Everyone agrees how important sleep is, but people tend to be divided about the benefits of napping. Either they love it or they don’t. Either they think napping helps or hurts. In reality, the answer is everyone is right: it depends.
The gist is if you can easily fall asleep between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. in a comfortable, dark place for exactly 20 minutes, then yes, a nap can work wonders. If not, well, you might be better off powering through.
Our circadian rhythm has two natural stages of sleepiness, usually in the middle of the night and another post-lunch. So whether you believe in napping or not, you can eliminate the guilt you feel when you start to lose focus in the early afternoon. If you’re lucky enough to have a place where you can quietly rest for a period of time, science suggests you shouldn’t fight those afternoon yawns.
In addition to helping you be more alert post-nap, a recent study showed napping can improve your mood and even help immune function. Another study showed naps can improve reaction time, logical reasoning and symbol recognition. One study suggests it may even improve your athletic performance, so the next time you want to get in a good workout, perhaps try taking a quick snooze first.
But, remember napping isn’t a substitute for getting a good night’s rest. You should still aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night.
Here are three tips to get the maximum benefit out of your next nap:
It sounds contradictory, but the proper nap length is either 20–30 minutes or 90. It takes 90 minutes to go through a full REM sleep cycle, which allows you to achieve the same benefits you would get after a full 8-hour slumber. If you’re short on time, 20 minutes is ideal since you’re less likely to deal with sleep inertia, which is what makes you feel groggy upon waking up.
CREATE THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
Find a dark room, stretch out into a comfortable position and limit distractions. That means turning off your phone, using an eye mask and ear plugs, if needed, and making sure it’s a comfortable temperature. Obviously if you can do it in your own bed, all the better.
KNOW WHEN TO POWER THROUGH
Don’t nap too late in the day. If it’s after 3 p.m., you’re better off powering through because even a short nap could disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night. Instead, try taking a walk or doing a quick burst of exercise, like jumping jacks.