Why does napping make me feel awful?
July 17, 2010 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Why do I feel like crap when I wake up from a nap? I love sleeping but hate napping (sleeping for less than 30 minutes) because almost without fail, I wake up disoriented, incredibly thirsty, and with my heart pounding, and it's deeply unpleasant. It feels sort of like a panic attack, actually, and takes me 10-15 minutes to recover from. Does this happen to anyone else? Why does it happen? Am I waking up in the middle of some critical stage of sleep? Or does it have to do with my health or lifestyle?

I exercise occasionally but not enough and consume a lot of caffeine, but I do generally get enough sleep at night, and I feel like the sleep is restful. I have high blood pressure that's under control with medication (an ACE inhibitor). My stress/anxiety level is moderate. Even when these factors vary, though--when I'm getting a lot of exercise, or not getting enough sleep, or cutting down on my caffeine intake--the way I feel when I wake up from a nap doesn't. What gives?
posted by rhiannonstone to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Same for me. I can't remember ever enjoying a nap or feeling refreshed from one. I have lots of strong negative memories about trying naps (as a non-child), though.
posted by ydant at 7:08 PM on July 17, 2010

My rule for napping is this-either ten or fifteen minutes or less, or an hour and a half, or three hours. I think you are right-you are awakening in an inconvenient part of your sleep cycle.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:08 PM on July 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yup, it's happened my whole life. I avoid napping at all costs. Ruins the entirety of the rest of my day, not just the 15 minutes after.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:13 PM on July 17, 2010

That is the case for me as well... I avoid naps, unless I have three or four hours that I don't care about...
posted by HuronBob at 7:14 PM on July 17, 2010

You're probably entering or in Stage 3 of sleep, which is deep sleep.

REM sleep happens after deep sleep. Not getting REM sleep during your nap and waking up during deep sleep is probably affecting you. If anything, I would say extend your nap to an hour or an hour and a half to get a decent amount of REM sleep during your nap.

For more info on sleep cycle's and when you enter them, check near the bottom of this page.

As a personal note, if I nap for less than hour I feel like crap when I wake up. If I nap for ninety minutes or so, I feel a lot better.
posted by zizzle at 7:14 PM on July 17, 2010

I asked this question a few years ago (http://ask.metafilter.com/94217/Why-does-my-heart-race-and-my-blood-pound-when-I-wake-up-from-a-nap) and the answers were not terribly satisfying but worth a look. Seems to be pretty common.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 7:17 PM on July 17, 2010

I have never been a good napper. If I should happen to accidentally fall asleep during the day, I awaken all disoriented and out of sorts, and I can never shake the feeling for the rest of the day. And then I invariably have a terrible night's sleep afterward. I've determined that for some reason, I am just not a napper.
posted by wisekaren at 7:18 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you want to live longer? If so practice your napping technique, you can improve it. Try meditation such as a full body scan too. There are many recent studies indicating that napping is good for your mind and body. I often work or play very late, sleep 4-6 hours, work again, nap.

My ideal day would be a long day with a good nap in the middle. Do you take any medications or drugs, even pot, that might have an affect on your nap recovery? If so experiment with dose times or abstinence.
posted by nogero at 7:19 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

My brother calls it sleep momentum- the more you sleep, the more you want to sleep. You could try taking spoon naps.
posted by emilyd22222 at 7:25 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry- meant to link to spoon naps
posted by emilyd22222 at 7:25 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

All naps for me have to be in increments of 45 minutes. I think that's just my typical sleep cycle.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:46 PM on July 17, 2010

A friend swears by a coffee nap - drink a cup of coffee, then immediately lie down and sleep. Twenty minutes later you're well rested and wake up just as the caffeine gets into your system, thereby making you even more awake and ready to go.
posted by twirlypen at 7:46 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've heard that napping past 20 minutes puts you into deep sleep, so the next optimal wake-up point is 1.5 to 2 hrs. Are you using an alarm, maybe set to an even time (it's 3:02 and you set it for 3:30)? Or are you waking up naturally but groggy?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 7:52 PM on July 17, 2010

Get yourself tested for sleep apnea.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:58 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you napping in your bed or somewhere else? Maybe the somewhere else has something that's triggering an allergy? My head feels like shit whenever I fall asleep on my couch because of all the dog dander.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:10 PM on July 17, 2010

