planes on little sleep can be pretty dangerous, so the pair decided to find the optimal timing for a 40- to 120-minute “power nap” during long, transatlantic flights. They wanted to figure out which point within a 36-hour period was the perfect time to get a nap to avoid as many lapses in performance as possible. The results of the study tell us a lot about napping.
Pilots who took a quick nap at the start of their trip experienced fewer disruptions in their concentration. If the pilots waited to nap after the effects of sleep deprivation had already begun, they suffered more microsleeps toward the end of a flight. It boils down to prevention versus treatment—if you can front-load a sleepless night with a nap, youm experience fewer consequences than if you start trying to triage the drag of sleep deprivation when it is already well underway.
While prevention is key, we know that you can’t accurately predict when your night is going to take a turn for the restless, but currently, “there is no scientific evidence we have suggesting that a drug, a device, or any amount of psychological willpower can replace sleep.”
So if naps aren’t helpful, are they harmful?
If napping can’t salvage lost sleep, is it pointless to celebrate National Nap Day at all?
As always, it depends.
If you can keep a nap to a short, 20- or 30-minute session, you probably won’t experience any of the negative side effects. A “power nap” before a long night out might even help keep you more concentrated and sharp, like with the pilots in the study mentioned above. But once you feel the effects of sleep deprivation start, you might be too late.
Longer naps, however, give your body the chance to slide into deeper sleep cycles, which causes sleep inertia to take hold. That groggy, foggy feeling when you wake up from a two-hour nap in the middle of the afternoon? That’s sleep inertia. Once you begin sleeping, your body naturally doesn’t want to prevent you from getting full sleep cycles, so you’ll notice that pulling yourself out of a deeper sleep only gets harder the longer you’re napping.
So should you celebrate National Nap Day? We think so. Just keep it reasonable and you should be feeling refreshed and ready for the rest of your day!