I recently completed a 7-day nap experiment, and it was eye-opening. Maybe even third-eye opening.
Over here in the US, we don’t do naps. There’s no universal embracing of the restful lunch hour with family, a little nap, and then back to work after we’re refreshed. We’re expected to work our 8 hours straight through, with an often severely-regulated lunch break in the middle, and be at our best, most productive selves.
Nappings for our grandparents and tantrum-poised toddlers.
Needless to say, we’re not at our best selves. I certainly wasn’t, and I was ready to change that. Read on to see what I learned from taking a nap every day for one week.
Day 1 – Tuesday
Like most things in life, I got an idea, did a frightful amount of research, and jumped right in. That’s why we’re starting #OnATuesday.
Last night, I got roughly 7 hours of sleep. Is this good, is this bad? We don’t know yet, but I can tell you that I have lately been:
- feeling tired at work
- yawning a lot all day
- not as productive as usual
- never getting more than 7 hours anyway, whether good or bad
So on this particular Tuesday, I overthought things, as usual. All the best research says that power naps should be between 10-20 minutes, but does this include the time you take to fall asleep?
Are you supposed to be asleep for 10-20 minutes, or does resting quietly while you wait to drift off count as part of the 10-20 minute nap?
I had no idea, so I set the timer for 22 minutes (guessing it would take 2 to fall asleep). I didn’t fall asleep until I only had about 3 minutes left, so I did another 22 minutes. Consistently overthinking things, that’s me. Also, I was profoundly tired, and it’s my lunch break so I can do what I want.
After the second nap set, I woke up disoriented and yawning with drool running down my cheek. I took a walk outside and I was still tired and yawning.
Napping Day 1: Not exactly a victory.
Day 2 – Wednesday
Any lifestyle change has an adjustment period, so I wasn’t dissuaded after Day One’s lackluster results. I didn’t sleep well Tuesday night, so I was extra tired this morning and primed for some solid lunchtime napping.
I set a timer for 22 minutes again. One day doesn’t make an experiment, and I still wasn’t certain whether I was supposed to get 20 minutes of sleep or 20 minutes of quiet rest which might also include sleep.
On this distinguished day, I was never able to fall asleep or drift off. I spent a great deal of time contemplating what constitutes as a nap. I still wanted to know:
If you set your timer for 20 minutes, does the time that you’re waiting to fall asleep count as part of your power nap?
Napping Day 2: Even less of a success than Day 1.
Day 3 – Thursday
I fell asleep at 9:30 Wednesday night, literally unable to keep my eyes open. I was watching one of my favorite UFO shows on History Channel and I still couldn’t stay awake.
I woke up at 8 this morning, though I’d been awake for up to an hour when this weird alien mothership sound woke me in the middle of the night. Google came up with nothing. Maybe it was leftovers from falling asleep watching UFO Files.
Despite nearly 11 hours of sleep, it was still hard to wake up. I took a nap from 3 pm to 3:22 pm, and drifted off near the end. It was later in the day than I wanted to nap, but I had lots to do at work, and because I was so tired, I wasn’t doing it very efficiently.
The best time to take a nap is between 1 pm and 4 pm for most people, so I was really cutting it close.
I woke up and was yawning again for the rest of the afternoon. My obvious thought: I must be doing this wrong.
I did some more research (while yawning copiously) and answered at least one question: Why didn’t I feel super bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I woke up from my power naps?
The 20-minute nap produced benefits 35 minutes after waking, the 30-minute nap produced immediate post-nap grogginess and benefits that took over an hour to emerge, while the 10-minute nap was the sweet spot. Subjects who napped for ten minutes enjoyed immediate boosts to all markers. (source)
So that explained why it took a little bit for the effects to get going.
I’ve also decided to try a more natural sleep cycle. If I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, I’m going to get up and start my day. Even if it’s at 3:30 am. There’s always napping.
Napping Day 3: There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but it could just be a tractor beam.
Day 4 – Friday
One day doesn’t make an experiment, but 3 might. I decided I was overthinking things too much (versus overthinking them just enough) and deducted the extra 2 minutes from my timer. My new strategy was to learn how to fall asleep lickity split so I could benefit from 20 minutes of napping instead of giving my nap-ability a handicap right off the bat with a spare 2 minutes.
I set the timer for 20 minutes today. Praise, I fell asleep a little faster and felt like I got a little more rest from it. I was yawn-y again despite that, but it started clearing up around 45 minutes later. I am obviously severely sleep deprived. I got about 7.5 hours of sleep Thursday night; obviously, I need 10.
But I did find the answer to my burning question:
Napping is not sleeping. To get the benefit of a refreshing power nap, you don’t need to fall asleep. It’s enough to relax yourself and let your thoughts drift off, even while remaining mostly awake. (source)
Napping Day 4: The Scientific Method saves the day.
