Getting enough sleep sometimes feels like an impossible feat. In fact, the CDC recently announced that more than one third of us are sleeping less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours each night. That’s why a daily nap probably sounds like the ultimate dream.
It’s also a really, really good idea. Not only will a quick nap reenergize you, but it can also make you more efficient, and help you perform better at work. “Naps help with attention, concentration, memory, mood, and stress management,” Shelby F. Harris, Psy.D., director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center, tells SELF. And it only has to be 15 minutes for you to reap the benefits. Enter: the life-changing power nap.
“The power nap is a godsend,” James B. Maas, Ph.D., sleep expert, professor and past chair of the psychology department at Cornell University, and creator of the phrase “power nap,” tells SELF. Employers are finally starting to realize it, too. More and more companies “are now having napping policies and they’re putting in nap rooms or nap pods where their workers can go for 15 or 20 minutes and take a power nap,” Maas explains.
Whether you’re recharging on a busy Sunday, snoozing in the office nap room, or sneaking out to your car during your lunch break to quickly recharge (or just casually putting your head down at your desk and hoping your boss doesn’t walk by), here’s how to make the most of a midday power nap.
1. Keep it short and sweet at just 15 to 20 minutes.
“Any longer and it will make you groggy for up to an hour or so after you come out of your power nap,” Maas says. That’s because your body will eventually fall into deep sleep, and waking up during a deep sleep stage is insanely difficult and disorienting.
It can also cause confusional arousal or sleep drunkenness, which is when you are up but haven’t fully snapped out of sleep (like that time you woke up and started frantically getting dressed for work even though it was Sunday afternoon), explains Rachel Salas, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “A lot of people are prone to parasomnia,” or abnormal behaviors during sleep, she adds, which could be anything from sleepwalking to sleep eating or texting. If you fall into deep sleep during a nap, “it’s possible you could have these happen.”
If you want to nap longer, make sure you have a solid 90 minutes. That’ll allow you to get through a full sleep cycle, Maas explains, so by the time you wake up, you’ll be back in the lighter stages of sleep and able to get up and actually feel refreshed.
2. Plan your nap for between lunchtime and 3 P.M.
The Spaniards know what they’re doing—siesta time is planned perfectly for when the body needs a nap. “Humans have a normal, natural dip, in our circadian rhythm,” in the afternoon, Salas says. “That’s actually prime time to take a nap.” So that post-lunch energy crash (when you can’t seem to focus on work anyway) is the ideal window to take a quick snooze. Just make sure to wrap it up before 3 p.m.—the later you nap, the greater chance you’ll have a tough time falling asleep that night.
3. Find the right napping environment.
Of course napping at work might not be doable for everyone, but there are some things you can do to sneak one in. “If you’re not at home, find a spot where you can recline or put your head down,” Harris says. You can get creative—Maas says he’s heard of people surreptitiously napping by disappearing to the restroom for 15 minutes and locking themselves in a stall (desperate times, ladies), or sneaking out to their car to lie down for a little bit. If you have your own office, that makes things much easier. If not, you can even just try putting your head down at your desk. (If your boss wakes you up and asks WTF you’re doing, show him or her this article. We’ve got your back.)
When you can control the environment—maybe you’re napping at home or in your own office—you should do a few things to fall asleep faster and make the nap more efficient. “Make it as dark as possible, use a white noise machine if you can (many smartphones have white noise apps you can download) and/or use earplugs,” Harris suggests.
Salas recommends an eye mask, too. “Light can pass through the eyelids and still be alerting.” Temperature is also important. About 68 or 69 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, Salas says. “Might not be easy to do at work,” she concedes, but a blanket or lighter change of clothes can help you adjust.
4. Try drinking coffee immediately before.
The “coffee nap” has gotten a lot of praise lately, and sleep experts agree there are big benefits. The logic goes that if you drink a cup of coffee, set your alarm for 20 minutes, and sneak in a quick nap, the coffee will have time to start working while you sleep and give you a double jolt of energy when you wake up. “People think if they drink caffeine they won’t be able to take a nap, but that’s incorrect. It takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to absorb into the body and work,” Maas explains. So if you time it right, it’ll kick in right after your alarm goes off.
5. If you have insomnia, skip the nap altogether.
Unfortunately, the most sleep-deprived of all of us shouldn’t be napping midday, experts warn. “Anybody with insomnia should never power nap, because it’s going to make it worse,” Maas says. “If you’re having trouble going to sleep at night or have disruptive sleep where you’re waking up in the middle of the night, the first thing you have to look at is if you’ve been napping during day.” He explains that this is a common problem among senior citizens, who might nod off during the day and then find themselves sleeping very restlessly at night.
Also, those with undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea may have a tough time reaping the benefits of a power nap, Harris says. “Even a short nap can be unrefreshing if the quality of the sleep is disrupted by [sleep] apnea.” That’s just going to defeat the whole purpose of napping the first place. If you’re constantly tired and can’t figure out why, and napping doesn’t seem to help, see your doctor or a sleep specialist to rule out any underlying sleep disorders.
—By Amy Marturana