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Sleep experts have found that the length of your nap has a huge effect on how alert you feel afterward. It all has to do with sleep cycles.
A quick power nap should last between 10 and 26 minutes (it gets this specific for a reason: NASA scientists found that a 26-minute nap improved pilot performance by 34 percent and alertness by 54 percent).
An hour-long nap will trigger rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps improve memory, and a 90-minute snooze will get you through a full sleep cycle, which can boost creativity and emotional memory, the scientists said.
Beware of sleeping for longer than 90 minutes; you'll get drawn into “sleep inertia” and enter a new sleep cycle and won't get any additional benefits. Plus, you could negatively affect your nighttime sleep. These tips can help you snag better nighttime sleep.
istock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
For most people, the best time to nap is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. But if you subscribe to an unusual sleep schedule (super early mornings or late nights), it's best to align the time of your nap to the time you woke up.
Sara Mednick, PhD, psychologist and author of Take a Nap, Change Your Life, created a nap wheel just for this purpose. All you have to do is enter the time you woke up. The wheel will output your ideal naptime for that day (for example, if you woke up at 5 a.m., nap at 1 p.m.; for 6 a.m., nap at 1:30 p.m.; for 7 a.m., try 2 p.m.
; for 8 a.m., try 2:30 p.m.). Trying to wake up earlier? Check out these tips for being a morning person.
For new parents, getting a baby to adhere to a regular nap schedule is vital. The same thing goes for adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Taking an afternoon nap at the same time each day helps mesh the extra sleep into your circadian rhythm. Your body will begin to recognize when naptime is approaching, and you'll find it easier to nod off faster.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but sipping coffee right before a nap may be the perfect aid for optimal alertness, according to John Cline, PhD, author of Sleepless in America. Since caffeine takes about 10 minutes to take full effect, you’ll feel even more awake after your 20-minute rest. The coffee nap is more effective than either napping or drinking coffee alone, he says.
Anyone who's tried to snooze on a plane or a train knows that while you may be able to fall asleep, it's not very restful sleep.
One possible reason for this is that your sleep position influences how your brain clears waste, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. You need to be lying down, on your side, for maximal brain function, they found.
So resist the urge to nap upright and find a place where you can snooze lying down, preferably in a dark, quiet room.
The temperature in the room of your sleep space has a huge impact on the quality of your nap, according to the National Sleep Foundation. They suggest a sleep temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit—not too warm but not too chilly—for ideal napping. Here are some more natural sleep remedies.
Author Tim Ferriss recommends this trick for falling asleep faster in his book The 4-Hour Body: Assume the military half-crawl position. To do this, lie on your chest with your head on a pillow and facing to the right. Place both arms straight by your sides, palms up.
Bring your right arm up so that your right hand is under your head. Pull your right knee out to the side so it is bent at approximately 90 degrees. This position makes it almost impossible to move without lifting your entire body off the bed.
Less fidgeting has a calming effect on the nervous system, which results in faster sleep, he explains.
While many workplaces are finally recognizing the benefits of midday naps on employee performance, it's highly probable that yours still hasn't. However, if you're fortunate enough to have an office with a door that closes, you may be able to sneak in a power nap during your lunch break. Keep a pillow and an eye mask in a desk drawer so you'll be prepared!
If you have time after your nap to get outside, aim to do so. Spending time in the sunshine helps reset our biological clocks, helping us sleep and wake at times that feel natural to our bodies, according to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Sunlight can also help you feel instantly energized, helping you overcome the dreaded post-nap bleariness.
Don't have time for a real nap? Restart your day with at least one or two minutes of intentional stretching and breathing.
If you only have time for one exercise, clasp your hands behind your back and take deep breaths for 30 seconds.
The stretch will open your chest and allow you to take deeper, more invigorating breaths throughout your afternoon. Try these desk exercises for more energy.
Matthew Edlund, MD, author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough, argues that rest—in its spiritual (i.e. meditation or prayer), mental, physical, and social forms—is just as curative as sleep. One exercise he recommends is a simple form of controlled concentration.
Roll your eyes into the top of your head as if you're staring at the ceiling. With your eyes looking up, close your eyelids. Concentrate on keeping your eyes rolled up, and take at least one deep breath in and out. Focus on clearing your mind.
And hey, if you fall asleep in the process, even better!
Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD, on August 09, 2019
Originally Published:October 02, 2019
Originally Published in Reader's Digest
While napping has some real benefits, there’s more to the simple snooze than you might think. For example, did you know Thomas Edison was a napper? The American innovator credited with a long list of inventions, including the practical lightbulb, also recognized the power of a well-timed snooze.
In fact, he was so committed to the practice that he set up napping cots throughout his home and laboratory for those times he needed to recharge.
Other greats in history have also called out the benefits of napping, from painter Leonardo da Vinci to former United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher to United States of America first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Here’s what you need to know about napping.
