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How to Nap: What You Need To Know About the Science of Naps

man resting on couch with the science of naps

man resting on couch with the science of naps

At some point in our lives, every person needs to take a nap. It may occur thanks to a late night out, or a restless night's sleep. New moms wake up frequently throughout the night with their new babies, while illness can cause nighttime sleep disruptions. Whatever the reason, everybody naps. But not everybody naps properly.

It may seem odd to think that there is actual science behind naps, but there is. Nap too short, and you won't get the rest your body requires while napping too long can throw off your sleeping routine and cause you to be tired for extended periods during the day. Even infants have a pattern to their waking time and naps. Here we'll discuss the science of naps, and introduce some tips on how you can make the most out of each of yours.

Benefits of Napping

Before we delve into how to get the best possible nap, let's talk about the benefits you can expect from your nap. While modern society has labeled naps a bad thing (thanks to our hectic schedules), they are great for you. Naps can:

  • Boost creativity
  • Increase happiness
  • Promote higher levels of productivity for more extended periods
  • Make you smarter
  • Keep you healthier by allowing cells to rejuvenate, muscles to relax, and overall physical stress to decrease
  • Improve heart functioning
  • Balance and maintain healthy hormone levels
  • Boost memory capacity and functioning
  • Wake you up more than a cup of coffee

The Length of Your Nap Matters

Now that you know the many benefits associated with regular napping, let's talk about how to get the perfect nap. Believe it or not, the length of time matters. You want to keep your naps to either 20 minutes, 45 minutes, or 90 minutes. The duration matters because each of these times will correlate with a different part of your natural sleep cycle.

20 minutes: If you're short on time, don't nap for half an hour. Doing so will leave you feeling groggy for an extended period because at half an hour your body has just transferred into the deepest cycle of sleep. Staying at 20 (or 15) minutes means you will only cycle through the first two stages of sleep. You will reap some of the lesser benefits of napping, like a small boost in energy, but won't be groggy afterward.

45 minutes: At 45 minutes your body should have gotten through one full cycle of sleep. You may be a little tired or disoriented for a few moments, but it will pass quickly. A nap of this length is perfect for busting through that writer's block or other creative issues. Why? A 45-minute nap doesn't just improve alertness and energy levels but also allows for an increase in creativity.

90 minutes: If you have enough time during your day to squeeze in an hour and a half nap, go for it. This extended period allows for two full cycles of sleep and, as such, it yields the most significant long term benefits. You can improve your overall physical and mental health, increase creativity, and boost memory capacity. If you're feeling anxious or a little depressed, this is the best length of a nap to take, because it also has the distinct benefit of improving mood.

The Best Time of Day To Nap

If you're going to nap, you want to do it earlier in the day, so it doesn't disrupt your regular sleep schedule. At a minimum, you'll want to nap six (or more) hours before you usually go to bed. For someone who goes to sleep at ten, this means waking up no later than four.

In general, scientists recommend napping between the hours of one and four in the afternoon. This time frame is both late enough that most people are beginning to feel a little "midday crash" but is early enough to allow you to fall asleep at your regular bedtime.

Tips For Better Napping

There are a few other things you can do in addition to choosing the right time of day and length of your nap. The following tips can help you successfully reap the most benefits from your daytime napping:

  • "Power naps" are those short 15 to 20-minute naps discussed earlier. To get even more benefit from these naps, drink a cup of coffee right before laying down. Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to process, so you will begin feeling its effects immediately upon waking.
  • If possible, choose a quiet, dark place conducive to restful sleep for your naps.
  • For mothers of infants, that adage of "sleeping when the baby sleeps" is correct. Try napping during your child's first long nap of the day to see boosted energy levels that will get you through until bedtime.
  • At the office and need a quick snooze? Try leaning your head over your desk and resting it on your crossed arms. Pull your hood up over your head or cover yourself with a jacket to block out the light.
  • Worried you won't wake up in time? Set the alarm. The key is to set only one alarm. Setting additional alarms confuses the body and allows it to think you have more time to nap than you do.
  • Remember to take your shoes off during your nap period—even if you are at work. Your brain naturally associates shoes with working, so taking them off will allow you to relax much more efficiently.

Not only are naps sometimes necessary, but they are healthy for you, too. So healthy that companies like Apple and Google allow short "power naps" during the workday. Just keep in mind that there is a science behind naps if you want them to be most beneficial. Coordinating the best time of day with an appropriate length of time will help you feel the best until it’s time to hit the pillow again.

For more information on the science of sleep or other related useful information, visit our website today.