How to Nap Right

By Holly Bieler
Updated on 04. Sep. 2020

Napping has been shown to have a slew of health benefits, however, not all naps are created equal. Below, our top tips to get the best nap of your life.

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Nappers might get a bad rep, but a look at the science seems to prove that cramming in a few z’s during the day isn’t just not-lazy, but can actually be incredibly productive. Studies show that napping can increase alertness, concentration, memory, mood and even help lower blood pressure, among other benefits. What’s more, it’s surprisingly common; more than one third of all Americans are consistent nappers. That said, when it comes to a little mid-day shut-eye, not all naps are created equal. Indeed the line between an energizing, restorative nap and one that ruins your day and leaves you crazy-eyed is a decidedly thin one, best navigated with a few tips and a little prep beforehand. Below, our top tips for napping right.

Keep it short.

The optimal nap time should run between 10-20 minutes, just enough to ease you into the first two stages of sleep, or ‘light sleep’. During these stages, eye movement, brain waves, and muscle activity start to decrease, allowing your body and mind to enjoy the restorative powers of sleep without transitioning into stage three. Stage three, as far as napping is concerned, is your mortal enemy. It is your kryptonite, your uncanny valley, things going well right up to the point of it and then getting really weird once you get there. Also known as “deep sleep” stage 3 is when your “sleep inertia” kicks in, that bleary-eyed, body-heavy feeling that makes it so hard to get out of bed in the mornings, and leaves you cranky and slightly hungover-feeling after a too-long nap. The worst part? You don’t even have to nap that long before the deep sleep sets in and messes up your entire day. Just half an hour is long enough for some people to reach it. So when we say keep your nap no longer than 20 minutes long, we mean it. 

Don’t nap past 4 p.m.

Quickly-- take an inventory of all your best naps. How many of them took place past 4 p.m.? The answer, of course, is 0. No good nap happens after 4 p.m. For one, a late-afternoon snooze is the veritable Russian roulette of napping, chancing the possibility that when you wake up it will be dusk, or even nighttime, a monumentally depressing experience which will ruin you for years of naps to come. It’s also all but guaranteed to mess with your sleeping schedule, whereas a nap taken even an hour earlier generally leaves enough time that it won’t have a great affect on your ability to fall asleep that night. If you’re on a weird sleeping schedule, this won’t, of course apply to you. The rule of thumb is to leave at least four hours between your nap and when you plan to fall asleep.

Do nap between 1-3 p.m.

Studies show that the best time for adults to take naps is between 1-3 p.m., when it has the least effect on our sleep-wake cycles. If you’re on a normal schedule, this is also around the time when your lunch has finished metabolizing, leading to a natural dip in your blood sugar and energy levels. Of course optimal napping times will differ a bit for each person depending on their schedule and bodies, which is also something to pay attention to. If you’re feeling sleepy before 1 p.m., even if you woke up refreshed, chances are you’re not getting enough sleep at night.

Schedule your nap beforehand.

This might sound like the ultimate in anal retentiveness-- schedule a nap? But in reality, setting aside a specific time each day for your afternoon doze will make for a much more successful nap in the long run. First of all, it will allow you to take full advantage of the benefits of napping, especially when it comes to work. Taking a short nap around 1-3 p.m. is a great way to divide up the day and can even help you pivot between tasks. Setting aside the pre-nap morning hours for creative work, for instance, and your post-nap hours on administrative work, creates a natural deadline that can keep you on track and will have you enjoying some rest right after you’ve completed one set of tasks, and refreshed and energized to pivot to a new set of tasks. It will also force you to manage your work and errands throughout the day to leave time for that 20 minutes in the afternoon. Without a set schedule, it’s all too easy to take a nap only when you think of it or are at peak exhaustion later in the day, when a nap will undoubtedly upend your sleeping schedule.

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