Getting a bit of sleep involves more than just deciding to nod off, especially if you’re lucky enough to get the chance to fit a nap into your daily schedule. Understanding the difference between power napping and sleeping allows you to make the most of your sleep time and reap the many benefits of smart snoozing.
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Power napping takes place when you sleep in short bursts, allowing your body to enter just the first two stages of sleep. These first two stages of sleep typically take only 20 to 30 minutes, according to "Beauty Sleep" by Dr. Michael Breus. True sleeping, or deep sleep, occurs when your body is at rest long enough to complete all five stages in an entire cycle of sleep. The final stage during this sleep cycle -- called rapid eye movement or REM sleep -- accounts for approximately 25 percent of total sleep time in a given night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
As a general rule, most people begin to get sleepy approximately eight hours after awakening in the morning. This occurs as part of your circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock the human body naturally follows, according to "Find Your Focus Zone" by Dr. Lucy Jo Palladino. Although a typical power nap lasts only 15 to 30 minutes, the average adult requires 90 to 120 minutes to complete a full sleep cycle, says Dr. Breus. The difference in duration between these two forms of sleep explains in large part the popularity of power naps. Most people typically don’t have the time to take a full-length nap.
Both power naps and deep sleep improve your brain power and increase your body’s stamina, but deep sleep typically produces more extensive, longer-lasting results. During a full cycle of regular sleep, your body rejuvenates and repairs itself. Various activities that take place include memory consolidation, muscle and tissue repair, energy restoration and hormone releases, according to the National Sleep Foundation. During a power nap, your brain slows down, your body temperature lowers and your muscles relax. Much like taking a quick drink of water helps hydrate your body, power naps refresh your mind and relax your body in a relatively short time.
Power naps play a key role in supplementing regular sleep patterns, but don’t fall prey to the belief that they can replace hours of deep sleep. Once you decide to power nap, set a timer or alarm for 20 or 30 minutes to ensure that you don’t oversleep, which can cause your body to shift from power napping to full-fledged sleeping. If this happens and you awaken during the middle of a sleep cycle, you can experience sleep inertia -- excessive grogginess, fatigue and disorientation that can completely offset the potential benefits of taking a nap. What’s more, oversleeping might even keep you from being able to get your normal nighttime sleep, which could exacerbate the lack of sleep your nap should solve.