The Definitive Guide To Taking The Perfect Nap [Science]
Naps can be a game-changer.
A nap can provide a major boost in alertness and energy, improve memory and creativity, help fight off viral infections and make your heart healthier. Research by NASA has even shown that a nap in the middle of the day can restore cognitive function at the same rate as a full night’s sleep – improving alertness by 54% and job performance by 34%.
However, not all naps are created equal. So if you’re waking up from naps groggy, irritable, and feeling even more tired than before, you’re missing out on the benefits of napping. Here are six research-backed strategies from sleep-medicine experts that’ll help you take the perfect nap.
1. Find your ‘energy trough’ time
Take a week to chart your mid-day mood and energy levels at hourly intervals. You should see a consistent block of time when they start to go south – usually in the late morning or early afternoon. This is your optimal nap time. For most people, prime napping time falls between 1 and 3 p.m.
If you’re not sure, opt for earlier rather than later. That way, you’ll reduce the likelihood of your nap interfering with your ability to fall asleep at night.
2. Create a sleep-friendly environment
Crawling into bed can reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, while also separating you from what’s going on outside your bedroom. If you don’t have a bed available (like at the office or in your car), at least try to get as horizontal as possible.
We’ve talked before about how late-night light from smartphones or laptop screens can interfere with sleep at night, and light will interfere with the quality of your sleep during the day, too. So turn off your phone and draw the blinds, and use a sleep mask if necessary.
Finally, it’s not a secret that a loud environment can prevent you from getting to sleep or wake you up mid-nap, but noise can affect your sleep even if you’re not acutely aware of it. If you’re unable to find a quiet place to escape to, block it out with earplugs or use a white noise machine or app.
3. Drink some coffee before laying down
Coffee before a nap can boost post-nap energy because of caffeine’s structural similarity to adenosine, a compound in our body that promotes sleep. Adenosine levels naturally drop as we sleep, freeing up the A1/A2A receptors in the brain that caffeine and adenosine compete for. So when caffeine finally hits your bloodstream about 30 minutes after ingestion, it’s extra effective in replacing tiredness with feelings of alertness and arousal.
4. Set a timer for 26 minutes
For most people, the ideal nap length is 26 minutes. It’s enough time to help you wake up refreshed but not so much that you fall into the deeper stages of sleep, making it easier to hit the ground running after waking up. Anything more than about half an hour and you’ll wake up feeling groggy and hungover (often even worse than not napping at all), thanks to a phenomenon called sleep inertia. Sleep inertia causes your brain to think you’re hunkered down for the night and intend to stay that way.
Need a longer nap? If you’re feeling sleep-deprived and trying to make up for lost zzz’s, set your timer for 90 minutes. This is a full cycle of sleep, meaning the lighter and deeper sleep stages – including REM sleep. A nap of this length can help boost memory and creativity, and typically avoids sleep inertia.
Alternatively, a sleep tracker like Sleep Cycle or Beddit can wake you up when you hit your lightest sleep stage in a specified time interval.
5. Use the military sleep method
Spending more time trying to fall asleep than actually sleeping? Use the military sleep method, a routine developed by the Navy that promises to help you fall asleep in 2 minutes or less:
- Relax your face and mouth, including your jaw and tongue.
- Release any tension in your shoulders and drop your arms to your sides.
- Relax your chest and breathe out. Also allow your legs, thighs and calves to relax in the process, letting gravity pull them down naturally.
- Clear your mind for ten seconds, imagining a relaxing scene. If this doesn’t work, try saying the words “don’t think” over and over for 10 seconds.
- Within ten seconds, you should fall asleep, but it may take up to two minutes when you first start practicing.
6. Repeat consistently
Just like with your nighttime sleep schedule, consistency with daytime naps is critical. By napping at the same time every day (or at least on the days you decide to nap), you’ll help train your body to know when it’s naptime.
Pain keeping you up at night?
Not getting enough quality sleep because you’re in pain? Here’s your wake-up call: there are zero excuses when study after study shows that what we do at Ascent Chiropractic is far and away the best solution to correct musculoskeletal problems, reduce pain and start living optimally.
We’re just a phone call away. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
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