How to nap better according to a sleep expert

Where to do it, how to wake up refreshed and more.

Where to do it, how to wake up refreshed and more

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

We're becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of naps, from sparking creativity to protecting your heart, but those benefits only occur if you're napping the right way. Anecdotally speaking, a reckless nap could make the rest of your a cranky blur, and that's if you succeed in falling asleep at all. So, how to master the fine art of the successful snooze? We tucked in with sleep expert Alanna McGinn of Good Night Sleep Site for some tips and tricks to help you get into your next nap with ease and back up feeling refreshed.

What's the best time of day to nap?

According to McGinn, finding the right time of day to nap is a delicate balance between being tired enough from the first half of your day, but not so tired as to turn your siesta into a full-fledged sleep. She says, "The best time to take your afternoon nap is between 1-3 p.m.," McGinn explains. "This is when our natural sleep rhythms, our circadian rhythms prepare our bodies to sleep." So, on an average day, if you're up between 6-8 a.m. and in bed by 10-12 p.m., that post-lunch window is the perfect space to snooze. While this can be adjusted according to the specifics of your schedule, McGinn warns: "We want to avoid napping too late because we don't want it to interfere with bedtime."

How long should you nap?

The American Sleep Association recommends you either nap between 15-30 minutes or 90 minutes, because there are actually two kinds of naps. The first, shorter version, commonly known as a "power nap", can last 30 minutes or less. This shorter duration prevents you from entering deeper (REM) sleep, but still gives you the benefits of the initial sleep stages (slowing down your muscles, brain waves and heart rate while lowering your core temperature) and an easier time waking up. Even a 10 minute nap has been shown to yield benefits for your mental performance and alertness. Beyond 30 minutes, you begin entering REM state, a deeper sleep that is difficult to wake up in the middle of, leaving you groggy instead of refreshed. If you're going to sleep longer than 30 minutes, it's best to take the longer, second kind of nap, lasting 90 minutes. With a 90 minute nap, your body can complete a full sleep cycle and the increased benefits of deeper sleep before waking. So if you don't have a full hour and a half, cap your nap at 30 minutes.

Should you nap every day?

While science continues to point to the benefits of a daily nap, like relieving your stress, boosting your immunity and improving your working memory, you don't need to force yourself to nap every day. McGinn believes that how often you nap ultimately "depends on the individual", and that its best to let your body tell you what it needs. She does caution this: "If you are falling asleep consistently during the day and find that you're quickly falling into a deep sleep, then you are likely making up for lost sleep throughout the night and improving your night sleep should be the focus." She adds that, "If you are consistently waking up tired in the morning and experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, it's worth having a conversation with your doctor." Your sleep patterns can also change as you age, decreasing in quality and raising your risk of additional disorders, so it may be beneficial to be more strategic about napping as you get older. Overall, paying attention to how you sleep at night and your energy levels throughout the day come before making napping a daily priority.  

Will napping affect my nighttime sleep?

It's important to understand the relationship between napping and nighttime sleep. Naps within the recommended guidelines "generally don't affect nighttime sleep quality for most people," says McGinn, "However, if you experience chronic insomnia or poor sleep quality at night, napping might worsen these problems." McGinn goes on to say that if you nap too long or too often, especially outside the suggested times of day and lengths, it may interfere with your nighttime sleep, but "overall, napping can benefit most people, even if you get a full night of sleep." Treating your night sleep as the root and napping as a useful accessory is the best way to use both effectively.

Does a nappucino work?

What's a nappucino, you say? It's the ritual of drinking a coffee then taking a short nap for a supercharged rest and apparently, it does work. Caffeine can take about a half hour to affect your system, the perfect window for a quick snooze before you get that buzz. Though it does seem effective, "Caffeine affects everyone differently," says McGinn, "so the theory behind it may not work the same for everyone."

Should you nap in your bed?

When it's naptime, it may be tempting to crawl into your cozy bed, but your bed is for sleeping, not napping. McGinn recommends "sleeping in a quiet and dark environment that isn't your bedroom. We want to continue to encourage a strong sleep association between your bed and sleeping at night." Getting a little too comfortable in your bed could seriously hamper your wake up abilities.

Creating your sleep space

If not your own bed, then where? "Create your own nap pod," says McGinn, "you want to keep things quiet and dark — think cave-like settings and you can use sleep tools like eye masks, ear plugs or noise machines to help create the perfect nap environment for you." Those nap accessories are especially useful for shift workers, whose schedules may require them to nap in light or loud environments.

Should you nap at work?

Work naps used to only be reserved for those named Costanza, but they're becoming more and more publicly accepted, with students and retail shoppers also looking for the perfect siesta. When it comes to the office space, McGinn believes that "sleep support and education should be available more in the workplace. Well-rested employees are proven to be more productive, more efficient, and overall happier within their work environment, so it really can be a game changer for a company's business plan."

How can I nap at work?

If your workplace doesn't yet offer state-of-the-art napping stations, that shouldn't stop you from getting some shuteye, you just have to know how to work it in. "If naps are possible during the day, you can use your private office or conference room to take a quick cat nap," explains McGinn, "There needs to be open communication to all employees that scheduled nap times are allowed so that a person doesn't feel guilt about putting their head down at the desk for 20 minutes or so."

What do I do if I can't nap?

So you've finally set aside the time to nap, you lay down and you're wide awake? It's okay. "A nap shouldn't necessarily be forced," McGinn explains, "If you're not tired enough to fall asleep, it's best to then go to bed earlier and bank on longer and better quality night sleep." If you're having trouble winding down to get into nap mode, there are plenty of techniques, like focused breathing, relaxing yoga poses and meditation specifically designed to prepare your body for sleep. In addition McGinn says one of the biggest nap-killers is tech, so ditch those noisy, blue light-emitting devices before you snooze.

You may be in a situation where it's impossible for you to fit a nap in, and that's okay too. The benefits of napping are great, but the benefits of good nighttime sleep are greater, so make sure you're at least sleeping a solid 6-8 hours each night, and leave the napping to the lucky ones.

Are you a master napper or still a student of the siesta? Tuck us in with your napping tips below.


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