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 A Guide to Naps 

With school in full swing and midterms looming over us, it’s inevitable that sleep deprivation—or just the urge to stay in bed, preferably forever—starts to set in. As much as I want to be melded to my bed, that’s not possible. So I’ll just settle for the next best thing—naps. But, naps can be a double edged sword. Ideally, you’d feel refreshed  after a quick 15-minute nap. However, you may also wake up even more tired than before you slept, or even wake up hours later not knowing what time or, even, which day it is. So, before you hit the snooze button again, here’s some tips for napping.

How do we sleep?

Napping efficiently begins with understanding how sleep works. Ever wondered why sometimes you wake up ready to face the day, and other times you wake up ready to die? That’s because you were woken up at different stages of sleep. There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and non-REM sleep. Waking up during the “wrong” stage of sleep, that is, usually stage 3 non-REM sleep, results in sleep inertia:that disoriented, death-warmed-over feeling you get immediately after waking up from a nap that went on far longer than planned. 

When you first fall asleep, you enter non-REM sleep. The first two stages of NREM sleep are what is commonly known as “light sleep”. Stage 1 lasts one to seven minutes, and is the easiest to wake up from. Hence, short power naps are usually recommended to be less than 10 minutes. Stage 2 lasts 10 to 25 minutes, during which brain activity slows. This is the last stage before you enter deep sleep. Hence, most naps are usually recommended to be less than 30 minutes long, though some sources extend the duration to 45 minutes. 

Stage 3 is deep sleep, and is harder to wake up from. This is when the restorative function of sleep comes in, allowing for both physical and mental recovery. Deep sleep lasts for 20 to 40 minutes. Waking up during this time usually results in grogginess. 

REM sleep is the last stage you enter before waking up. Brain activity increases to near-waking levels. While Stage 3 is important for the restoration of both the mind and body, REM sleep is focused solely on repairing cognitive functions, and is important for memory retention, creativity and other functions related to the brain. A full sleep cycle, including both REM and non-REM sleep, usually takes one and a half to two hours long, and hence is the ideal duration for long naps. Long naps may seem counterintuitive, but are actually effective in recouping lost sleep (such as after an all-nighter) while minimising sleep inertia. 

When should we sleep?

Besides the duration of your nap, when you nap is also important. Morning people who wake up early and sleep at around 9-10pm will tend to need a nap around 1pm to 1.30pm. If you’re thinking, 1pm is when I wake up, you’re most likely a night owl who sleeps at midnight or later. Night owls usually need a nap at 2.30pm to 3pm. Granted, our class and work schedules don’t always allow us to nap at our preferred times. But now that you know, you can consider arranging your schedule around your most wakeful times if you have the flexibility to do so in the future. 

But first—coffee?

While it seems counterintuitive, caffeine can actually be helpful for rest if it’s consumed immediately before a nap. As caffeine requires 20 to 30 minutes to kick in, it makes it easier to wake up after a short nap of that duration and decreases sleep inertia. 

However, I’d like to insert my own anecdotal rebuttal to this advice. I have drunk coffee so effective that a single gulp instantly vanquished any sleepiness (Foodclique iced kopi before the ice melts,  in case you were wondering). I have also been utterly betrayed by coffee that had just enough caffeine to prevent me from napping, keeping me in a state of unproductive zombified wakefulness. So, should one actually take caffeine before napping? To each their own, is all I can say. Monitoring how quickly and how effectively caffeine usually kicks in for you and weighing the duration of your naps against that would probably be more helpful than following generalised guidelines.  

Sleep cycles, body clock and caffeine consumption differ vastly from person to person. Finding the best and most refreshing way to nap will, unfortunately, take some trial and error. But, hopefully you’ll find yourself more well-rested as the semester chugs along. Feel free to hit the snooze button now and see if anything mentioned here works—fingers crossed.