Feeling sleepy in the afternoon is human nature. Everyone naturally experiences dips in energy levels due to two systems, biological hormones and the circadian rhythm (our “internal clock”). These dips occur when we need them most, the largest being during the hours of midnight and dawn, and a second smaller dip between around 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.. The post-lunch dip can be quite frustrating during afternoon lectures but, as a student, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the signs your body is giving you. Sometimes the best choice for your health is to take a break and take a nap.
A 20 minute nap carries several benefits that help to improve alertness, enhance performance, and even better your mood. It can be tempting to continue sleeping after 20 minutes, but the longer you sleep, the more you will advance further into the sleep cycle. This will make you feel groggy when you wake up (as if you have a sleep hangover). A nice 20 minute nap allows you to stay in the lighter stages of non-REM sleep and still provides many benefits.
Let's say you have a 3 hour gap in between classes, then you may have the opportunity to take a 90- 120 minute nap. A well timed, 90-120 minute nap allows you to complete one entire sleep cycle. This includes sleeping through the lightest stage to the deepest stage of sleep and back again. If you have enough time to complete the cycle, you can allow your nap to go longer (past 20 minutes to a full 90-120 minutes) and not feel groggy upon waking.
Health & Wellness Nap Tips: When you nap, you decrease the sleep debt that you have accumulated throughout the day. This is VERY helpful if you slept less than your optimal amount the prior night. Naps are also a great pick me up in the midday dip! Depending on your bedtime, try to wrap up your nap around 3-4 pm so that your body can build up enough sleep pressure to induce drowsiness and desire to sleep in the evening. If you are consistently taking naps and unable to fall asleep or stay asleep for a full night of rest (i.e. experiencing insomnia) it is recommended that you work with a healthcare provider to help you get your sleep back on track. Longer naps later in the afternoon can impair your nighttime sleep and hinder the establishment of a regular routine which is essential for consistent, good sleep.
· Short afternoon naps can improve alertness for up to 2-3 hours
· Promoting sufficient sleep supports your goals of academic success