Naps: better late than never?
April 1, 2008 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Can I nap in the evening without screwing up regular sleep?

Making a long schedule short: up at 5 a.m., personal projects and phone with long-distance fiancée until I walk to work at 7:30; work until 5 p.m., walk home and arrive 6 p.m. for exercise, dinner, and more personal project stuff, bed by around 10 p.m.

I get reeeeal draggy in the evenings, though; planned exercise is getting rather spotty because I don't have the energy, work on long-term projects is shoved aside in favour of sitting glassy-eyed in front of the computer, etc.

I've thought about napping, but it's not really possible during my lunch hour, and the best time would be from 6:15-6:30 p.m. or something similar. But I have a fuzzy idea that this is too late in the day to nap, it will destroy my sleep cycles, etc. I have searched around a bit, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of solid information on when you can nap.
posted by Shepherd to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Give it a try. If a 15 minute cat nap invigorates you for the rest of the evening, especially if you exercise after the nap it is worth it. If you take a 15 minute nap and can fall asleep until 2AM, then it is not worth it.
posted by prk14 at 1:11 PM on April 1, 2008

Based entirely on personal anecdotes, my highly expert answer is that it depends.

Personally, I can't really do it. When I take a nap in the late afternoon or evenings, I find it very difficult to wake up. And then I feel super groggy all evening and get nothing done. And then I can't fall asleep when it is actually bedtime.

However, I do have a friend who is a nap guru and who takes a nap every single day after work. She has no problem taking 30 min to 1 hour naps and then waking up, having dinner, and being productive until bedtime.

Really, the only thing to do is to try it yourself for a week to see (1) how your energy is after an evening nap, and (2) whether it affects your ability to fall asleep later in the evening.

My advice is to try to keep your naps fairly short, preferably under 30 minutes, as I have realized I become more useless the longer I nap.
posted by dumbledore69 at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I"ve never been able to - it's like coffee, after 3pm. Why is the lunch hour nap verboten?
posted by notsnot at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2008

I read the secret to a good nap is to have a cup of coffee, and then nap for about 15mins; the caffeine will kick in just as you are waking up preventing any grogginess.
posted by zeoslap at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Optimal nap length varies with the individual and how used you are to taking naps. A 20-minute nap does wonders for me; YMMV.

Your sleep cycle should not be adversely affected by a short nap 3-4 hours before your normal bedtime. Too long and the grogginess will be worse than if you hadn't had a nap at all.

Seconding the pre-nap caffeine infusion. I think it works for me but I really like coffee, so perhaps I'm not the most objective person.
posted by WalterMitty at 1:24 PM on April 1, 2008

I can do it with a lunchtime or afternoon kip, if I've not slept much the night before (like today) but doing it in early evening I find is counterproductive as I'm too wide awake come my normal sleeptime (or I just end up sleeping through)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:29 PM on April 1, 2008

Also I find I need to sleep for at least an hour or so or I feel just as tired as if I don't do it...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2008

People are different, which is part of the reason why you're getting a bunch of different answers.

'Can I take a nap in the evening without messing up my sleep patterns?' might be a question best answered through experiment.
posted by box at 1:48 PM on April 1, 2008

People differ too much here to make our experiences worth much to you. In general, though, you should be able to infer through trial and error how short a nap you need to take, and how early, in order to be able to fall and stay asleep.

You might also try staying away from carbs at lunch, eating as light a dinner as possible, and maybe getting the exercise in before you have a chance to collapse into a chair in the evening. All these things will give more energy in the hours leading up to bedtime.

In the end, though, we fall asleep at bedtime because we're tired. You can't expect to not be tired at 8, not be tired at 9, and then at 10 flip a switch and fall right asleep. It takes a certain amount of willpower to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Which I will note that I do not have.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:53 PM on April 1, 2008

Try the coffee and nap combo, but for the love of kisses, brush your teeth afterwards. And then, try that orange flavored sublingual Melatonin at night. I have touchy sleep cycles and neither of those external controls would mess me up.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:21 PM on April 1, 2008

YMMV, but I take an early evening nap fairly often. Here's my experience with this sort of thing:

- I don't take a nap unless I can do it for around an hour. Other than that it doesn't seem to work.

