Whether you think you need daytime rest or not, picking up a nap habit—or continuing to make time for one—is a smart, healthy move. Consider the evidence: The Mayo Clinic says naps promote relaxation, reduced fatigue, better mood and alertness, and a sharper-working mind (better memory, less confusion, fewer mistakes). A 2008 British study found that compared to getting more nighttime sleep or guzzling caffeine, a mid-day nap was the best way to cope with the mid-afternoon slump. People who napped regularly had a 37 percent reduced risk of dying from heart disease compared to people who didn’t nap.
Of course, napping isn’t right for everyone. If you’re prone to insomnia, naps that are too long or taken too late in the day can interfere with your ability to fall or stay asleep at night. Also, people with certain sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, may feel more tired if they take a nap than if they don’t. Daytime naps can be one way to treat sleep deprivation, says Sara C. Mednick, PhD, sleep expert and author, “You can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping,” she says. “You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.”
Is taking a catnap better than reaching for a cup of joe? Yes, because caffeine can decrease memory performance. So you may feel more wired, but you are also prone to making more mistakes. “If I don’t get my naps, I get cranky and unfocused by the end of a week of short nights,” For me, that nap helps bring back my energy level. Research has found that napping regularly may reduce stress and even decrease your risk of heart disease. To get the most out of a power snooze, follow these quick tips:
- Don’t nap too long, especially if it’s a week day and you’re working. Experts warn that the longer the nap, the more likely you’ll wake up groggy, a feeling that can last up to 30 minutes. So what’s the sweet spot to feel the benefits of a nap? As little as 10 to 20 minutes will leave you refreshed, energetic and mentally sharper.
- Avoid napping too close to your bed time. A late nap could interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. Researchers aren’t sure what exactly the ideal time of day to nap is, but they say the afternoon – roughly 1 to 3 p.m. – is when our body’s circadian rhythms make us most likely to feel sleepy.
- Napping can be done anywhere where it’s comfortable, be it a parked car, under your desk or a chair. For some, a quiet, dark place may be necessary but for others a subway or airplane seat works just as well. Napping is a no-no if you suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea. It will only make the disorders worse.
- Finally, don’t use napping as a substitute for getting a full night’s sleep. In an ideal world where everyone gets adequate sleep at night and wakes up well rested, napping shouldn’t really be needed at all.The length of your nap and the type of sleep you get help determine the brain-boosting benefits. The 20-minute power nap — sometimes called the stage 2 nap — is good for alertness and motor learning skills like typing and playing the piano. What happens if you nap for more than 20 minutes? Research shows longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity.