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Afternoon Naps – How do they affect your sleep at night?

Are you one to indulge in an afternoon nap? Many Australians are making time for a quick afternoon kip and they are doing it for many reasons, including sleep deprivation, depression, boredom and habit. But how is this peaceful rest affecting our bodies internal clocks, can it help with sleep deprivation, does it cause insomnia and should we be napping at all? Here are the answers to your napping questions.

afternoon naps

Sleep needs

The average healthy adult needs between 6-9 hours of sleep every night, when we lack these hours for whatever reason we can feel tired and grumpy the next day and our desire for a nap can become very strong. You can blame our urge to nap mid-afternoon on our circadian rhythm which is our internal wake/sleep clock. When we have been awake for a period of time our wake/sleep homeostasis starts to tell us that it’s getting close to sleep time. People with sleep deprivation will feel this urge to sleep stronger than others and it almost always occurs mid-afternoon. Basically the longer you’re awake the stronger the urge to sleep becomes. This is where napping comes into play. If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before we will be in sleep debt and our sleep/ wake rhythm starts to lean toward sleep, urging us to take that ever so desirable nap. Once we wake up our rhythm is reset and we become alert again, this cycle then continues over and over again.

afternoon naps

So nap?

Well it depends, for some of us that suffer sleep deprivation a day time nap can be just what we need, it leaves us feel refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day, there is even scientific research that shows that naps are quite beneficial for our brains. For some people though a nap leaves us feeling groggy confused and can cause problems when trying to go to sleep at bedtime. This is especially true for those of us who suffer insomnia.  It all comes back to our circadian rhythm; the longer we are awake the more urge there is to sleep so by taking a nap we are actually resetting our rhythm.

If you require a good 9 hours sleep and you have a long late afternoon nap then it can take another 8 hours for you to feel sleepy again, therefore you won’t receive you 9 hours, you will wake up feeling tired and you will need to nap again, thus creating an ongoing cycle that is hard to break.

If you don’t need as much sleep at night then this isn’t as worrying as a 9 hour sleeper, but later and longer naps can still affect your ability to get to bed on time.

The problem here is that a seemingly harmless day nap can potentially set us up for disaster. Our body’s internal clock can be set all out of whack; insomnia can occur and if we end up living on too little sleep we are more prone to depression, anxiety and even more prone to becoming sick.

afternoon naps

It’s all about balance

Naps can be amazing and are sometimes well needed and deserved but there are two main rules to follow if you want to catch up on some zzz’s and still get to bed  a reasonable hour.

  1. Earlier not later- aim for an earlier nap like 1-1.30pm. Remember it can take a good 8hours or more to feel sleepy again, so an earlier cat nap gives us plenty more time to rebuild our sleep levels again.
  2. Shorter not longer- a 10-20minute nap is a good bench mark to aim for. Same rule applies as above; a nap will restore our alertness and lessen our sleepiness so a shorter nap gives us more time to rebuild our sleepiness so we can get to bed on time. Another reason to opt for shorter naps is how we feel upon wakening. Shorter naps tend to leave us more refreshed and alert then a longer nap, this is because of our sleep cycles. If we wake during REM sleep (which is when we are in a deep sleep and dreaming) we can awaken feel confused and groggy, this usually happens with a longer nap. Our brains may also think we are going to bed for the night if we nap longer which can also cause the groggy, confused feeling when we wake up.

afternoon naps

Conclusion

Everyone loves a good nap and I’m defiantly not telling anyone to quit napping altogether. Stick with the napping advice and you will feel reenergized, happier and you will be more likely to get a good night’s rest tonight!

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