- After I get up from a nap, I feel pretty groggy for about 10-20 minutes but then I feel fine.

- I don't take a nap every day. Most days I feel fine in the evenings and don't need one. If I do start feeling tired in the evenings and don't take one, it gets worse and worse every day until I get more than my usual amount of sleep. After that, it "resets" so that I don't need one for a while.

- I'm very good at falling asleep when I'm not tired. I could stay up all night after taking a nap if I wanted to, but I purposely fall asleep at the normal time so I don't screw up my sleep cycle too badly. For me it's all about going through a routine and trying to relax so that my brain can go into sleep mode.

So, for me, taking a longish nap in the evening is very good for catching up on sleep.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:27 PM on April 1, 2008

I'm a physician with a particular interest in sleep medicine. YMMV, but the idea of a cup of coffee prior to a 20-minute nap when you get home from work sounds good.

It's natural to feel groggy in the late afternoon. There is a biological alerting process that occurs through the evening to fend off your growing sleep debt, and tapers off in time for bed. Practice good sleep hygiene by avoiding TV, computers, video games, and any other bright lights or exercise in the hour before bedtime.

The Promise of Sleep will give one an excellent understanding of sleep and wakefulness, although admittedly it's overly long and somewhat redundant, although it does read well. Makes great bedtime reading.
posted by neuron at 3:13 PM on April 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all -- I guess "give it a shot and see what happens" is the only possible answer. It's comforting to not see a slew of "no, you'll irrevocably screw up your sleep cycle" answers, though.

I'll try the decaf version first, then with coffee if that doesn't do the trick. I can't sleep RIGHT when I get home from work, as I'm kind of jazzed up from the 4-km walk, but I figure a half-hour to simmer down, then a nap, then back up and around at 7 p.m. should maybe do the trick.
posted by Shepherd at 6:00 PM on April 1, 2008

I agree with the "try it out" advice, but man, speaking from my own personal experience, my sleep cycle is just shot, and I think a big part is the after-work exhaustion nap. When I wake up from it, I'm revitalized so much that I don't go to sleep at a good time, and then I stay up too late and wind up groggy and unhappy the next day ... and in need of an exhaustion nap after work. :( For me, at least, it's like spoiling your dinner by snacking.
posted by cadge at 6:49 PM on April 1, 2008

Dare I say it, but if you're totally dragging all night, just start going to bed at 9? If you're too tired to enjoy your free time all night, you might as well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:26 PM on April 1, 2008

Maybe its just a college student thing... but I absolutely love the 'coffee naps'. Caffeine takes a while to get into your system, so downing an iced coffee right before laying down for 20 minutes is great. The caffeine ends up kicking in just in time to offset the groggy just-woke-up feeling. Otherwise my naps will end up being 3 hours instead of 20 minutes.
posted by speef at 8:41 PM on April 1, 2008

Give it a shot. I, personally, am unable to "nap." It's full-blown sleep, and I will not wake up. It screws up my sleep schedule.

Other people benefit greatly from naps, though, and end up working them into their sleep schedule as a non-disruptive habit. I had a friend during college who would nap between certain classes every day, and it worked great for him.
posted by Nattie at 5:44 AM on April 2, 2008

Hi, I'm a big fan of nap time. I get up at 7am and I get home about 6.30pm so I'm usually really tired by this point and will often have a nap. I set my phone alarm and pretty much drop off straight away (no caffeine!). I will 'snooze' the alarm maybe once but once I'm vertical I'm pretty much awake again.

I've been doing this for years and it's great, like going up for a gasp of air, or having a mental reboot without full shutdown, but I do have to be a bit disciplined to keep grogginess/sleep cycle interruption to a minimum, so the following seems to work best for me:

1. It must be at least three hours before proper bedtime
2. No longer than 20 minutes (5 more with alarm on snooze)
3. Fully clothed
4. On top of (rather than 'in') bed.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:43 AM on April 2, 2008

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