Naps and Brain Benefits

475981169-smallNapping can have great benefits for your brain and body, but sometimes after waking up a from a nap, you feel groggy and almost as if you are more tired than you were before taking the nap. When you sleep for too long during a nap, you fall into a stage of sleep that is difficult to get out of.

Sleep experts suggest that taking a 10 to 20 minute power nap can give you a quick burst of alertness and mental clarity when you don’t have much time. This length limits you to the lighter stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep, making it easier to get moving after waking up.

Studies show that sleeping for 30 minutes may cause sleep inertia, a hangover-like groggy feeling that can last for up to 30 minutes after waking up, before the nap’s restorative benefits become apparent.

60 minute long naps are best for improvement in remembering facts, faces and names. Hour long naps include “slow-wave” sleep which is the deepest type. The downside for sleeping this long is some grogginess upon waking up.

A full cycle of sleep is 90 minutes long, which includes the lighter and deeper stages, REM sleep and the dreaming stage. 90 minute long naps can lead to improved emotional and procedural memory and creativity. A nap of this length is typically easier to wake up from as well.

If you plan on taking shorter naps, it helps to sit up slightly as it will allow you to avoid falling into a deeper sleep. If you dream during these power naps, then it could be a sign that you are sleep deprived and need to get more hours of quality sleep each night.

Alternate Sleep Cycles

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Most people believe that there is only one way to sleep: go to sleep at night for 6-8 hours, wake up in the morning, stay awake for 16-18 hours and then repeat. This is called a monophasic sleep cycle, which is actually 1 of 5 major sleep cycles used throughout history. The other 4 cycles are considered “polyphasic sleep cycles” because they require multiple naps to be taken throughout the day.

The most important part of every sleep cycle is the Stage 4 REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which provides the benefits of sleeping the brain needs above all other stages. When changing over to a polyphasic cycle, the lack of sleep tricks the body into entering REM sleep immediately, instead of approximately an hour later like in monophasic sleep.

Uberman Cycle

The Uberman Cycles requires 20-30 naps every 4 hours, resulting in 6 naps each day. This cycle is highly efficient and usually results in feeling healthy and refreshed. Many Uberman-users report increased ability to lucid dream as well. Because this schedule is so rigid, it’s impossible to miss naps without feeling extremely tired.

Everyman Cycle

This cycle has one longer “core” nap that is supplemented with several 20-30 minute naps. The most successful cycles can include one 3 hour nap and three 20-minute naps or one 1.5 hour nap with four or five  20-minute naps. This cycle is easier to adjust to than the Uberman, and allows for more flexibility in nap times and in skipping naps when necessary.

Dymaxion Cycle

This cycle was invented by Bucky Fuller based on his belief that we all have two energy tanks: the first is easy to replenish whereas the second tank (second wind) is much harder to replenish. He began sleeping for 30 minutes every 6 hours (only 2 hours of sleep a day!) and reported feeling “the most vigorous and alter condition I have ever enjoyed.” This is by far the most extreme of the 4 polyphasic sleep cycles, but also the most efficient.

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Biphasic/Siesta Cycle

The biphasic cycle consists of sleeping for 4-4.5 hours a night, and then taking a 90 minute nap around noon. It’s not very different from the monophasic sleep cycle, but still more efficient.

If you’re considering switching to an alternate sleep cycles, eating healthy meals and avoiding fatty foods can make the adjustment much easier. It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor before switching to an alternate sleep cycle. Make sure you have 2-3 hours of freedom to adjust to the cycle so work or school are not affected by the change.