We all want to sleep like a baby, but it makes more sense to strive to nap like a baby. After all, babies wake up throughout the night for feeding and changing — not something you want as adults. On the other hand, napping is proving to come with the benefits many of us want. And companies are starting to figure this out as well. Some places of work even offer dedicated space for quick afternoon catnaps.
Napping: the good…and the not-so-good
Along with a good night's sleep, napping can bring about some important perks, like improving:
- Short-term memory
And unlike caffeine, taking a nap won't make you feel wired and more prone to making mistakes.
You have to be careful, though, that your nap doesn't extend more than 30 minutes. Doing that could mean you wake up feeling tired rather than refreshed and it could make getting to sleep at night difficult. (We'll get to the right way to nap a little later.)
Different naps for different reasons
Generally, there are three different types of naps:
- Habitual. In certain parts of the world, afternoon naps (sometimes called siestas) are normal and expected, even during a workday. These naps happen at the same time every day (after lunch, for example).
- Emergency. In some situations, it's just not safe to be even a bit sleepy — like when driving. These naps are ideal if you get a sudden feeling that you just can't continue without a little shuteye.
- Planned. Want to be the last to leave the party? Pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline? Learn from shift-workers: Studies show that taking a nap before a night shift can help combat fatigue, and taking one during a long shift can improve performance and alertness.
Now that we have the why covered, let's look at the how.
The right way to nap
Try these tips to get the maximum benefits of napping without sacrificing your nightly beauty sleep:
- Keep it under 30 minutes. Plan for 10 minutes to fall asleep and 20 minutes to actually snooze. Set your alarm so that you don't over-nap, which could make you feel groggy for the rest of the day.
- Nap between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. This is when you're likely to feel the mid-afternoon slump. Finishing your nap by 3:00 p.m. probably won't prevent you from falling asleep at bedtime.
- Make it easier to nap. If you can, find a place to lie down since it may take you longer to fall asleep if you're just sitting. Dim the lights, block the sun using shades or an eye mask, and stamp out disruptive noises with earplugs. And make yourself comfortable by taking your shoes off and even curling up with a blanket.
- Fight the guilt. Get into the right state of mind by allowing yourself to take a half-hour nap. Take deep breathes or meditate to relax your body, and tell yourself how much better you'll feel and how much more you'll get done when you wake.
Making it right for you
We're all different so don't be surprised if napping just isn't for you. You may find it hard to fit it into your schedule or fall asleep in the afternoon, or feel worse when you do.
You may also find more benefits from napping for a longer period of time, and still be able to sleep at night. Research shows, for example, that napping for 30-60 minutes may help improve decision-making skills, and help you remember directions and vocabulary. Longer 60-90 minute naps are thought to boost creative problem solving skills.
So give napping a try and see if you wake up to a brighter afternoon.