The next time a mid-afternoon slump hits, skip the caffeine and sugar and crawl under the covers instead. Napping has been linked to a host of health benefits, including a stronger immune system, improved stamina and enhanced memory. A new study published in the journal Heart found adults who took up to two daytime naps per week had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who did not nap.
Kathleen Maddison, PhD, a research fellow at the Center for Sleep Science at the University of Western Australia, believes naps can help you catch up on sleep after the occasional late night, overcome fatigue from jet lag or deal with natural mid-afternoon dips in energy.
“The most obvious indicator that you need a nap is if you feel sleepy and are starting to doze off,” Maddison says.
If you are ‘zoning out’ in the middle of the day, struggling to concentrate or experience declines in coordination or memory, a nap could be the pick-me-up you need.
Follow these tips and you’ll wake up from your next afternoon nap saying, “Best. Nap. Ever.”
WATCH THE CLOCK
Avoid napping too late in the day because it could interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. The desire to doze off will likely hit around seven hours after you wake up, notes sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD, founder of TheSleepDoctor.com. That means you’ll be ready for a nap around 2 p.m. if your alarm went off at 7 a.m.
“It’s the time you’re going to strike the ideal balance of REM sleep and slow-wave sleep in a nap, giving you both mental and physical restoration and minimizing your post-nap grogginess,” Breus says.
CREATE THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
Your bed is the ideal place to nap. A small study found that those who napped in a bed woke up more alert than those who napped in a chair.
If a chair, sofa or your car are your only options, Maddison suggests looking for the most comfortable spot. Keeping a pillow and blanket on hand for a quick nap at your desk or in your car may help you drift off.
BLOCK OUT DISTRACTIONS
The same sleep hygiene advice you know and love applies to napping as well. Dimming the lights, turning down the temperature and blocking out noise to create the ideal sleep environment are all great ideas, according to Maddison. In the middle of the day, “eye masks and ear plugs are always a good option,” she says.
SET YOUR ALARM
Nap too long (or not long enough) and Breus warns you’ll wake up in a mental fog. The ideal nap lasts either 20 minutes or 90 minutes. During a 20-minute nap, you’ll enter deep, slow-wave sleep and wake up energized and alert; a 90-minute nap allows you to complete an entire sleep cycle, progressing from light sleep and deep sleep to REM sleep, so you’ll wake up feeling refreshed.
Even a super short power nap can do wonders for your productivity. Research published in the journal Sleep found a 10-minute nap increased alertness and improved cognitive performance for almost three hours after waking up.
Nap for longer than two hours and you might experience declines in performance and alertness; sleep inertia, a sluggish feeling that can last for hours, is also more likely after a long nap, says Maddison. Before you doze off, set the alarm on your phone for 10-, 20- or 90-minutes so you don’t oversleep.
DON’T HIT SNOOZE
“When your alarm goes off, avoid hitting snooze,” Maddison says. “Get up straight away and expose yourself to natural light — open the curtains, go outside, take a walk — to tell your body that it’s time to wake up.”