Everyone experiences the 3 p.m. slump at some point. You’re at work after lunch, it’s warm outside, and you’re drowsy. However, you still have a few hours before you can log out and go home.
When such feelings arise, many people go for a cup of coffee or an energy drink. However, it’s possible that a quick nap may be a more effective intervention in helping you get through the afternoon productively. This afternoon lull, according to Dr. Peter A. Fotinakes, medical director of the Providence St. Joseph Hospital Sleep Disorder Center in Orange County, California, is an excellent time to get some shuteye because it coincides with an overall sleep-wake cycle that most individuals naturally experience.
“Napping is an important component of our sleep cycle. “We have two sleep phases in our 24-hour sleep cycle: a long phase throughout the night and a shorter 30- to 45-minute phase in the afternoon,” Fotinakes explains. “During these two intervals, we become physically sleepy, which encourages and promotes sleep.
” Most people, according to Fotinakes, “adhere to the nocturnal sleep phase.” However, “daytime activities typically increase our abuse of the afternoon sleep phase,” according to many people. Instead of relying on caffeine or sugar to get through the day, which can lead to addiction and sleep disruptions, he recommends using a combination of methods “Stepping back from our tempting daytime activities and succumbing to our natural afternoon sleep period is healthier.
We, like many cultures, should take an afternoon nap, but Americans tend to rush through the shorter afternoon sleep period in favor of completing their daytime activities.” It turns out that siesta culture, which is more prevalent in warmer regions such as those found along the Mediterranean Sea, in parts of India, and in other parts of the world, has some merit.
Dr. Aneesa Das, a sleep medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, adds that in addition to addressing the natural slowdown in energy that many people experience mid-afternoon, “sleeping can be useful if you’re otherwise receiving insufficient sleep at night.”
Why We Sleep
When it may not appear so while you’re lying there, there’s a lot going on in your brain and body while you’re sleeping. It’s when your brain processes everything you accomplished during the day and gets rid of anything it doesn’t need. Your muscles are doing the same thing; sleep is when your muscles replenish after a hard workout or when your body integrates a new skill you acquired so you’ll be better at it the next day. It’s also a time for the body to mend damaged cells and clean up the house in order to keep you healthy.
As a result, having adequate good sleep is essential for general health and well-being. Your body does need sleep, and it wants it on a regular schedule, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times.
According to Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, “our bodies are really fine-tuned and run a tight ship based on your circadian rhythm.” The internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle is known as the circadian rhythm. Natural light changes occur throughout the 24-hour day, which drives the process. Light shifts tell the body when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to go to sleep. And deviating from this normal cycle can increase the risk of certain health issues, such as dementia.
It’s thought that the brain cleans up after itself when sleeping, removing waste products and helping the brain to work more efficiently in the future. Routine adjustments, such as shift work or the twice-yearly time change between standard and daylight saving time, can throw your internal clock off.
“Your body tries to adjust when the time changes. This alteration has an effect on your mood, sleeping habits, appetite, and hormones “According to Albers.
When to Nap
“Getting appropriate sleep hours during your major sleep phase should be your ultimate goal,” Das says. “Adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep on average.” Individual sleep requirements, however, can vary based on age, activity level, genetics, and other factors.
Some people require only 6 hours of sleep to feel completely refreshed, while others require 10. Napping can help if you don’t get enough sleep at night. If you’re napping to make up for a lack of sleep at night, Fotinakes suggests taking a “power nap” when you need it.
These 20- to 30-minute exercises have the potential to be rejuvenating. If at all possible, postpone your power nap for the mid-afternoon sleep period when you’re naturally less alert. “This phase happens after lunchtime, but it can occur at any moment between noon and 5 p.m. depending on the individual.”
It’s preferable to push through once the evening comes, according to Fotinakes. “Avoid taking evening naps because even a short sleep period energizes you for 2 to 4 hours thereafter, interfering with your capacity to sleep at your regular bedtime.” Shorter is usually better when it comes to napping, according to Das.
Longer naps can cause sleep inertia,’ where it’s more difficult to wake up because you’re in a deeper stage of sleep,’ so 20- to 30-minute naps are generally recommended. “If we follow our natural sleep cycle and sleep during our afternoon sleep period, an excellent nap may last 30 to 45 minutes,” Fotinakes adds. When power sleeping, he recommends keeping it to a 20- to 30-minute period.
“Any longer and you risk falling into a deep sleep, which will leave you feeling hungover when you wake up. Long naps also have the potential to eat into your nighttime sleep time,” which can increase sleep-wake cycle disruptions.
“A little nap may be helpful” if your sleep schedule has been upset, whether due to a change in the clock or a busy work schedule, Das says.
However, if you’re suffering from nightly insomnia, it’s a different matter. “If you suffer nighttime insomnia, you should avoid napping during the day since it can exacerbate it,” she says.
Listen to your body and your personal sleep demands when it comes to both nighttime sleep and naps to build a plan that works for you. And make sure you stick to it.
Your brain and body crave routine, so developing good sleep hygiene routines can help you get better sleep, which benefits your heart and brain health, as well as your mood and appetite.
Good sleep hygiene practices include:
• Creating a cool, dark, quiet place to sleep.
• Avoiding electronics or stressful activities in the hour or so before bedtime.
• Setting a standard sleep and wake time and sticking to it.
• Avoiding alcohol or stimulants that can disrupt sleep. The Sleep Foundation recommends not consuming caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime and stopping drinking alcohol at least 4 hours prior to bedtime to limit disruptions to the sleep cycle.
• Reserving the bedroom for only sleep and sex. This means banishing work, television, eating or reading from the room.
Some firms have begun to provide sleep rooms for employees, which is a good thing, according to Das, especially for businesses that require staff to work multiple shifts, such as hospitals.
“Providing a comfortable location for employees to slumber after a long shift could assist to reduce drowsy driving on the way home.” This might have immediate life-or-death implications; according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 697 people died in drowsy-driving-related crashes in 2019.
A nap room is also a good option for office employees and those on a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, according to Fotinakes. “Asleepsleep area would be a good addition to any workplace environment,” says the author, because it can help employees get the rest they need to be more productive in the afternoon.
“A nap room would also provide a shelter to take a power nap when the mesmerizing computer screen threatens to send us to slumberland in our modern work environment of staring at a computer screen for 8 hours,”
Fotinakes says. Blue light from our numerous screens and devices can fool the eye into believing it’s daytime, preventing the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
Underlying Sleep Disorders
With that stated, it turns out that napping is often seen as a healthful activity, according to Fotinakes. He believes it’s fine to nap on a regular basis if you’re following your own circadian rhythm and sleeping during the natural afternoon window.
“It is best to anticipate a daily afternoon nap because the afternoon sleep period is a vital part of a typical 24-hour sleep cycle.” While a short, planned daytime nap can be a beneficial component of your sleep cycle, he warns that “uncontrolled sleep periods and long daytime naps may be a symptom of insufficient or fragmented sleep at night.”
This can be caused by undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. “Excessive daytime sleepiness could be a sign of an underlying sleep condition,” he adds, adding that it’s a good idea to consult a sleep medicine professional.
(Excessive daytime sleepiness is defined as an inability to stay awake or attentive for lengthy periods when you should be awake, to the point where it interferes with your everyday tasks.) Excessive daytime sleepiness isn’t usually defined as just feeling tired or exhausted.)
These experts can assist you in determining the root of your sleepiness and provide treatment options that will allow you to get the restful sleep your body requires.