All About Napping
There’s nothing quite like giving in to your heavy eyelids and drifting off to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. Even if it’s just for a short time.
From carefree kids and overworked parents to even the family pets, it seems like everybody loves napping. In the United States, one in three adults have taken one in the last twenty-four hours, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Indeed, napping happens all over the world, among all age groups.
There’s the famous 20-minute power nap at work. The commute doze-off on the way to or from the office. The Sunday afternoon snooze. The list goes on and on.
Some say they are the unexpected “hack” that helps them be productive all day long. Others deride them as the vice of the lazy or unorganized—a bad way for those who don’t get their eight hours a night to play catch up.
But what does science say about naps? Are they really as good as they feel? Can they make us more productive? The answers might surprise you.
Are naps good for you?
The short answer to this is yes, under the right conditions. Napping is essentially “sleep lite;” when we do, we fall asleep faster and move through the stages of sleep just as we do at night, though we often jump more quickly into the type of sleep we need the most. When performed correctly (we will get into this later), they are one of the best ways not just to catch up on missed sleep, but also to get a myriad of other health benefits as well.
If you do it right, napping provides a ton of short-term benefits, such as:
- Feeling less sleepy (duh)
- Increased alertness
- Improved cognitive functioning
- Improved mood
- Enhanced short-term memory
- Improved psychomotor functioning (activities such as driving a car or playing an instrument)
There is also some evidence that napping may provide limited cardiovascular benefits, though more research must be done.
Are there downsides?
With all those benefits of napping, you might be wondering why we don’t take them even more.
For one, there are logistical obstacles to stealing the time and space for a quick snooze. Though there is a growing trend to allow employees to sleep at work, most people still find it difficult to fit into their schedule.
Even if you have some time and a comfortable place to close your eyes, effective napping is made all the more difficult by a concept referred to as sleep inertia in the scientific community. For the rest of us, this phenomenon is known as, “feeling extremely groggy when I wake up from a nap,” syndrome. Waking up can be as difficult as waking up in the morning if you fall into a deep sleep (especially slow-wave sleep), making the proper timing of a nap all the more important.
The Mayo Clinic also points out that some people might experience trouble sleeping during their nighttime sleep schedules or staying asleep after napping during the day. Though they don’t seem to affect most people in this way, but those who are prone to insomnia or with sleep disorders should avoid taking long naps regularly.
What does the perfect nap look like?
Although there probably isn’t one “perfect” nap, there are certainly better naps for different needs. For example:
- If you just need a quick afternoon pick me up: Anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes should do the trick. At this length you are unlikely to experience severe sleep inertia, making your return to work easy, and you will experience the benefits of napping for about 3 hours.
- If you want to prepare for a long night of work or play: Try taking a nap for an hour or two. You will definitely experience some sleep inertia grogginess after you wake up, but the benefits of your nap can stay with you for up to 24 hours afterwards. Just make sure you don’t need to be in a meeting (or operate heavy machinery) immediately after you wake up!
- Something in between: If you just need a boost that will take you through the afternoon and evening but not all night, try sleeping for about 30 to 45 minutes. You will get a little bit of grogginess, but not much, and the benefits of your nap will last about 12 hours.
Tips for napping your best nap:
Now that you know the ups and downs of napping, here are a few extra tips to help set yourself up for the optimal nap experience:
- Best time to nap: We all experience afternoon drowsiness. For those who rise early, that window is around 1 to 2 p.m. For late risers, that time is about an hour and a half later. Timing in this window will help you fall asleep quicker and avoid disrupting your nighttime sleep schedule.
- Decide what kind you need: Do you need a quick ten minutes? Or are you going to a rave later? Choose how long to nap, and set an alarm that gives you enough time to achieve the right amount of sleep.
- Choose the right place: Find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Get yourself comfortable, and try to darken your environment (a sleep mask works great if you can’t dim the lights).
- Give yourself plenty of time to wake up: Make sure that you are aware of the things you have to do when you wake up. It’s not the best idea to drag yourself into an important presentation five minutes after waking up from a two-hour nap. Shorter is better for the workplace, as they make you less drowsy when you wake up.
- Take notes and improve: After trying these techniques for a while, you should begin to find a rhythm that allows you to take effective naps depending on your personal lifestyle. Make sure to pay attention to how you sleep in the evenings following naps. If you find it difficult to sleep in the evening, you may be sleeping too much during the day.