The Science of Napping

Napping Advice from an Expert
July 7, 2022 at 3:32 p.m.

Researchers say that napping can improve not only your physical health but also your mental health.

A study from 2019 published in the journal Heart found a link between healthy napping and a lowered risk of heart disease.  The American Psychological Association states that naps can improve memory, learning, immune system function and mood.

In an interview with Leslie Finlay of The Healthy, Sara Mednick, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California Irvine, discussed her decades of sleep studies and what she has discovered about napping.

“Even a five-minute nap is kind of bizarrely effective,” Dr. Mednick tells us. She recommends longer naps, but if that’s all the time you have, a five-minute nap can give you a bit of a memory boost and a decrease in drowsiness.

Dr. Mednick explains that whenever you fall asleep, your body moves through several sleep stages, and that each stage plays a role in your health. Ideal naps are based around this cycle:

  • Stage 1: the “dozing off” period as you fall asleep
  • Stage 2: your muscles, heart rate, and brain activity begin to slow down
  • Stage 3: deep, restorative sleep
  • Stage 4: also known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when brain activity picks up, and you’re most likely to dream

The 20-Minute Nap

“Between 20 and 30 minutes is the napping sweet spot,” according to Dr. Mednick. This nap will get you enough of Stage 2 to switch your body into full relaxation mode… “feeling more refreshed and less stressed… What’s interesting is that some signatures of Stage 2 sleep are really critical for memory consolidation.”

But if you only have a short time to nap, you want to avoid moving into Stage 3 and waking up during that phase. Stage 3 is “deep sleep;” it is the most restorative, but if you wake up in the middle of Stage 3 you will likely remain groggy for quite some time.

The 60-Minute Nap

If you have enough time to nap for an hour, you should move into deep sleep, a “hibernation” type of state, says Dr. Mednick. Your body undertakes tissue repair, fortifies your immune system and recharges its energy. Deep sleep improves memory recall, learning and cognitive function. A lack of deep sleep is association with depression and other mental health difficulties. As the author of the article, Leslie Finlay, states: “So while you don’t want to wake up in the middle of this power-saving mode, you start to move out of Stage 3 sleep around 60 minutes into a nap… Once you round the corner past Stage 3 sleep, REM kicks in.”

REM Sleep

According to Dr. Mednick, REM is very good for creativity and improving your sensory skills. And, writes Finlay, REM is easier to wake up from, helping to prevent that disorienting grogginess you have when waking up in the middle of Stage 3 sleep. You don’t necessarily need that much REM sleep during a nap…a little bit goes a long way, adds Dr. Mednick.

The 90-Minute Nap

“If you can get a full 90 minutes, that’s awesome,” says the doctor. The average sleep cycle is about 90 minutes, so completing that full cycle is beneficial in a variety of ways.

Trouble Napping?

If you have trouble napping during the day, Dr. Mednick advises weaving deep breathing exercises into your day. Laying with your legs up against a wall for 10 minutes is wonderfully relaxing and gives your heart a rest. Even connecting with nature can do the trick for some people, or simply making a meaningful connection with others.
To read the full article, link here:
Share this story!