The 90 Minute Sleep Cycle

by Gary Wolf

a worker sleeping on a bench afternoon nap in park

Sleep consists of two basic types: REM sleep and non REM sleep. Contrary to most beliefs the length of sleep is not the reason we awake feeling refreshed. It is how many COMPLETE sleep cycles we have.

How Sleep Cycles Affect Sleep

A sleep cycle consists of four stages three NREM and one REM stage. The body’s actual recovery comes during the REM stage but the cycle must be completed to avoid sleep inertia. Anytime you interrupt a cycle you will feel tired and groggy when you awaken possibly extending through the day. The first cycle lasts 90 minutes with the following cycles lasting 100 to 120 minutes. If someone slept 8-10 hours and didn’t complete fully complete any cycles, due to nature or noise, they will still awaken feeling groggy and tired even though they slept most of the night. Getting complete cycles is more important than just sleeping time by itself.

The Right Amount of Time for a Nap

The 90 minute sleep cycle is referring the the length of the first stage. This is the exact amount of time you should allot for your nap! What is the point of sleeping for thirty minutes if it will make you feel worse? You need that full cycle to get actual rest. Babies and toddlers will benefit the most from this when you give them their daily nap. Who am I kidding the parents will probably benefit most as the child will be easier to handle due to feeling rested. If you don’t have ninety minutes, laying down horizontally will relieve your blood pressure, enabling you to reduce your stress and relax. This is often just as good if you just need to get through the work day and will have the added benefit of helping reduce risk of heart attack.

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