Are you a napper?
When it comes to naps, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Some people are nappers and some just aren’t. Much of this could be due to genetics. People who enjoy naps usually fall asleep quickly, but not deeply. They wake up on their own after about 20 minutes, feeling refreshed.
Some nappers say they need this time and are not as productive without it. On the other hand, “non-nappers” sleep deeply during naps. They usually need an alarm to wake up, and when they do, they feel groggy. Napping makes them much less productive than they normally would be.
So do you take the snooze plunge? To nap or not to nap, that is the question!
The dangers of drowsiness
Feeling the need for more sleep, particularly during the daytime hours? This could be a sign that a future health problem is looming. Studies have linked regular daytime napping with elevated health risks, including cardiovascular disease.
Daytime sleepiness can be one sign of depression. In these cases, daytime sleep is a symptom of an underlying issue; the sleep is not creating the problem, although napping can worsen depression if you have it.
Check with your doctor to see if you can find the source of this fatigue.
The pitfalls of catnaps
There are some drawbacks to napping. While a short nap doesn’t tend to affect nighttime sleep, a longer nap, or more frequent naps, can make it more difficult to sleep at night.
If you’re experiencing insomnia or poor sleep quality at night already, napping might just worsen the problem. Sleep “inertia” is when you feel disoriented or groggy after a nap.
It may take you a while to recover from this, losing valuable work time.
Some people feel uncomfortable trying to sleep somewhere other than in the privacy of their own bedroom, on a comfortable, supportive mattress.
But napping on a couch or chair is often required if you’re trying to nap during work hours. Instead of taking a nap, try to get some exercise.
Take a walk outside in the fresh air, get some sunlight, and see if that doesn’t help you perk up a bit. This will help you get to sleep at night when bedtime comes around.
When is the best time, and best way, to nap? Here are some tips:
- Nap to get over a cold
Napping Benefits & Tips
This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation
More than 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day.
Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans.
Young children and elderly persons nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures.
As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. And it may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping.
While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, John F.
Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap.
Naps can be typed in three different ways:
- Planned napping (also called preparatory napping) involves taking a nap before you actually get sleepy. You may use this technique when you know that you will be up later than your normal bed time or as a mechanism to ward off getting tired earlier.
- Emergency napping occurs when you are suddenly very tired and cannot continue with the activity you were originally engaged in. This type of nap can be used to combat drowsy driving or fatigue while using heavy and dangerous machinery.
- Habitual napping is practiced when a person takes a nap at the same time each day. Young children may fall asleep at about the same time each afternoon or an adult might take a short nap after lunch each day.
- A short nap is usually recommended (20-30 minutes) for short-term alertness. This type of nap provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.
- Your sleep environment can greatly impact your ability to fall asleep. Make sure that you have a restful place to lie down and that the temperature in the room is comfortable. Try to limit the amount of noise heard and the extent of the light filtering in. While some studies have shown that just spending time in bed can be beneficial, it is better to try to catch some zzz’s.
- If you take a nap too late in the day, it might affect your nighttime sleep patterns and make it difficult to fall asleep at your regular bedtime. If you try to take it too early in the day, your body may not be ready for more sleep.
- Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.
- Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day.
- Scheduled napping has also been prescribed for those who are affected by narcolepsy.
- Napping has psychological benefits. A nap can be a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Most people are aware that driving while sleepy is extremely dangerous.
Still, many drivers press on when they feel drowsy in spite of the risks, putting themselves and others in harm’s way. While getting a full night’s sleep before driving is the ideal, taking a short nap before driving can reduce a person’s risk of having a drowsy driving crash.
Sleep experts also recommend that if you feel drowsy when driving, you should immediately pull over to a rest area, drink a caffeinated beverage and take a 20-minute nap.
Shift work, which means working a schedule that deviates from the typical “9 to 5” hours, may cause fatigue and performance impairments, especially for night shift workers. In a 2006 study, researchers at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center affiliated with St. John’s Mercy Medical Center and St.
Luke’s Hospital in suburban St. Louis, MO, looked at the effectiveness of taking naps and consuming caffeine to cope with sleepiness during the night shift.
They found that both naps and caffeine improved alertness and performance among night shift workers and that the combination of naps and caffeine had the most beneficial effect.
James K. Walsh, PhD, one of the researchers who conducted the study, explains, “Because of the body’s propensity for sleep at night, being alert and productive on the night shift can be challenging, even if you’ve had enough daytime sleep.” “Napping before work combined with consuming caffeine while on the job is an effective strategy for remaining alert on the night shift.”
The Best Way to Nap
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As an astrophysicist, I often work all night when the telescope calls. Unfortunately for me, the rest of the world doesn't follow my lead. If I need to grab groceries, I'm still going to have to do that during daytime hours. And my toddler has never looked at me at 6am and said, “It's OK, mommy, you just rest today. I'll feed myself.”
