Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Margaret Thatcher, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush all have something in common – they’re among the many well-known figures throughout history who understood the value of taking short naps to improve their moods, alertness levels and overall mental performance.
Whether you’re temporarily sleep deprived or find yourself consistently needing to counter afternoon drowsiness, naps are a great way to boost mental capabilities, improve cognitive function and generally recharge your batteries. Not all naps, however, are created equal. Here are some dos and don’ts for making the most of a snooze:
- Set a Limit of 30 Minutes
A short nap of 25 or 30 minutes will give you a chance to get some rest without going into a deep sleep cycle. Being in a state of deep sleep is difficult to come out of, and will leave you feeling even groggier and more tired when you eventually do wake up. Short power naps are great for people who feel tired during the day as a result of not getting enough sound, uninterrupted sleep the night before.
Short naps normally don’t interfere with nighttime sleep, but longer or more frequent naps can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. According to a study by the American College of Cardiology, napping longer than 40 minutes should be avoided, since there appears to be a correlation between taking long naps and obesity and diabetes, as well as higher blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels.
- When You’re Especially Tired, Try a Full Sleep Cycle Nap
The average person’s sleep cycle is about 90-minutes, so a full-cycle 90 minute nap will allow you to go into the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. According to the National Institute of Health, REM sleep is when dreaming occurs, as well as when both the brain and body are reenergized. It’s thought that REM sleep is also associated with learning capabilities, memory storage, mood balancing and enhanced creativity. Assuming you can find the time, a full sleep cycle nap can help you offset the effects of not getting enough sleep.
The two best options for catching up on sleep are to take either a short 30-minute nap or a 90-minute full sleep cycle nap, but naptimes of durations between should be avoided. The choice depends upon how much time is available and the amount of lost sleep you’re trying to offset.
- Try Taking a Caffeine Nap
Contrary to what you might think, caffeine can play a role in taking and awakening from a short nap. Have a quick cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage followed by a 20-minute nap, which is about the amount of time it takes for caffeine to have an effect on the brain and body. Shortly after you awaken, the caffeine will kick in and you’ll feel energized and refreshed. It’s a great way to recharge in just a few minutes.
- Avoid Napping After 4 P.M.
If sleep deprivation is the reason you’re feeling tired, a short afternoon nap can boost your energy levels. You’ll probably find it easiest to fall asleep between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm, which is when your body clock naturally tends to make you feel a bit sleepy. You’ll already have eaten lunch, so your blood sugar and energy level will automatically start to drop. It’s also when the human body’s circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle is at its lowest point. Trying to nap earlier might be difficult, since your body might not be ready to sleep. Napping after 4:00 pm might interfere with your being able to fall asleep when it’s time to go to bed for the night.
- If You’re An Insomnia Sufferer, Avoid Taking Naps
Short daytime naps are a great way to counter the effects of sleep deprivation, but for insomniacs, taking a nap may have the reverse effect and make it even more difficult to sleep at night. Although a nap may sound tempting, napping can actually result in a cycle that worsens symptoms in insomnia sufferers. Insomniacs who nap during the day may be less tired and unable to fall asleep at night, which in turn makes them want to take a nap the following day. Breaking the cycle by avoiding naps can create a “sleep debt” that may make it easier to fall asleep at night, which is the primary goal of insomniacs.
- Nap in Restful Surroundings
Whenever possible, try taking naps in sleep-conducive surroundings, preferably a quiet and private darkened room with the thermostat set at a comfortable temperature. Be sure the room is free of distractions such as televisions, tablets and other types of digital devices. Turn your mobile phone off while you nap, and if necessary use a sleep mask, earplugs or even a white noise machine to help you fall asleep.
Some well-known international companies, including Google, Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s, Procter & Gamble, PricewatershouseCoopers and Nike realize the value of short power naps for improving their workers’ performance while on the job. To encourage napping, each of these companies has rooms or sleep pods set aside specifically for employees to take quick power naps during their break periods.
- Even a Quick, 10-Minute Time Out Can Help
If you don’t have the time or aren’t in a place that’s convenient to take a nap, taking 5 or 10 minutes for a super-short power nap can help when you’re feeling sleep deprived. Following a night of disrupted sleep, these few minutes spent resting can help you to remain alert through the rest of the day.
- Spend a Few Minutes Outdoors
Another alternative for getting an energy boost when you’re tired and stressed but taking an afternoon nap isn’t an option is to go for a brief outdoor walk in the sunshine. Most people’s core body temperatures drop during early to-mid afternoon. The drop in temperature causes the pineal gland in the brain to produce melatonin, which is a naturally occurring sleep-inducing chemical that controls the body’s internal clock. Spending a bit of time in the sunlight will halt the production of melatonin and make you feel less drowsy.
- Know When to Skip Naps
Napping isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you can’t fall asleep during the day, consistently wake up from a nap feeling groggy or have difficulty falling asleep at night after a daytime snooze, you’re probably better off not taking afternoon naps. As noted earlier, insomniacs should also avoid daytime napping. As an alternative, try some meditation techniques, which can provide many of the same benefits as napping. Just sit back, close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax your muscles for 10 or 15 minutes.
- Sleep on the Right Mattress
To wake up relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on the day starts with getting a good night’s sleep, and that begins with sleeping on a mattress that’s the right size and comfort level for your unique body shape and lifestyle. The knowledgeable sleep consultants at Sit ‘n Sleep are on duty 7 days a week to help you choose the perfect sleep system. Stop by one of our 38 conveniently located Southern California Mattress Superstores – we’ll have you sleeping and napping well in no time at all!