Science is continually showing us that naps can be good for our health. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is a growing issue in our country, with more than seventy million Americans alone reporting sleep problems such as insomnia and restlessness. Dr. Nilong Vyas, M.D., the founder and owner of sleepless consulting program Sleepless in NOLA, says, “The research is plentiful that sleep is crucial and . . . there are so many factors that affect our nighttime sleep.” The chronic busyness, stress, sleep disorders, and technology use, which is ever-increasing in our society, may soon make a quick snooze a normal part of our daily health routines.
With so much information flooding us constantly, Vyas says most of us are having a hard time turning our brains off. Naps, then, are just what the doctor ordered. Benefits of napping include catching up on sleep debt, increasing late-afternoon energy, more creativity, and sharper senses for safer driving and decision-making. Some even equate napping with increased longevity.
But when should you nap, and how long? How do you sneak those precious few minutes of rest into your day, especially with school or a job? We asked the experts who've shared their best nap strategies below.
The Length of a Perfect Nap
Most experts agree on an average of twenty minutes for the perfect nap. But Dr. Kent Smith, D-ABDSM, ASBA, president of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy and the founder of Sleep Dallas, says that it “depends on the reason for the nap, but fifteen to forty-five minutes is considered an optimal duration, as longer than that can put you into a REM cycle, making you feel groggy.”
The trick is to avoid entering deep sleep, which takes time. This is why shorter naps are optimal. Smith says, “If you have only five minutes to nap? Go for it. Even that short period has been shown to improve alertness and certain memory processes.”
The Right Time of Day for a Nap
Because our reasons for napping vary, so do the suggested times. Generally, Smith says, naps are preferable in the early afternoons to prevent any disruption of your normal sleep/wake cycle. There are exceptions though. He explains that “‘storing sleep’ before a period of sleep deprivation improves physical performance and cognitive function, so if you will be pulling an all-nighter with your poker buddies, a long nap prior to that can increase your earnings.”
Vyas warns against napping too late in the evening on a regular basis, though. It may be okay a few times, she says, but doing that regularly “can alter the night sleep cycle and cause you to wake with such a groggy sensation that you can't enjoy your evening activities.”
Choose Your Napping Strategy
The Caffeinated Nap
Coffee naps are a new trend that some people are swearing by to boost their energy in the middle of the day. Some experts even suggest it to avoid drowsy driving. The theory is that coffee usually takes about twenty minutes to take effect in the average person’s body. Drinking coffee, then napping for that twenty minutes will have you waking up restored and alert. Yet Smith warns, “the results would be largely patient-dependent, as the effect of caffeine on a specific person is quite complex. It takes longer to metabolize caffeine at age 65 than at age 25, so there is more caffeine in the blood at bedtime for the senior. So it's potentially disruptive to nighttime sleep if you drink caffeine in the afternoon, especially the older you get.
Vyas says caffeine naps are definitely worth a try. “The coffee with the combination of the rejuvenation of the nap can fuel you for the rest of your day. It can be done in the morning or afternoon. I have inadvertently done this and not realized why I felt so good afterward!”
The Commuter’s Nap
If you take public transit or fly frequently for business, this is an excellent opportunity to sneak in some extra sleep. There are lots of great tips for napping on the road. A comfy neck pillow, headphones (preferably noise canceling), and a warm hat or scarf you can pull down over your eyes will help you catch some Z’s when and where you can.
The Group Nap
Fitness centers such as David Lloyd’s Gym in London are even cashing in on sleep-deprived members, offering "Napercise" classes. Members can nap for forty-five minutes comfortably in a group setting. The gym claims to keep the gym at “a temperature which promotes calorie burning during sleep,” according to The Independent. Class is held in the afternoon (ta-ta midday slump!). At this time we were unable to find classes available in the U.S., but no doubt they are on their way.
The Work Nap
Unfortunately, you've probably had to skip your midday nap since kindergarten, but some employers are trying to make up for this. Companies such as Google have nap pods on their campus, and employees love it. If you’re not lucky enough to work at one of these nap-friendly companies, the options you have may be limited. Putting your head down at your desk, going out to your parked car, or going home for lunch and a quick nap, are all options you can consider.
Famous Nappers in History
Odds are if you’re reading this article, you’re a fan of the nap—and you’re not alone. A few famous nappers you may recognize are Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Charlie Rose, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Nikola Tesla, who all swore by their afternoon shut-eye.
Sleep is crucial—and let’s face it, at least in America, we need it badly. Fitting those twenty minutes into your day can be difficult, but the rewards for your health and wellness are plenty and long term. So grab your blankie, teddy bear, and pillow, and snuggle up—napping isn’t just for kindergarten anymore.