Is Sleep Hangover a Real Thing

As a kid I'd call this "Sunday Afternoon Nap Syndrome" because when I woke up from my nap, I'd still feel totally wiped - like I could never fully wake up.

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I recently read an article about Sleep Hangover that said that the reason we feel so totally wiped after sleeping in is because of our circadian rhythms and biological clock getting thrown off when we oversleep.  But, I don’t have to just have an extra-long night’s sleep to end up with sleep hangover, a long nap will do it just as well as what seems like a regular night’s sleep.

I remember as a kid I’d call this “Sunday Afternoon Nap Syndrome” because I’d often take a nap on Sunday afternoon and when my mom would wake me up I’d just feel totally wiped and like I could never fully wake up. Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I can end up feeling a “sleep hangover” without sleeping in, or taking a long nap. It seems that I can wake up feeling tired, achy, and like I can’t move regardless of the amount of sleep I actually get.

The last few weeks I’ve been using a Fitbit to track my sleep. Last night, despite being in bed for over 10 hours I slept less than seven, and when I woke up I didn’t feel like I could move, let alone get out of bed. I was groggy and out of it and I felt like I was fighting through a fog just to be conscious.

So, if sleep hangover is a real thing, and if it’s caused by getting too much sleep, as the Wired article seems to indicate, then why am I waking up with a sleep hangover regardless of whether I get seven hours or twelve?

According to Dr. Michael Breus it might be a result of waking up at the wrong time–in the middle of a REM cycle. We sleep in 90 minute cycles, taking about 30 minutes before we hit full REM sleep. So, napping just 10-20 minutes will keep us from hitting REM and allow us to wake feeling more refreshed. Otherwise, we need to make sure that we sleep for at least 90 minutes, or multiples of 90 minutes.

This explains a lot for me. I’ve always felt that I needed to sleep in three hour intervals (90 minutes times two). And, chances are that my mom woke me from those Sunday afternoon naps after an hour, not letting me complete the cycle.

Taking a look at my Fitbit I can see just how long I slept and in what intervals and last night my sleep was all over the place. I had one span of sleep that actually lasted a little more than 90 minutes, but all of the other sleep times were less than that.

What’s worse is that the last couple of hours I was in bed I was mostly awake, sleeping fitfully for about 30 minutes at a time. Just as my system was going into REM sleep I was waking up again.

What’s most interesting to me, though, is that there were seven spans, according to the Fitbit, when I was awake (or at least moving around) for up to thirty minutes at a time. I don’t remember being awake which means that I was either in one really fitful dream or I was just moving around in my sleep a lot. That would certainly explain not feeling rested.

I honestly don’t know how people who wake up to alarm clocks on a regular basis do it. How do you keep your alarm from interrupting your sleep right in the middle of a REM cycle? There are some new wearable devices out there that claim they will wake you during the end of a sleep cycle, ensuring that you wake up without that dreaded sleep hangover. I have no idea if they work, but now that I’ve learned that it could keep me from a sleep hangover, I’m certainly curious to find out.

The next time you wake up wondering about that whole “sleep hangover” thing, rest assured (pun intended) that sleep hangover is a very real thing, and that you are not alone. But, there are things you can do to avoid it like sleeping in 90 minute intervals, and taking shorter naps.

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