— Holly O. 🎃 (@GirlAlchemy) October 17, 2016
Day 5 – Saturday
As we all know, the weekends are for work, and I was working on my sleep.
It turns out, these badass scientists in Europe have determined that some of us (ahem) are actually programmed to go to sleep and wake up later. Night owls, rejoice!
So all of those people who say asinine things like “The early bird gets the worm,” and “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom,” (really, Aristotle?) can take their hollow platitudes and —
Well, actually, it turns out I’m a ‘slight early’ type.
Yep. The scientists even sent me a graph to prove it.
Keep in mind that their idea of ‘slight early’ is that I like to sleep from midnight to 8, which is probably more of a beautiful European work schedule than many of us could get away with in the US.
You can find out your own Chronotype here. Tell me in comments: Are you an early type or a late type?
I had an appointment to get Rolfed at 4 pm today, so I skipped my normal Saturday hang-with-Nate sesh to sleep in.
Then I took a nap around 1 pm. I took a risk and did it on the bed (versus a less comfortable place), and Cthulu have mercy, it was glorious. Y’all, angels were straight up singing.
I was feeling so great all freaking day. I got about 10 hours of sleep, then took a 20-minute nap, and then got Rolfed. If every day could be like this day, I would be Beyoncé.
Napping Day 5: Progress!
Day 6 – Sunday
I was feeling pretty great from Saturday’s progress, and I got another 10 hours of sleep Saturday night. Despite appearances, I am not a hungover college student. I’m just a 30-year-old woman who doesn’t get enough sleep.
This sleep debt thing is real, and it’s insidious, and you probably have it.
But can you actually make up lost sleep by sleeping extra? Yes. And you need to do it. I joke that I need 9.5 hours of beauty sleep every night, but that’s total BS. It’s my body trying to clear up my sleep debt.
Napping helps, but it’s only one piece. You also need to get good solid sleep at the right time for you.
Today, I was pumped from getting a lot of sleep and hanging out with Nate. We did laundry and cleaned the kitchen and for some reason, doing that with another person makes it somehow exciting. I don’t know; we danced a lot, so it was fine.
I didn’t get around to my nap until right at 4 pm. I was nervous it would mess up my sleep later that night, but I didn’t want to break the chain, so I settled in for a 20-minute nap on the bed.
I fell asleep almost immediately, woke up briskly, and felt great the rest of the day.
I’ve noticed that I did get super tired right after we ate a slice of pecan pie. So, obviously, carbs do give you that afternoon slump feeling (duh). I just hadn’t realized how much they affected me until this experiment. I don’t eat them too often, but I suppose I should lay off the goldfish in the snack closet at work when I’m working late. Also, that pie was totally worth it.
Napping Day 6: We’re finally getting somewhere!
Day 7 – Monday
On the 7th day, I felt like I was finally getting into the swing of things. I won’t say that I woke up today feeling magical, but I did feel like I was progressing into the realm of Real Person from the quagmire of What Is Sleep.
I realized that I was spending way too much time on things I couldn’t afford to spend so much time on. I was seriously over-working myself.
My philosophy is often, “Work super hard on X now, so it will be done and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
But as soon as X is done, Y’s going to pop up. You know it is. So it’s okay to be a little more chill with X. And I needed to learn to stop working at 10 pm (or earlier!) and go to bed, instead of working right up until midnight, every night.
So after 6 days of napping, I was starting to think a lot more clearly. It was my most efficient work day in weeks. I remembered things instead of having to look everything up, and just that was a huge boost to my productivity.
At lunch, I took a 20-minute nap. And it was a 20-minute nap. I set the timer, lay my head on my desk, and drifted off. After 20 minutes, I woke up, stepped outside for a spot of sunlight, came back in, and rocked the rest of my day.
Napping Day 7: This shit works.
The Magic of Naps
It took some time to adjust, but napping is absolutely all it’s cracked up to be. I’m still taking daily naps at lunch and I plan to continue forevs. As far as I can tell, the benefits only get better the longer you do it.
Sleep Isn’t for the Weak
Since beginning my nap experiment, I’ve read more into sleep cycles and plan to apply a more natural sleep cycle to myself. Over the last two nights of my nap experiment, I woke up naturally around 5:30 am, and instead of getting frustrated, I lay in bed and enjoyed the quietness of the morning and how oddly refreshed I felt.
On both of those nights, I did eventually fall asleep again, and when I woke up for work a while later, I wasn’t nearly as refreshed. My body was obviously telling me to get my ass up at 5:45.
Horrific as that sounds, I’m going to just start rolling with it. I’m no longer stressing about getting a solid 8 hours every night because I know now that I can nap during the day as needed. So why stress? Just sleep when you need to sleep and wake up when you’re ready to wake up.
Do you nap? What’s your favorite time of day to do it? How long do you nap?