Why you want an afternoon nap
Everyone knows that post-lunch feeling of wanting to just curl up with a warm blanket at work and take a little snooze. They even give workers time off for this sensation in Spain and other Latin American countries. Your “siesta-feeling” is often linked to eating a big lunch, and wanting to doze off while the body digests.
What if we told you this phenomenon is actually linked to a biological and cardiac rhythm clock programmed into our bodies? The fluctuation in sleepiness and alertness throughout the day are symptomatic of intricate sleep and wake machinery hard at work in your brain. There are two main processes that are the controlling factors in why you want to doze off around mid-afternoon, post-lunchtime.
The first is called your homeostatic sleep drive. This cycle determines that the longer you are awake, the more chemicals build up in your brain and send a signal to make your body feel sleepy. This cycle explains why someone who was been awake for 18 hours straight does not feel as inexplicably tired as someone who has been up for 36 hours straight.
You’re probably thinking – right, makes sense, but then why do I feel sleepier around 2PM than I do at 7PM? This has to do with the homeostatic interaction with your circadian rhythm. This rhythm is an internal clock that works to keep your brain feeling awake at specific times of the day. This rhythm takes a notable dip around the 2-4PM afternoon slot. At about 4PM, the rhythm kicks in again for your next jolt of alertness, carrying you right to be at about 10PM.
To develop a schedule that works well with this rhythm, plan on doing most of your work between 8AM and noon, and again from about 4PM until 7PM. Plan an easier activity for that afternoon lull.