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The physiology of naps

Austin Frakt updates us on the latest in nap research: Turns out lying down is better than leaning forward, but both are better than nothing. This is good for Frakt, a skilled napper. "As few as five minutes of shut-eye and I’m refreshed and recharged," he says. "When the need arises I can nap briefly just about anywhere. I’ve napped at rock concerts and on all manner of surfaces and in contorted positions."

To which I say, really? When I nap, there's at least a 50-50 chance that I'll wake up feeling groggy and awful. Whatever cognitive benefits naps offer, they're vastly outweighed by the period of time in which I'm useless and unhappy and desperate to go back to sleep. And it's not as if I'm bad at waking up in general: So far as the morning goes, my experience is that I'm better and quicker at waking up than most. So what gives?

By Ezra Klein  |  April 27, 2010; 4:59 PM ET
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What gives? I don't know. It may be a matter of practice. But I suspect that some can nap and others can not. Perhaps it has to deal with our REM sleep and how well we restore body temperatures after sleep.

Some research could be of great benefit.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 27, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

What gives? I don't know. It may be a matter of practice. But I suspect that some can nap and others can not. Perhaps it has to deal with our REM sleep and how well we restore body temperatures after sleep.

Some research could be of great benefit.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 27, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Research has been done on optimal nap time. 10 minutes has been shown to be the most effective, compared to 5, 20, and 30 minute naps.

"The 5-minute nap produced few benefits in comparison with the no-nap control. The 10-minute nap produced immediate improvements in all outcome measures (including sleep latency, subjective sleepiness, fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance), with some of these benefits maintained for as long as 155 minutes. The 20- minute nap was associated with improvements emerging 35 minutes after napping and lasting up to 125 minutes after napping. The 30-minute nap produced a period of impaired alertness and performance immediately after napping, indicative of sleep inertia, followed by improvements lasting up to 155 minutes after the nap."

"Conclusions:These findings suggest that the 10-minute nap was overall the most effective afternoon nap duration of the nap lengths examined in this study."

Posted by: Sonters | April 27, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Simple. People are different. Some people fall asleep easily and wake from naps rehreshed, and wake up alert in the morning. Others can't fall asleep easily and are fussy as small children when they wake up. In my experience it has to do with how much caffeine the person is used to. I can fall asleep in the afternoon and evening, usually fall asleep easily at night and wake up pretty alert, even when I am awake in the early am hours before falling asleep again. I know people who take a few cups of cofee to get going and more throughout the day, and are grouchy and foggy until they get them.

I suspect peope who nap easily think naps are great and those who don't, not so much.

Posted by: Mimikatz | April 27, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Naps are the best thing ever stumbled upon by man. Just asks dudes who go through hell week how much a nap can accomplish when short on time. I strongly recommend getting good at naps.

Posted by: tangosucka | April 27, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

sounds like it's time to update the old Steven Wright joke: "Did you nap well?" "No I made some mistakes."

Posted by: bdballard | April 27, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

When I intend to nap, I somehow almost always end up sleeping at least 4 hours.

On the other hand, I never really got the hang of waking up in the morning either, and even though I don't drink coffee first thing I am groggy and listless for quite a while after waking up. Some days I'm in a semi-trance state until my stomach interrupts to ask when we're going to have lunch.

Posted by: VermilionSparrow | April 27, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Consider the possibility that you're somewhat sleep deprived in that way many Americans are so used to they don't recognize it as sleep deprivation. So if you're body is given the opportunity to conk out, you dive into REM sleep, which is where you wake up feeling groggy.

Or, you know, something totally unrelated.

Posted by: erikharrison | April 27, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

I hate naps. I'll gladly substitute a 5 minute nap for a good latte. :-)

Posted by: JERiv | April 27, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

That grogginess is called sleep inertia-

I'm in medical school, and it's a frequent topic of discussion since there are new resident work-hour rules being considered, forcing people to get sleep. It's a big problem- one of the issues under consideration is requiring programs to enforce a mandatory sleep period on overnight call, and the sleep inertia problem may make residents less, not more, able to cope with problems.

Interestingly, sleep inertia is actually the only part of sleepiness proven to be counteracted by caffeine- that is, people perform better on memory tasks after they wake if they have caffeine, but that caffeine effect is not present in people who are sleep deprived.

Posted by: erlking1 | April 27, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

In my life as a grad student I rarely get more than 5 hours of sleep, often as little as 3. I still pop right out of bed though. Some days do hurt, but I'm fine by the time I get out of the shower. A nap though? Long or short, when I wake up from a nap I'm grumpy, groggy, and utterly useless for at least 2 to 3 hours. I'll take my cracked out sleep-deprived brain over the groggy mess a nap gives me every time.

Posted by: nylund | April 28, 2010 1:20 AM | Report abuse

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