I have the same problem, with all the symptoms you listed except the heart pounding, but with stuffy ears. I've found recently after some experimentation that if I drink a small glass of water before my nap, make sure to wear something cool, keep the room cool, and sleep no more than 90 minutes (several hour naps still kill me), it's not so bad.
posted by elpea at 8:23 PM on July 17, 2010

The only panic attacks I've ever had (if that's what they were), happened shortly after waking from naps. I experienced overwhelming anxiety, a weird dissociative feeling, and tingling in my extremities and face. It actually felt like a bad acid trip. I'm in my early 30s and wasn't on any medication at the time...but I was under a fair amount of stress. This happened twice in short succession about two years ago and hasn't happened since. I generally don't feel a need to take naps as much as I used to though... So I have no idea why this happens to you, but would guess it probably is sleep-cycle-related and basically normal.
posted by bennett being thrown at 8:49 PM on July 17, 2010

When I get up from an ill-timed nap, the symptoms I experience match, according to my friends who drink, those of a hangover. It takes at least four hours to get over. I've always blamed sleep cycle problems - it happened when I was a sprightly 11-year-old, even.
posted by SMPA at 9:01 PM on July 17, 2010

For babies & toddlers, the first couple of "sleep cycles" for daytime naps last 45 minutes each, so I can get the baby up from a nap after 45 minutes, or after 90 minutes, and he's pretty charming, but if I try to wake him up at other points he's groggy and disoriented and cries until he feels better. I don't know if adult cycles are the same, but there's copious literature on getting babies and toddlers to nap better/how to wake them/etc. A couple other people mention 45 and 90 minutes for adult naps so that may be the magic number.

I hate napping too. The only time I've found it refreshing was when I was nine months pregnant and just collapsed at 4 p.m. every afternoon. And I don't know it was so much refreshing as mandatory. Blargh, I feel icky just thinking about napping!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:08 PM on July 17, 2010

I'll nth the 20 minutes of "sleeping" during a nap. Anything after that puts you in a deeper sleep that makes it more natural to wake at the end of the cycle. You kind of have to experiment with your napping to get 20 minutes of sleeping, for me that means a 30 minute alarm - but if you fall asleep immediately, set your alarm for 20 minutes.
posted by Brent Parker at 9:08 PM on July 17, 2010

I also have the same problem. It doesn't seem to matter the amount of time. 20 minutes, 45 minutes, 2 hours. I wake up feeling pretty crappy (9 out of 10 times)

However, I tend to only nap when my sleeping habits haven't been all that great, so that may have something to do with it.

cool papa bell, can you elaborate on the sleep apnea? Would that manifest itself as crappy naps? I thought it was more related to overall general poor sleep?
posted by johnstein at 9:14 PM on July 17, 2010

Yes, yes, yes: this. As I creep closer to 40, naps happen more often than they used to, but I always feel like total ass afterwards. I don't want to take them; they take me, I have no choice.

My husband has always been a napper, but I know now that I have to wake him up at around 90-100 minutes or he also feels like shit (and won't really wake up for 10 minutes). He's a good sleeper, while I am pretty much nightly awake from 1-3am. People have their schedules; if you're not a napper you shouldn't nap. I don't think it's a disorder exactly, it's just how it is. I can tell that one day I will be a power-napper, 20-25 minutes, but I'm not quite there yet.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:57 PM on July 17, 2010

I turned out to have sleep apnea. I thought my sleep was fine--I could sleep long hours, fell asleep okay, didn't wake up in the night, didn't snore noticeably, although I didn't feel really well rested in the morning. Turned out that I was stopping breathing briefly on and off and wasn't really entering REM. Oops.

If you find yourself tired during the day (or if you can fall asleep pretty easily in a dark, quiet room or boring meeting/movie/car ride) even though you slept enough hours during the night to have gotten a full night's rest, you should consider getting a sleep study, I think.

Some people just don't benefit from naps, though, as far as I can tell.
posted by wintersweet at 10:18 PM on July 17, 2010

Dry mouth, pounding heart - DO get a sleep test. If you sleep/nap alone, you don't know if you snore or gasp for breath, and the dry mouth part indicates you breathe through your mouth when you sleep, which apneics usually do.

