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A Guide on Rapid Eye Movement (REM Sleep)

How do you energize yourself during a regular day when coffee, food and all your other tricks don’t seem to work? Take a quick power nap.

Just like your computer, which needs a break every now and then, your body also needs to relax in intervals—a power nap can help you do that. It’s a short sleep usually taken during the day in between regular work hours.

Why nap?

For many of us today, an erratic sleep schedule or excessive work can result in exhaustion, lethargy and drowsiness. Naps help you fight these issues by increasing your alertness, boosting creativity, and reducing stress.

Napping Durations and REM Sleep

Napping durations differ. Airline pilots sometimes take what is called a “NASA” nap during a flight—it’s an exactly 26-minute nap that helps them wake up feeling energetic and alert. There are also those who like to take longer naps to help catch up on insufficient sleep at night. 90 to 120-minute-long naps during the day can help you make up for the sleep you’ve lost. These latter naps help you enjoy a more complete sleep cycle because they are about the same length as one, moving you from non-REM sleep to REM sleep.

What is REM sleep and the sleep cycle? When you go to bed, your body goes through five different stages of the sleep cycle. In the first, you fall asleep while your body and muscles begin to relax. The second is called light sleep, in which your heart rate begins to slow down and your body temperature drops. The third and fourth stages are called deep or slow-wave sleep, in which it’s hardest to be woken up from.

Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the fifth and final stage of your sleep cycle. During REM sleep, your brain and body remain as active as they are when you’re awake. Your heart rate and breathing speed up, your blood pressure increases, and your eyes move rapidly in all directions (hence the name). Thanks to all that brain activity, this is the stage that you dream in.

During the REM stage of sleep, the areas of your brain associated with learning are stimulated, which also helps consolidate long-term memory. Research also shows that naps clear your mind and increase creativity: as per a study conducted by the University of California Berkeley, students who took a 90-minute nap before a presentation performed better than their peers. They were better able to remember facts and details, and also learned more in the process. The best part? When you wake up from a good 90-minute, you actually don’t feel groggy because you’re at the end of a complete sleep cycle.

What about shorter naps?

If you can’t afford to take a nap for 90 minutes because you’re at work, for example, research shows that the ideal nap time is about 20 minutes.

When you decide to take a power nap, i.e., a 20-minute nap, you only limit your sleep to the first two stages of sleep. This allows you to wake up feeling rested and alert unlike if you had entered deep sleep. If you nap for more than 45 minutes, you risk entering the 3rd and 4th stages of the cycle, and will probably wake up feeling groggy.

Tips to nap like a pro

Now, you know what REM sleep is and what a power nap is too. Learning to take the right kind of naps comes with practice (sounds good, right?). Here are some pointers:

  • Your environment: Create an environment that is conducive to sleep. The perfect low temperature, dim lights and silence work best to ensure that you rest and wake up feeling energetic.
  • Choose an appropriate time to nap. Avoid napping in the evening because you won’t feel sleepy later at night. Afternoons work best: if you’re a night owl, you might feel sleepy between 2.30-3 pm. If you hit the bed early, you might feel the pull of sleep at around 1.30-2 pm. You could also take a late-morning nap if you didn’t sleep well at night.
  • Listen to soothing sounds: Constant soothing noise like waterfalls or other natural sounds can help you fall asleep quicker.
  • Keep your eyes closed: Even if you are new to napping and can’t fall asleep, try to keep your eyes closed. If you don’t end up napping, your eyes will at least feel rested.
  • Resist the temptation of sleeping in: Even if you feel sleepy after your power nap, resist the temptation to go back to bed for any longer. Try to do some physical activities that require minimal effort so that the drowsiness disappears.
  • Sleep aids: If you find that you’re napping too often, it might be because your regular sleep schedule is affected. Setu’s non-habit-forming melatonin sleep supplements will help you regain your natural sleep cycle. You can also dab some lavender essential oil on your pillow to help you fall asleep with ease.


Should I be worried about an insufficient amount of sleep?

If it happens all the time, then yes. It could be due to a hectic work schedule or even an underlying health problem. If you’re suffering from insomnia despite taking necessary measures to sleep, it’s best you see a doctor.

Are there any issues with consistent oversleeping?

Oversleeping can result in you feeling lazy, lethargic and groggy. Excessive sleep is also linked to conditions like –

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart diseases

What are the risks of sleep deprivation?

A lack of proper sleep can result in –

  • Lack of concentration
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Lack of energy
  • Impairment of memory
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