Napping is often linked with laziness in our culture. But the truth is that if you are habitually sleep-deprived – as many people who work at night are – naps can be an effective way to supplement your regular sleep block. In fact, numerous scientific studies have shown that a quick nap – 10 to 20 minutes – provides an alertness boost that lasts for many hours. Therefore, a nap can mean the difference between falling asleep when you don’t want to (such as on the job or behind the wheel) and feeling alert through the most difficult overnight and early morning hours.
While you no doubt already have your own napping experiences, there are a few things you may be unaware of that can help you make the most of your naps. And if you’re one of those people who has difficulty napping – or believes that naps make you feel worse – this information may change your tune.
The 5 Keys to Effective Napping are:
#1 - Nap preparation: At home, many people find it helpful if they follow the same routines and guidelines they use when preparing for their regular sleep block. This might mean making your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible and avoiding heavy, greasy food beforehand.
#2 - Nap timing: Because of ups and downs in your circadian rhythms, certain times are better than others for naps. During the day, the best napping window is in the afternoon, from about 12 to 4 p.m. Conversely, it may be difficult to nap between 7 and 9 p.m. because alertness tends to rise in the evening. In any case, listen to your body – is it telling you that now is a good time to sleep or not?
#3 - Nap length. Sleep experts agree that naps should either be relatively short (10 to 20 minutes) or long (about 90 minutes). These recommended lengths are designed to minimize sleep inertia – the temporary grogginess and disorientation people often experience when they wake up from deep sleep. While nothing beats several hours of sleep, you may be surprised to learn that even a 15-minute power nap can really help you recharge your batteries.
#4 - Waking up. Even if you time your nap length well, you may still experience some sleep inertia, so it’s a good idea to clear your head before driving or doing anything potentially dangerous. You might also do the things that you ordinarily do when you wake up -such as washing your face, doing some exercise and having a cold drink of water or a cup of coffee or tea.
#5 - Find your nap personality. An important point about napping is that tremendous variation exists among individuals. Notwithstanding our advice about nap timing and length, some people have no trouble napping at any time of day, and some people are fond of hour-long naps. By trying different nap times and lengths, you can find your nap personality and develop a strategy that works best for you. Bonus Tip - Napping before a night shift. Have you ever tried taking a nap in the late-afternoon or early evening before working a night shift?
Many people who try this say they feel more alert and less tired during their shift. Give it a try and see if you notice a difference.