Tap into the restorative abilities of the almighty nap and make it work better for you
It’s called a power nap for a reason. It can recharge your batteries, put the pep back into your step, zap your stress levels and make the rest of your day more productive. And yes, it will even sharpen your memory, according to a recent German study.
If you nap, you’ll be like 50% of Americans who do. You’re in good company.
What kind of napper are you?
Not all naps are created equal. Depending on what’s going on in your life, you might be a planned napper – someone who will snooze in advance of getting sleepy, perhaps ahead of a big night that will keep you up later than normal.
Habitual nappers are a devoted bunch that like to hit the sack at the same time each day. They have no qualms in announcing, “Time for my nap now” and then leave the room. Some lucky parents turn their kids into habitual nappers and as they move through the toddler years – but the lifelong napping habit doesn’t stick with everyone.
Maybe you’re a 911 napper though, day sleeping when you’re exhausted and just can’t continue one more moment with your day. This kind of napper can be dangerous if that moment of truth arrives when driving or using heavy or dangerous machinery.
As long as you’re open to the idea of day sleeping, the good news is that napping is helpful and healthful!
How to plan the absolutely most perfect nap
- Make your nap not too short, not too long. Short naps (10 to 30 minutes) will help recharge your energy levels without throwing a monkey wrench into your nighttime sleep. Even a 10 minute one will help improve your alertness for at least a couple of hours, according to the Better Sleep Council.
- Make it a habit. If you plan your nap for the same time every day, you’ll find it easy to fall asleep as your body comes to expect and accept a brief scheduled siesta each day. It takes a bit of practice, but you’ll soon get into the groove of your new nap routine.
- Time it right. Late to mid-afternoon are the nap sweet spots according to researchers who looked at two groups of nappers – one got their zzzz’s at noon and the other at 2 pm. The latter group did better on mental performance tests and was more alert. Plan accordingly.
Most people are naturally a bit drowsy in the afternoon between about 1 to 3 p.m. and find this is a good time to nap. There’s a biological reason for this. Our brains maintain a balance between the sleep drive and the circadian alerting system. Our sleep drive increases throughout the day, but the alerting signal opposes it, keeping us awake. During the afternoon, the alerting signal struggles to compete with the strength of the sleep drive and we start to feel tired.
- . Rebecca Lee, a registered nurse from New York and founder of Remediesforme.com, a site that provides information on benefits of natural remedies for different ailments, such as sleep deprivation, suggests downing a cup of cool java before your short kip. “Caffeine takes about 10 minutes for the effects to start kicking in,” she says. “The peak caffeine concentration in the blood occurs after 45 minutes.” Drinking coffee right before your 10 minute nap helps energize you immediately after waking.
- Set an alarm. Lee also recommends that, if you take an afternoon nap in your car or a break room at work, consider setting the alarm on your smart phone and sleeping with headphones on. This will help block out noise. Wearing an eye mask will block out light and signal to others that you are intentionally napping at work.
- Quiet, please. “Your sleeping brain continues to register and process sound,” explains Lee. “Noise can disturb your sleep, wake you up or cause you to switch from deep sleep to light sleep.” Nocturnal noise can also cause adverse physical reactions during sleep such as raise your blood pressure and increase levels of stress hormones. That underscores the need to block out those disturbances. If you find it hard to sleep due to a lot of environmental noises, invest in a white noise machine or download a white noise machine app on your tablet or smart phone. The constant ambient sound helps to mask disturbances.
- Embrace the dark side. Exposure to light can reset the body’s clock and delay sleep. Make sure your preferred day-sleep-space is as dark as possible. Blackout shades, heavy drapes or blinds are good friends to sleep. And even if you’re just napping, black out any bright LED displays before you head for your nap.
- Keep your cool. As Lee points out, your body temperature naturally decreases during sleep. If it’s too hot, it can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep. You’ll want to aim to have a cool room. Research suggests 60-65 degrees F (16 -19 C) to help keep your body at the right, snooze-friendly temperature.
One cautionary note on napping
While power naps can have a slew of health benefits, it’s not all happy news. Many people experience a dip in energy in the late afternoon, but if you’re finding yourself tired to the point you can’t function, that could be a red flag indicating an underlying sleep issue. “Excessive daytime tiredness, leading to the need for power naps, is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA),” says Dr. Ronald Rosenthal, a Norfolk, VA-based dentist, instructor and specialist for treating headaches and migraines.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a serious condition that has serious and sometimes deadly consequences. OSA is responsible for the deaths of 46,000 Americans each year, including 8,000 due to drowsy driving accidents. If you’re seriously sleepy during the day, ask your healthcare provider about having an overnight sleep test (polysomnography).