So for those of us who occassionally spend late nights working on a project or binge-watching our favorite television show, can naps help us recover those lost resting hours?
What Sleep Does for the Brain Sleep is known to give us energy, increase our alertness, and improve our mood, as well as our memory and reaction time. Getting a full night's rest can also help you get fit and make better nutritional choices.
So how does sleep do all of that?
Our sleep is not the same throughout the night, instead it goes through cycles of REM and non-REM sleep. REM stands for “Rapid Eye Movement” and refers to the motions of our eyes which dart back and forth during this sleep phase.
Can a Nap Boost Brain Health?
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Are you feeling a little guilty about your daily, mid-afternoon snooze? Don’t. Research shows that catching a few ZZZs after lunch can be good for your brain. But keep in mind that the length of your nap matters.
While a 30- to 90-minute nap in older adults appears to have brain benefits, anything longer than an hour and a half may create problems with cognition, the ability to think and form memories, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
“I consider napping to be a good thing, but it needs to be taken in the context of the person and his or her own sleep cycles and body,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center. For older people, as the study showed, longer naps tend to interfere with cognition, she says.
Researchers looked at data from 2,974 people in China ages 65 and older. Nearly 60 percent of participants reported napping after lunch for about an hour.
Scientists found that people who napped for 30 to 90 minutes had better word recall – which is a sign of good memory – than people who did not nap or who napped for longer than 90 minutes. People who napped for that golden 30 to 90 minutes were also better at figure drawing, another sign of good cognition.
One theory explaining poor cognition in those who take longer naps: Resting more during the day may be a sign of poor quality nighttime sleep, according to Gamaldo. “In the study, naps longer than 90 minutes could have been called ‘a second sleep.’” This poor quality nighttime sleep – the kind that requires extra-long napping during the day – can lead to cognitive problems, she adds.
Research says that the best time for older adults to take to nap is between 1 and 4 p.m. because of their sleep-wake cycles, says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center. “Napping this time of day will provide you with the most bang for your buck,” she says.
Ideally, the nap should last between 20 and 40 minutes to avoid feeling groggy immediately after you wake up. “A quick cat nap should be restorative,” she says. Shorter naps also ensure you don’t have trouble falling asleep at night.
Longer naps can pose a couple of other problems, says Gamaldo, including:
- Temporary grogginess: People who take longer naps may feel groggy immediately after they wake up, says Gamaldo. “Because they are sleeping longer, they may wake up from a deeper stage of sleep, which occurs later in the cycle, and feel fuzzy headed,” she says.
- Inability to sleep at night: Gamaldo has seen patients who take long naps during the day have insomnia at night. “You might want to think about limiting your napping if you’re having problems with insomnia, or it’s taking you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at bedtime.”
A Fine Balance
Overall, studies show that people who sleep too much or too little may have poor health and even a shorter life span. Consequently, “people need to get the right quantity and quality of rest,” says Gamaldo.
How long should a nap be? Tips and guide
Taking a nap in the afternoon can serve as a reset button for some people, allowing them to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to finish their day. However, it may be best to aim for short 20-minute naps for the greatest benefit.
- The actual time a person needs to sleep for during a nap may vary slightly depending on their age and personal sleep cycle.
- That said, most people will feel best after a nap that does not dip too far into their sleep cycle.
- In this article, learn more about how long a should be, as well as what the benefits are.
The National Sleep Foundation recommend taking a 20-minute nap to wake up feeling refreshed. The ideal nap duration can vary from person to person, but most professionals agree that shorter naps are better if a person’s goal is to wake up feeling refreshed and alert.
However, there may also be some benefit to longer naps. For instance, the results of a 2019 study indicated that 25-, 35-, and even 45-minute naps significantly reduced signs of stress and fatigue in physically active men. It also improved their attention and physical performance.
With this said, short naps, or “power naps,” can help a person feel more awake and refreshed.
The National Sleep Foundation warn that taking longer naps may leave a person feeling groggy, as they will need to wake up from a deeper sleep.
It is important to time naps well due to the sleep cycle. As a person sleeps, their brain naturally moves through different stages of sleep. These stages cause different brain wavelengths and release specific hormones into the bloodstream.
These effects can cause noticeable changes in a person’s waking state after taking a nap, depending on which stage they wake up in.
In the most beneficial naps, a person will only go into the first and second stages of sleep. These stages are more superficial and can help a person feel refreshed without them needing to go into a deeper sleep.
During a full night’s sleep, a person will go through their entire sleep cycle multiple times. For most people, the whole sleep cycle is somewhere around 90–110 minutes long.
Allowing the brain and body to reach the deep stages of sleep makes a person much less responsive to outside stimuli. It also causes the brain to release compounds that can make a person more tired, which helps them stay asleep for the whole night.