An average day for many is a whirlwind of things: classes, assignments, exams, working out, hanging out with friends, meetings, events … it all can leave anyone feeling drowsy, unable to think or down.
The answer could be a nap. Whether one is getting enough sleep or not, napping can boost alertness as well as make up for sleep loss, according to Janelle Patrias, manager of mental health initiatives at the Colorado State University Health Network.
Patrias said that taking a nap can be restorative and rejuvenating, but only if you do it right.
“You have to be really careful,” Patrias said. “If you are napping it’s actually best to nap around the same time every day and to not let it keep you up later.”
Napping for too long during the day or too late in the day can disrupt the brain’s internal sleep clock, Patrias said. The internal sleep clock, known as circadian rhythms, is a 24-hour cycle of mental and physical changes that includes wakefulness and sleepiness. If circadian rhythms are off balance, that can lead to various physical and mental health problems as well as sleep deprivation, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Patrias said that for many, mid-afternoon may be a prime time for a nap because that is when many feel a dip into sleepiness as part of their circadian rhythm. One option is a power nap, which lasts 10 to 20 minutes.
“I would encourage (people) to start with those short little power naps and see if that gives you that boost of alertness you’re looking for,” Patrias said.
Many turn to caffeine for a boost of alertness. A power nap, according to the National Sleep Foundation, can also improve mood and performance. In an article by ABC News, Sara Mednick, sleep expert at the University of California, San Diego, said that naps help with memory processing, alertness and learning new skills.
Longer naps can help make up for lost sleep, according to Patrias, and taking a nap for 90 minutes, which is a complete sleep cycle, is ideal. Napping for more than 30 minutes but less than 90 minutes will probably cause grogginess after waking up, said Patrias. This is because REM sleep, the deepest form of sleep, usually occurs after 30 minutes and lasts until the end of the sleep cycle.
Sleep is essential to mental, physical and emotional health. A lack of sleep inhibits learning and problem-solving skills, the ability to control emotions and behaviors, attentiveness and can lead to illnesses, according to the United States National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Patrias stressed the importance of sleep hygiene, which are practices that are necessary to have a good night of sleep.
“I think one of the biggest (sleep hygiene practices) that we don’t give enough value to is to take a break from our screens prior to bed,” Patrias said. “If you’re on your phone or your laptop right until bedtime … it’s just really stimulating and it’s going to really impede your ability to fall asleep.”
Patrias suggested that, except for sex, people should primarily only sleep in their beds and conduct other activities elsewhere. Other sleep hygiene practices include avoiding caffeine or nicotine close to bed time, establishing a relaxing bedtime routine and falling asleep and waking up around the same time every day, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Patrias encouraged CSU students to come to the CSU Hartshorn Health Center if they are struggling with sleeping healthily.
“If students are really struggling and feel like their sleep challenges are beyond the typical realm of college students not getting enough sleep, I think it would be an appropriate thing for them to go see someone at the health center,” Patrias said. “We have a lot of skilled positions to improve sleep and really change people’s habits.”
Collegian reporter MQ Borocz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MQBorocz22.