If you’re like a lot of people, there are probably some days when your eyes just don’t want to stay open.
Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep the night before.
Maybe you’ve just been having an exhausting week, and just feel like you need some rest!
You do need that sleep, make no mistake.
But if you’ve ever taken the wrong kind of nap at the wrong time, you’ve probably also seen how much a poorly-timed nap can throw off your entire sleep schedule or leave you groggy and out-of-sorts for the rest of the day.
No matter how natural sleep might seem, there’s a whole art to taking the proper power nap!
The Benefits of Napping
Done right, napping can come with a whole slew of benefits.
According to sleep.org, naps can give you everything short of superpowers.
They increase creativity and other mental functions, heighten mood, and decrease stress.
They’ve also been shown to greatly increase performance and alertness throughout the day, and they can be highly useful if you’re expecting to pull a lengthy shift later in the day.
I could go on and on about the benefits of proper napping, but to keep things brief, let’s just say that napping can indeed improve your life in just about every way.
Although naps are certainly no replacement for a good night’s sleep, they can help you partially recover a lot of the same benefits.
How NOT to Nap
That said, though, there are a lot of ways napping can mess you up good.
If you’ve ever taken a nap too late in the day and not been able to fall asleep at night, you know what these things can do to your sleep schedule if you don’t plan them properly.
You can also get hit with a heavy dose of sleep inertia on waking up from a nap, which basically means you’re more or less non-functional for a while afterwards.
Although the benefits of a good nap will become more apparent later in the day, for about 15 to 30 minutes after waking up, you should expect to experience a lot of the same impairments you did before catching you extra sleep.
This is especially true if you nap for too long.
The longer than about 30 minutes in length, and you start getting into REM sleep territory.
This is the kind of slow-wave sleep that helps really recharge your body at night, but if you wake up in the middle of a REM cycle, you can expect that sleep inertia to hit you hard.
Don’t let your body get fooled into thinking it’s time to settle down for a full night’s rest.
When it comes to REM sleep, your body really doesn’t like to be interrupted!
Setting up the Proper Sleep Environment for a Power Nap
If you don’t have a ton of time on your hands and want to get to sleep as quickly as possible, you’re probably going to want to take some time to set up a quality sleep environment.
Obviously, finding this ideal environment isn’t always going to be possible if you’re away from home when you decide to take your nap, but if you get the chance, optimized surroundings can help improve both the speed at which you get to sleep and the quality of that sleep itself.
At the very least, you’re going to want to try and find a quiet, dark place where you can lie down.
(Trying to sleep sitting up can take you up to 50% longer!)
Turn the thermostat down if you can—the ideal sleep temperature is around 65 degrees—but bring a blanket so your muscles don’t get stiff and you don’t get too chilly.
If you’re in the middle of a city with lots of irritating ambient noises around (traffic, people talking, all-county hoedowns, restless howler monkeys, etc.), try getting some kind of white noise playing in the background.
You can try keeping a fan running in the background while you sleep if you want, or you could just play a white noise soundtrack off YouTube on your computer or mobile device.
Some people also find that soothing music helps them settle down for a nap, though that’s more of a personal preference.
If you’re sleeping at home, lying down on a quality mattress is going to help you nap a lot more easily, as well.
You don’t want to waste precious time tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable on a bed that’s just plain awful.
You can also try opting for a more comfortable mattress topper as a temporary solution if your sleep situation has just gotten unbearable.
The Best Time of Day to Nap
The best time of day to nap varies a little depending on what time you go to bed and wake up, but for most people, the ideal window is between around 1 and 3 in the afternoon.
Most people experience two big dips in alertness throughout the day.
The most dramatic of these is of course at night, right before you head off to bed.
But there’s also a shallower trough in the afternoon, when all that energy you worked up over the morning just seems to sink away.
Don’t feel bad about that sudden lack of energy if this sounds like you—it’s totally natural.
Why You Might Need the Sleep
The Mayo Clinic suggests three times you might consider sneaking in an extra nap:
- When you’re hit with sudden, unexpected sleepiness
- When you’re about to experience sleep loss (for example, right before a long work shift)
- If you want to make planned naps a part of your routine
You might also consider catching some extra shut-eye if you got a lot less sleep than you were hoping to last night.
But again, be careful not to make these naps too long…
The Ideal Nap Length
According to that same Mayo Clinic article I linked to above, the ideal nap length is typically between 10 and 30 minutes.
This is enough to give your body an extra shot of energy without getting into dangerous REM territory.
There are a couple exceptions to this, though.
Lifehacker.com claims that naps of up to 45 minutes can have a lot of benefits (although you might want to be a little wary of advice like this, given the whole sleep inertia issue).
And you can sneak in enough time to grab an extra 90 minutes, you might just hit another sweet spot.
I mentioned earlier that you typically want to avoid getting into REM sleep when you’re just taking a nap during the day.
This is true—most of the time, that is.
But if you’ve got an extra 90 minutes to spare, that’s enough time for most people to go through a complete REM cycle.
You won’t be cutting yourself off in the middle of your REM sleep if you wake up at the end of those 90 minutes, so you’re not going to get a lot of that nasty sleep inertia.
Now, obviously if you’re getting enough sleep you shouldn’t actually need 90 whole minutes.
But let’s be real here, most people aren’t getting anywhere near enough sleep.
If you pulled a particularly late night last night, take those extra 90 minutes.
Your body needs it!
The Caffeine Nap: Naptime’s Best-Kept Secret
One trend in nap-taking that’s been gaining popularity lately is the caffeine nap.
The idea is to take a cup of coffee before settling down for a nap.
Caffeine takes about 20 to 30 minutes to hit your system, which just happens to fall within our ideal nap length range!
This means that the caffeine is hitting your system right as you’re waking up, leaving you far more alert when you get up from the nap than when you started.
Studies show that caffeine naps leave you with better results than coffee or napping could give you alone.
It’s a weird concept, since it runs against the grain of conventional thinking.
But hey, the science apparently says it works, so who are we to argue!
Conclusion About How to Have the Perfect Power Nap
Although napping isn’t quite as simple as you might have thought, done right, it can have a serious positive impact on your life.
So whether you decide to work in a nice late-afternoon pick-me-up each day, or you’re falling asleep at the wheel and just need to pull off for a quick break, you shouldn’t be ashamed of sneaking in the Z’s you need.
It’s natural, energizing, and healthy too—so if you feel yourself in need of some extra sleep, don’t be afraid to take it if you’ve got the time and it’s not too late in the day,
Just set that alarm, pull up the covers, and sink into your mattress for that extra sleep you need.
Updated at June 13, 2020