Whether you’re curling up in your plush, king-size memory foam mattress at 2pm on a Sunday or simply snoozing on the spare bedroom sofa bed for a bit on a Tuesday after work, there is a right way, and a bunch of wrong ways to nap. Yeah, it’s a good idea to give yourself a bit of rest if you’re struggling through the day, but are naps even good for you? Aren’t they going to mess with your sleep at night?
We got to wondering about naps, and realized that we know nearly nothing about them, except that they either turn out awful or great, and that sometimes they’re just an absolute necessity. But there’s a lot more to naps than simply dragging a throw blanket onto your perfectly-made bed and snoozing for an hour or so. Let’s take a look at the science of napping:
Is Napping Good For You?
Napping the right way can definitely have health benefits. After all, about 75% of us don’t get enough sleep at night, and the only way to correct that is to sleep during the day. Little-known fact: sleep-debt is not a thing – you can’t fix 4 nights of bad sleep by a 5th night of oversleeping.
Anyway, chronic poor sleep messes with your brain and your body, and napping can help by:
Improving cognitive performance
Reducing the feeling of tiredness
Improving physical performance
Regulating your sleep cycle
Boosting your immune system
Promoting heart health
How Long Should a Nap Be?
What’s the best nap-length for reaping these benefits? We’ve all gone to nap with high hopes, only to wake up feeling grumpy, groggy and disoriented. This feeling is due to sleep inertia. Your brain regulates your sleep in 90(ish)-minute cycles; if it starts a cycle, it wants to finish it. Those times you wake up and regret ever napping at all? You probably woke up at exactly the wrong point in your sleep cycle.
The recommended length for a nap is the ubiquitous “power nap”: 20-30 minutes. This is just long enough to reap the restful benefits of slower brain waves, but not so long that your body goes into the deeper stages of sleep.
However, sometimes 20 minutes isn’t going to cut it. Maybe your infant screamed for 4 hours last night or you crammed for a test you should have studied for earlier. We need a moment. They key to a longer nap that doesn’t leave you feeling worse than before is to sleep for 90 minutes. Because it’s a whole sleep cycle, at 90 minutes, you’ll wake up out of the lightest part of your sleep cycle; right as it restarts. So if you’re going for a longer nap, do 90 minutes.
The key to napping length is it’s gotta be short or long – not in between.
Is There a Best Time of Day to Take a Nap?
It’s pretty well agreed upon you shouldn’t take a nap after 3-4pm. Obviously, people like semi-truck drivers and night-shift workers are the exception to this rule. But for most of us, taking a nap in the later afternoon or evening can mess with our nighttime sleep. Except for dads – how is it they can fall asleep in front of the TV from 7-9pm only to go straight to bed and get a great night’s sleep? Doesn’t seem fair, if you ask us.
Early afternoon is the best time to nap, and you can usually tell; many of us tend to experience a post-lunch slump in energy and productivity. However, don’t get drowsy and just plop on the office break room couch. That’s weird anyway. Sometimes all you need is a protein-packed snack and a cup of coffee. Another rule of napping the right way: don’t do it unless you actually need to.
How Does Napping Affect Your Sleep Schedule?
Naps can do good or bad things for your sleep schedule, depending on how you’re doing it. Naps can actually aid your sleep if:
You keep nap times consistent
You don’t nap too late in the day
You only nap when you need to
You got poor or too-little sleep the night before
And naps can mess up your sleep if:
You have sleep apnea
You have insomnia or another sleep disorder
You have diabetes
You have an unknown cause for your daytime fatigue
You nap too late in the day
You become dependent on napping to get through the day
Tips for Taking the Best Naps Possible
Setting: Some people like to mimic their sleep setting, cozying up in that beloved custom cotton bedding and letting your latex foam mattress cradle you to sleep. Others like to avoid their bed to teach their body that this sleep is not the same sleep as nighttime sleep.
Environment: A cool, dark, quiet setting is key to maximizing that 20-minute reset.
Timing: Nap between 1 and 3 pm.
Waking up: Make sure to set an alarm each time you go to take a nap. Also, consuming a bit of caffeine before you lay down to rest can help you wake up clear-headed and ready to go.
Feeling tired? Go take a short snooze; it’s good for you!