Naps and What They Say About Us

Taking naps has been all the media rage lately, beginning with an article in the Wall Street Journal and continuing with television segments on CNBC and other channels. Why the big focus?

For one, it turns out that naps are good for you, whether you snore or, worse, suffer from sleep apnea, or whether you sleep restfully every night. Optimal times for naps are between 1 and 4 p.m. in the afternoon, and optimal snooze durations to avoid grogginess are 10 to 20 minutes — or 90 minutes!

There’s a huge gap from 20 minutes to 90, but it appears that two forces are at work here in your brain and body. First, the longer you nap, the better it is for your cognitive memory processing. Second, the longer you nap (up to a point), the more prone you are to sleep inertia, or that groggy feeling when you awake.

Avoiding sleep inertia depends on the length of your nap. If you take a 10- to 20-minute “power nap,” you never slip into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, so you never develop sleep inertia. If you nap for 90 minutes (or more, but that could pose its own problems), you’ll cycle through what the experts call stages one and two of the sleep cycle and awake in fine fiddle (or not, depending on you and you snoring habits!).

Now, here’s the interesting part for those of us who suffer from snoring and/or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) while we sleep: Power naps should be dreamless. If you dream during a power nap, it’s a sign that you’re extremely sleep deprived.

There you go — another way to judge if your snoring/sleeping patterns are affecting your daily life. If you take a power nap and dream, you know there’s something amiss with your nighttime sleeping. Only the sleep deprived, it has been found, dream during power naps.

Another interesting conclusion from testing college students could help all of us, whether we’re snorers or normal snoozers. After being taught something, if we take a nap, our memories of what we just learned are sharper and longer-lasting. In a test of 36 college students, one-third of whom took power naps, one-third 30-minute naps, and one-third no naps, the nappers had better short-term recall. A week later, however, the power nappers were just as forgetful as the non-nappers. Only the longer nappers still recalled the material taught them!

So the next time you or your school-age children want to take a nap in the afternoon, give yourself or them the green light. You’ll learn and remember more as a result.

The big takeaway here for those of us who snore, however, is that even napping can’t compensate totally for a lousy night’s sleep ruined by OSA or excessive snoring. We should, yes, take naps, but more importantly, see a sleep professional ASAP for help with our nighttime problems.

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