I find that if I am getting sufficient sleep at night, I can cat-nap for 20 minutes to a half hour and still feel great. But if I am sleep-deprived, I can zonk right out and wake up feeling cruddy unless I can get an hour or two of Z's. Maybe, especially if you DO have apnea, you aren't getting good sleep at night, so you drop like a stone right into deep sleep - usually naps work only if you sleep very lightly.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:36 PM on July 17, 2010

This was more or less my reaction to naps so I avoided them. After I retired a couple of years ago my doctor advised naps so I started trying them. I'd always been able to do ten minute naps because I never got far into sleep and that did provide a tiny bit of a boost.

Now I find one and a half to two hours is best for me. Additionally, I go to bed, pj's and all; I make sure the room is cool and I make sure I observe the full fifteen or twenty minutes it takes me to wake up gently and become fully alert.

I don't ever use an alarm but I taught myself years ago to "set my internal alarm." It actually works extremely well. (I also quit wearing a watch because I found I "know" what time it is most of the time so I don't know if everybody can do that or if I'm peculiar.)

So, what everybody else says but also, don't "grab a nap," do it in style and respect the heck out of it.
posted by Anitanola at 11:57 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

How do you position yourself when you nap?
I get the feeling cruddy, heart pounding thing when I wake up from some naps, and I'm starting to think it only happens when I'm in a position where my neck is overly bent. Say, squishing into a sofa that's slightly too short, or sitting up so my head falls forwards.
posted by lucidium at 3:27 AM on July 18, 2010

Look into polyphasic sleep. You can have a nap and feel OK afterwards, but you have to be pretty specific as to timings.
posted by Solomon at 4:02 AM on July 18, 2010

I'm a napper - optimum time is 20 minutes. I se the alarm for 25 but usually find myself waking in anticipation, fully refreshed. Any longer than that and I'd need to go for about 90 minutes or I'd get the symptoms you described above. It's like getting the psychic bends, ie coming up to quickly from greater depth knocking you out of whack.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:23 AM on July 18, 2010

I don't get that feeling often, but I find the best solution is to get up and walk around for a bit, clear my head and have a glass of water. Laying in bed feeling awful doesn't do me any good, whereas some movement and light helps me shake it off faster. YMMV
posted by gilsonal at 9:03 AM on July 18, 2010

Am I waking up in the middle of some critical stage of sleep?

Are you napping correctly?

I recently went to a lecture by... ah... a famous neurologist whose name escapes me right now because I haven't had my tea yet. He said that the ideal time for a nap is 12 hours from the middle point of the previous night's sleep. If you sleep from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m, you should take a 30-minute nap from 2:00-2:30 p.m. Anything else and you're dooooomed.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:58 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had panic attacks when waking up from shallow sleep (in fact, pretty much the only time I have them any more), and I also feel icky when waking up from naps. The ickiness is mitigated if I drink a glass of water before the nap.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:22 AM on July 18, 2010

I've had the exact same problem ever since I started napping (hated them as a kid, started out of necessity around university and after) -- pounding heart, dehydration, disoreintation, feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Felt like total crap about 7 times out of 10. I even remember reading tatiana wishbone's question and being similarly disappointed at the responses.

As near as I can tell, it seems to be along the lines of what others have been saying with regard to the length of the nap. I haven't pinned down the exact optimal timeframe, but as there are times when this happens and times when it doesn't I'd guess that the sleep stage has something to do with it. My sympathies -- it does suck.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 12:55 PM on July 18, 2010

Anecdotally, when I'm sleepy enough to take a nap during the day, it means I'm dehydrated. I don't even feel thirsty, just sleepy. If I give in and take a nap, I wake up feeling even worse. If instead of taking a nap, I drink a glass of water, the sleepiness goes away.
posted by granted at 2:01 PM on July 18, 2010

cool papa bell, can you elaborate on the sleep apnea? Would that manifest itself as crappy naps? I thought it was more related to overall general poor sleep?

Assuming it's obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, upon sleeping, the soft tissues in your airway relax and close off the air channel.

Your brain doesn't like this at all, so you're basically being jerked half-awake to gasp and get some air.

This would occur any time you are sleeping, not just napping, but the condition could worsen depending on sleep condition, allergies, temperature, etc. So, let's say you're napping on the couch -- your different sleep position on the couch could make this more prevalent than sleeping in your bed.

I think you should get tested if this is becoming a problem. At the very least, you could just film yourself taking a nap -- it's usually pretty obvious when someone is having trouble.

Alternately, if you're regularly sleeping with someone ... ask them if they've noticed you snoring or gasping for air.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:39 PM on July 18, 2010

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