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In Praise of the Nap

Why you should consider a midday snooze

Written by Alyssa Shaffer

Parents of young children know it, as do many seniors and those who live in certain sweltering environments. A nap can be your best weapon when it comes to fighting fatigue, boosting energy and making you feel a whole lot happier.

With as many as a third of all U.S. adults reporting they get seven hour of sleep or less a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, napping might also help reduce the negative effects of sleep deprivation. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found a 30-minute nap may reverse the hormonal impact of a poor night’s sleep. Other research has shown students who napped after studying retained information better than those who did not nap. And a study by NASA found a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.

And despite our culture’s longstanding association between napping and laziness, napping is a lot more frequent than you might suspect. A National Sleep Foundation poll found as many as half the U.S. population has taken a nap within the past seven days. And many cutting-edge corporations have embraced the concept of power naps for their employees. According to Inc. Magazine, about 6 percent of employers today have on-site nap rooms, including Google, Zappos, Uber, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Ben & Jerrys.

If you’re ready to embrace a mid-day snooze, keep these tips in mind to maximize your sleep time and minimize side effects.

1. Keep it short: Most sleep experts agree you only need to sleep about 20-30 minutes. “That’s enough to help you feel refreshed without giving you all the grogginess that can come with sleep,” says Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and an environmental scholar for the National Sleep Foundation.  

2. Time it right: No surprise that most siestas are scheduled for the early afternoon, around 1-3 p.m. That’s when energy levels often start to dip in our body’s natural circadian rhythms. “We have a normal tendency to feel sleepy around 2 p.m.,” says Neomi Shah, M.D., an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary Care and Sleep at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Taking a brief nap at this time can help you feel more energized than drinking a cup of coffee.” Napping too late in the afternoon or early evening, on the other hand, can make it much more difficult to fall asleep at your regular bedtime.

3. Set yourself up for success: Just like your nightly sleep, it’s important to get into an environment that’s conducive to nodding off. That can mean a place that is comfortable, relatively quiet, and is either dark or has only a low amount of light.

4. Boost the benefits: Need to be up extra late or just have a bit more energy? Combine your short nap with a cup of coffee or other caffeine when you wake up. A 2006 study at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis, MO, found shift workers who took naps and then had a small amount of caffeine reported feeling more alert when they were on the job that night than those who either hadn’t napped at all, napped and not had the caffeine, or just had caffeine.  

5. Get used to it. Like any other habit, the more you try, the better you become. If you want to make napping a regular part of your routine, try doing it at least a few times a week. “It can take some practice, but eventually your body starts to anticipate that nap over time, so you fall asleep more easily,” says Dautovich.