Mastering the Power Nap: Daytime Sleep Tips for First Responders
Date:Thursday June 15, 2023
Many first responders suffer from sleep-related issues due in part to odd shifts and long hours without adequate rest between shifts. Taking naps can really help some people feel better rested later in the day, helping them get through their shift or catch up on sleep after a long couple of days. However, some people actually feel more drowsy after taking a nap, especially depending on the length of the nap and where the person is in their sleep cycle when they wake up.
Sleep Cycles and Napping
A sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and during that time we move through five stages of sleep. The first four stages make up our non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the fifth stage is when rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs. If a person wakes up during stage 1 or 2, most people feel refreshed–this would be a nap between 10-20 minutes. Much longer than that, though, and the body is deeper asleep and harder to wake up, leaving the person groggy and often feeling more tired than they did before they fell asleep! So, try to keep naps on the short side for maximum energy.
Napping and Nighttime Sleep
Another factor to consider when deciding if a nap might help someone feel more energy is the time of day. The amount of time that passes between when a person wakes up and when they fall asleep again creates what sleep experts sometimes call a “sleep debt” or “sleep pressure.” Sleep pressure increases as the hours go on, and the longer a person is awake, the harder it is to resist sleep. If a person takes a nap too late in the day, the sleep pressure doesn’t have much time to build up again before bedtime, which can make it harder for the person to fall asleep at their regular bedtime. Because of this, it’s best to avoid napping after 3pm, unless bedtime is being pushed back significantly into the week hours.
A Word About Sleep and Anxiety
Due to the nature of the job, many first responders experience anxiety at times. Anxiety can sometimes present as insomnia, or become worse when the person is trying to drift off to sleep, as they are in a process of mentally letting go. Anyone who thinks they may be experiencing anxiety or have chronic difficulty falling or staying asleep should talk to a healthcare professional who can recommend support and tools to help.