You know those random moments in the middle of the day when you start to feel sleepy, like if you could maybe take over that couch in the break room for a couple minutes you’d feel ready to dominate the rest of the day? Well, naps have been proven to improve productivity and awareness, but they do have some downfalls as well.
Of course babies, toddlers, and the elderly need frequent naps to get through the day. But what about adults? Who has time for a nap, anyway? While some cultures around the world view naps as an acceptable break in the day, others regard people who nap as lazy and unambitious. So what’s the truth about naps? Do they help you power through a long day or slow you down and prevent sound night sleep?
The next time you have a few extra minutes on your hands, your eyes feel heavy, and you’re wondering if you should take a nap, the following information may help you make your decision.
You stayed up late, the baby woke you up several times, or you just couldn’t sleep. It’s no wonder when the afternoon rolls around you’re feeling groggy, irritable, and can’t concentrate. While a nap won’t make up for lost nighttime sleep, it can help you get through the day. Short naps have been shown to make you more alert, reduce accidents, improve performance, and put you in a better mood. They’re a simple way to relax and relieve tension when the day gets stressful. Similar to quiet time for an over-stimulated child, naps are like an adult time out.
Sound appealing? Naps can be beneficial when they’re the right length and at the right time of day. Naps that are too long, however, may hinder you from falling asleep at bedtime or cause sleep inertia. This means you slept long enough to fall into a deep sleep and wake still feeling sleepy, groggy, and disoriented. You’ll snap out of it within a half hour, but sometimes you don’t have time to wait. Sleep-deprived people experience the most grogginess after waking from a nap. If you already have trouble sleeping soundly through the night, it’s probably not a good idea to nap.
Best Way to Nap
Naps can be a regular, habitual part of your day whether you feel sleepy or not, an emergency pick-me-up when you’re drowsy and need to accomplish something, or a planned time-out when you know you have a long drive or a late night ahead.
The best time of day to nap is early afternoon, usually somewhere between two and three p.m. At this time of the day, you’ve recently had lunch, your blood sugar starts to fall, and your energy begins to wane. Many people naturally feel sleepy at this time of day, possibly because their body clocks are programmed to sleep about seven hours after waking up. For most people, a brief nap at this time shouldn’t hinder you from falling asleep later that night.
To make it happen, find a comfortable and quiet place to rest. A darker environment is better, but you can wear a facemask if the room is too bright. Keep your naps between 10 and 30 minutes. You may need to set an alarm to avoid sleeping longer or there’s a good chance you’ll wake feeling groggy.
There are also many online apps you can use in order to find the optimal time to fall asleep. These apps will ask you what time you want to wake up, and then tell you the best times to go to sleep according to that. The idea is that the app will pick the optimal amount of time to make sure you’re not in the middle of a deep REM cycle when you wake up, and then you can wake up feeling refreshed!
Like the idea of naps but not sure they’re right for you? Try them out and see what time of day and length of nap work best for you.
Also, it’s a good idea to talk with your physician if you’re experiencing more daytime sleepiness than usual. Excessive sleepiness can be an indication of diabetes; depression; Parkinson’s disease; or a sleep disorder like apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome.
And, of course, a good idea is to always work out and eat the right foods. Certain foods can make you feel sleepy and lethargic, especially heavy, greasy foods. Find foods that will keep you active and awake throughout the day, with energy that will last you for several hours, not burn out after a few minutes. And exercising regularly will also give your body more energy in the long run, since you’ll be in shape and ready to take on anything.