Tips for Taking Better Naps

Man napping on purple couch

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You know the feeling. It’s the dreaded afternoon slump—thoughts of your comfortable bed fill your head, but you struggle through the fatigue, or maybe you pour yourself a cup of coffee or visit the office vending machine for a quick sugar rush. But instead of using sugar or caffeine to keep yourself going, or simply muscling through the fog while producing less-than-optimal work, what if you gave in to your body’s prompting, and took a little nap? Just because you aren’t in preschool anymore doesn’t mean you have to give up the simple joy of an afternoon snooze. But if you want to reap the most benefits, you need to nap right.

Where Should You Nap?

Sure, you can catch forty winks on the couch, or catnap in your recliner, but if you’re at home when it’s nap time, the best spot for sleep is in your bed. The couch might be comfortable, but it probably doesn’t provide adequate support to your spine and hips when lying down.

But what if you are at work when the urge to nap strikes? Some progressive companies actually have nap rooms available on the premises, but if your workplace isn’t quite so broadminded, you’ll have to make other arrangements.

First of all, don’t nap outside your regular break periods, or you may very well wake up fired. Secondly, it’s not a good career move to sack out on the floor of your cubicle, stretch out across a table in the lunchroom or snore loudly while drooling on your desk. Instead, look for a little privacy. If you are in an office with a door, the solution is as easy as shutting it during your break. If not, look for:

  • A bench in a resting area, such as the lunchroom or restroom
  • An unused conference room
  • A nearby coffee shop or bookstore with cozy seats
  • Your car

Most importantly, set an alarm so you don’t sleep away the afternoon.

How Long Should You Nap?

  • Power nap: When it comes to napping, most of the time, shorter is better. The ideal nap session for a quick boost to energy levels is 10 to 20 minutes. This is just enough time for you to enter the early, light stages of sleep, without drifting into the deeper levels of REM sleep where dreaming occurs. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and alert, without grogginess or a “nap hangover.”
  • Afternoon siesta: If you are very tired and have enough time, aim for a 60-minute siesta. Not only will you catch some Z’s, but also sleep researchers have found that a one-hour-long nap helps improve your memory for facts and figures. This is enough time for you to cycle into the deepest levels of sleep, but not enough time to naturally drift back up to the lighter levels, so you will probably feel somewhat groggy for a brief time after awakening, but it should pass quickly.
  • Restorative nap: If you need to catch up on significant lost sleep, shoot for a 90-minute nap. You’ll have enough time to pass through the entire sleep cycle, including REM dream sleep. Because you’ll wake up at the end of a natural sleep cycle, you shouldn’t feel too groggy or have sleep inertia.
  • Don’t: Avoid half-hour naps, which are the likeliest to leave you groggy for an extended period after awakening.

What’s the Best Time to Nap?

The simple answer is, “When you’re tired,” but the better answer is early afternoon, generally between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. Any earlier, and you’ll miss the natural “nap window” created by your body’s daily rhythms, any later, and you’re likely to have trouble getting to sleep that night.

What Are Some Other Napping Tips?

  • Drink a caffeinated beverage right before your 10 to 20-minute power nap. The caffeine will kick in while you snooze, and you’ll wake up raring to go.
  • Just as you need a dark room for the best sleep at night, your nap’s quality will be improved by a dark resting spot. It’s harder to find such a place during the day, however, so wear a sleep mask to block out the light.
  • If noise is a problem, run a white noise machine or slip in earplugs to block it out.
  • Don’t pile on the blankets—it will be harder to wake up on time.
  • If possible, lie down to nap. If you need to sleep sitting up, use a dog bone pillow or U-shaped travel pillow to keep your neck and head comfortably supported.
  • Quiet your mind by counting sheep, repeating a mantra or any other technique that helps you slip into sleep.
  • Skip naps if you always wake up feeling groggy, can’t sleep during the day, feel grumpy afterward, or have a hard time sleeping at night after taking an afternoon nap.
  • If you know you are going to be pulling an all-nighter—perhaps traveling or working on a major project—your best strategy is to take an extra-long nap the day before, instead of trying to catch up on sleep afterward. In such a situation, aim for at least two hours of downtime.

The benefits of a nap are many, including lowered stress, improved memory and focus, and heightened creativity. But the best thing about a nap—ask any cat or toddler—is that it just plain feels good.