Naps vs. Meditation: What’s the Better Refresher?

It’s the middle of the day and your battery feels like it’s running out of juice. 

You could use a recharge, but not at the expense of daytime productivity or nightly sleep. 

Take solace in the fact that normal circadian rhythm leads to a natural decline in energy, somewhere between 1:00 and 3:00 PM for most people. This dip in energy is often referred to as the afternoon slump. 

This decline in energy can inspire actions that lead to menacing results, like when you reach for that second or third cup of coffee. On the other hand, napping and meditation are natural ways to refresh effectively. 

Whether naps or meditation are the better refresher just depends on your situation. 

Are You Sleepy or Tired?

When the energy flow in your body is low, whether it’s from blocked emotional energy or a low biochemistry pulse from low quality food or toxic light, it can feel like sleep deprivation. 

A helpful distinction to make when you feel a low pulse is whether you are sleepy or tired. In other words, are you fighting to stay awake or are you struggling to produce energy from food and your environment? 

Napping when you’re tired but not sleepy, besides being challenging, may not leave you as refreshed as you hoped since that’s not what your body is really asking for. 

In the 1950s, doctors William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that during sleep, we travel through cycles of roughly 90 minutes, going from light to deep sleep. A decade later, Dr. Kleitman also uncovered that these 90-minute cycles repeat themselves during wakefulness, establishing something known as a basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC). 

This transition between cycles from deep wakefulness (high energy) to light wakefulness (lower energy) could lead you to believe it’s time for a nap. But in reality, it’s just another curious aspect of biology that’s quite normal, won’t last very long, and provides you with the perfect opportunity to meditate.  

If making the distinction between sleepy and tired feels like splitting hairs, here’s another perspective. 

The Call From Sleep 

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From the moment we wake up, there is a sleep drive in all of us that steadily increases as the day goes on. We also have an awake drive, something called the alerting signal, which for the most part is stronger than the sleep drive and also steadily increases throughout the day. 

Without this alerting signal, our days would simply be a series of naps. 

Naps that are 20 minutes long are appropriate, because they usually occur during a brief period where your body’s sleep drive is stronger than its alerting signal, unlike at night when a strong and continual sleep drive is sustained by darkness and a diminished alerting signal. 

If you don’t keep this aspect of biology in mind, it could create a lot of psychological impact, such as emotional fatigue. For instance, a casual afternoon slump can lead you to believe you haven’t slept sufficiently, which can be just as impactful as actually lacking sleep. 

However, if you’re sleep deprived, napping in this window may not provide enough sleep to satisfy your sleep debt, leaving you even sleepier than before. It’s also easier to sleep too far into a cycle, where it becomes more difficult to wake up out of deeper sleep. 

The reality is that few people these days get optimal sleep. Even so, humans are diurnal beings and there is no true way to make up for lost nighttime sleep the next day. 

Like yesterday’s bakery-fresh bread, the sleep you consume tonight (that you should have consumed last night) might still taste like sleep, but it’s past its prime and will not give you the same physical or emotional satisfaction. 

If your circumstance has you starving for sleep though, “expired” sleep is certainly a  better solution than starving while you figure out how to synchronize your sleep clock. 

When to Nap and When to Meditate  

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When the call for a nap occurs at the same time every day, it’s a good indication that you’re sleepy, your circadian rhythm works just fine, and your sleep drive is asking for a nap. 

However, take notice if naps are interfering with your nighttime sleep. Your body needs a certain amount of sleep debt for sleep to come easily at night, and napping could just make it take longer for you to fall asleep at night. 

In a biological sense, naps and meditation have more similarities than they do differences, providing benefits like improved mood, lowered stress, and healing, to name a few. 

So why would you choose meditation instead of a nap?

Meditation creates such benefits but with more intent, challenging you to narrow your focus, where napping is more passive. You become more involved in your healing and hyper-aware of the nourishing aspects in your reality that sleep will never show you. 

Naps on the other hand, can almost be sourced in the frustration of fatigue at times. 

When you consider the various types of meditation and the benefits of each type, meditation offers what sleep can’t: sleep for the conscious mind, the same mind that loves to intervene with sleep. 

Where sleep restores your body from the wear and tear of life, meditation restores your mind from the emotional wear and tear of your interactions with the outside world, and even with yourself. 

You could argue that meditation is just as important as sleep, but instead of choosing one or the other, you can nap without missing out on the opportunity to meditate. 

Naps and Meditation Can Both Be the Better Refresher 

Meditating in the morning and evening adds a healthy ritual to your day and possibly eliminates a less healthy one: looking at your phone first thing in the morning and right before bed. 

Starting your day with a meditation that guides you toward what you’d like to feel, accomplish, or manifest sets a precedent that allows you to predict the outcome of your day, which could include scheduling a nap. 

When you are grounded this way, you are less grounded to the lower frequencies that contribute to the lack of energy that can be misconstrued for sleepiness. 

Lower frequencies could be things like negative thoughts, lower vibrational foods, or even toxic people. Meditation helps you notice these distractors more easily and mindfully avoid them, leading to an energy state that can be refreshed easily and intuitively. 

Likewise, a relaxing meditation shortly before bed is the perfect appetizer to a purposeful night’s sleep. 

What You Can Do 

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In short, meditating when you are tired and napping when you’re sleepy is a good rule of thumb to choose the better refresher. But if your sleepiness comes from sleep debt and not a natural midday decline in your alerting signal, what you need is more than a nap. 

In addition to creating better sleep habits, napping closer to 90 minutes may be helpful, since this length of time replicates a sleep cycle and you will likely be woken up by a diminished sleep drive. But be careful, sleeping this much in the day can interfere with your ability to sleep at night. 

If you feel sleepy but would rather meditate, try meditating outside. Being indoors all day, especially if you’re looking at a computer screen and sitting under unnatural blue light, has a depleting effect on your energy. Exposure to such electromagnetic frequencies literally zaps electricity out of your cells. 

Blue light and red light from the sun naturally provide the refreshment you seek from a nap and replenish your cells with the electricity they’re missing. 

If you are in a transition period and attempting to change your sleep circumstances –– for instance, if you’re healing insomnia –– skipping naps creates the sleep debt your clock needs to be properly set. 

In such a precarious time, certain eyes-open meditations can help you establish brain connections that will allow you to discover energy you didn’t realize you had.