New insights into the science of sleep may offer relief to night shift workers and new parents, two groups notoriously challenged by sleep deprivation.
A recent reanalysis of data from pilot studies conducted between 2012 and 2018 reveals that a 90-minute nap followed by a 30-minute nap is more effective at combating fatigue and maintaining alertness during a 16-hour night shift than a single 120-minute nap.
The Ideal Nap Schedule
The study, authored by nursing science professor Sanae Oriyama at Hiroshima University, analyzed the effects of different nap lengths and timings on fatigue and cognitive function during a simulated 16-hour night shift.
The participants were 41 females in their 20s. They found that two separate naps—a 90-minute one and a 30-minute one—were more effective at staving off drowsiness until 6 a.m. compared to a single, longer nap.
Implications for Night Shift Workers
Night shift work, especially in emergency sectors like healthcare, often involves non-traditional hours and can lead to increased risk for sleep-related disorders and impaired performance.
Oriyama’s findings suggest that a two-nap approach could be more beneficial for tasks requiring quick responses and high levels of safety, especially between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m.
The Sleep Cycle and Cognitive Performance
The study also examined the impact of nap length on cognitive task performance and found no significant improvement for either the single or split nap scenarios.
However, taking longer to fall asleep during the 90-minute nap session led to poorer cognitive scores, underlining the importance of efficient sleep.
Advice for New Parents
Besides aiding shift workers, the research could also help new parents facing sleep deprivation.
Oriyama suggests that the strategic combination of a 90-minute and 30-minute nap could be valuable for maintaining lower fatigue levels and fast reactions, important for safely taking care of infants.
Scheduled Naps: For night shift workers, aim for a 90-minute nap that ends at midnight, followed by a 30-minute nap that ends at 3 a.m.
New Parents: Mimic the two-nap strategy during your day to counteract sleep deprivation from nighttime baby care.
Optimal Conditions: Try to nap in a quiet, dark environment and avoid waking up mid-sleep cycle to minimize grogginess.
Time it Right: Delaying your nap too much can impede your focus as your sleep drive builds up. Further research is needed to pinpoint the ideal nap timing.
Further Research Needed
While these findings are promising, Oriyama acknowledges that further studies are required to validate the optimal timing and schedule for long night shifts.
By helping both night shift workers and new parents manage fatigue better, these findings have far-reaching implications. It’s time to nap smarter, not longer.
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The research findings can be found in Scientific Reports.
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