Don’t you dread those slow afternoons when you just had lunch and feel so sleepy you would agree to help someone move over a long weekend if you could only take a little nap? But you’ve toughed it out before and you will again, because napping is for children and the elderly, and luckily you don’t check the latter box yet.
What are the benefits of napping?
Our society tends to overlook the benefits of a nap. Those who see it as reserved solely for kids or seniors couldn’t be more wrong, because there is absolutely no better way to boost your alertness, mental agility and creativity during the day than by having a nap. The reason is napping tends to trigger a lot of NREM sleep which increases your productivity and helps you regenerate physically. What’s more, naps are proven to be a serious mood booster that help manage stressful events with a lot more patience. But who needs that.
In terms of providing a quick pick-up during the day, napping is far more efficient than drinking coffee or energy drinks and, more importantly, it’s significantly healthier too. It also comes without a ‘crash’ that is so commonly experienced after energy drinks.
As for the long-term benefits, taking regular naps lowers the risk of heart disease and helps reduce blood pressure. It also lessens the risk of weight gain and helps fight sleep deprivation.
However, napping right comes with some constraints. For example, those suffering from insomnia or a similar sleep disorder should be aware that sleeping during the day, especially late, can make it even harder to fall asleep at night. Also, regular naps should never be forced. If you find it hard to drift off and even after a month of practicing it takes you more than 10 minutes to do it, you can safely assume that this pleasure just isn’t for you.
When should I take my nap?
To get the most out of your nap, you should know that like with many things timing is everything. Choosing the wrong time to nap might not only take away its benefits but also leave you groggy and drained. Falling asleep within five hours after waking up should be rather difficult if you got a good night’s rest, so if you feel the need to nap then, it most likely means that you need to look into sleeping longer or better at night. On the other hand, if you nap late in the day, not long before going to bed for the night, you can disrupt your general sleep habit.
So, what’s the best time? It heavily depends on your biological clock, but the most accurate estimate would be around seven hours after waking up. If you look at the nations for whom taking a siesta is common practice, they tend to start around 2 pm with lunch, which they then follow with a brief nap or some simple rest. As you can see, eating before a nap is well advised because it helps us fall asleep. Exercising or having sex is also recommended, though we wouldn’t mix them with food.
How long my nap should be?
The duration of your nap isn’t meaningless either. If you take a nap at the right time, it makes it easier to define its perfect length. If possible, don’t use an alarm to wake up from the nap, and allow yourself to do it naturally. If you’re meeting the president that evening for dinner and you can’t risk oversleeping, set it for a 10-30 minute nap. Such length should leave you refreshed without feeling groggy. The place for your nap is also of consequence, but generally the same rules as for you regular nightly sleep apply. It should be cool, dark and quiet.
Golden rules of napping
Naps, just like many other great things in life are only good in moderation. So, no more than once a day and no more than 100 minutes a pop, or it might indicate a bigger problem you’re having with sleeping. If that’s the case, try to give yourself more time to sleep at night and reflect whether the sleep you’re getting isn’t lacking in quality.
In case you want to make sure that you’re doing it right, grab this handy checklist:
- Don’t take more than one nap a day.
- Don’t nap shortly before going to bed (early afternoon is the best time).
- Don’t drink coffee before your nap.
- Don’t drink alcohol before your nap.
- Avoid stress before the nap.
- Try not to use an alarm clock, but don’t nap for too long.
- If it takes you more than 10 minutes to fall asleep, don’t bother.
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- Hayashi, M., & Hori, T. (1998). The effects of a 20-min nap before post-lunch dip. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci, 52(2), 203-204.
- Mayo Clinic. (2015, October 3). Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/napping/art-20048319
- Takahashi, M., Fukuda, H., & Arito, H. (1998). Brief naps during post-lunch rest: effects on alertness, performance, and autonomic balance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 78(2), 93-98.