I find it difficult to get through the day without a short nap, and I’ve indulged in afternoon naps for as far back as I can remember.
Naps aren’t something I choose—they choose me.
For a long time, I thought there must have been something wrong with me, as I wasn’t aware of anyone around me who also needed to take regular naps. For a long time, I felt guilty, as though maybe it was laziness causing midday drowsiness, or possibly my diet wasn’t healthy and nutritious enough. I even considered that I might need to increase the amount I exercised.
I think part of the guilt was due to the false belief that naps were for babies, and that as we get older, it’s something we should grow out of. But then, that theory kind of debunked itself when I considered that many elderly people regularly take guilt-free short sleeps throughout the day, so I carried out a little bit of research into why I needed to nap and this is what I found:
Our energy levels take a dip during the early afternoon, therefore The National Sleep Foundation recommends a 20 to 30 minute nap to restore alertness and improve performance. According to their research, a nap of this length will not leave us feeling drowsy or affect nighttime sleep.
The foundation describes three types of napping:
Planned napping, which involves dedicating a time for a nap, rather than waiting until you get too sleepy.
Emergency napping, when you suddenly become overwhelmingly fatigued, and you cannot continue the activity you were doing.
Habitual napping, whereby you nap around the same time every day.
My napping style is a mixture emergency and habitual, as I find that when I try to force sleep, my mind becomes more alert than ever.
However, I may need to consider changing that, as research shows that to receive the maximum benefit, we need to keep our circadian rhythms (internal body clock) stable, which means napping at approximately the same time each day.
Keeping our circadian rhythms stable regulates our hormone levels, body temperature, metabolism, and immune system—and it ensures we sleep more soundly during the night.
Energy levels wax and wane person to person, but generally dip during the day between approximately 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. For this reason, the optimum time for a daytime nap would be post lunchtime. Scheduling at this time also means the nap isn’t occurring too late in the day, so it shouldn’t have any impact on our nighttime sleep.
Daytime napping is meant to reboot our system and leave us feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, not exhausted or disoriented. Therefore, if we do not feel alert and refreshed afterwards, we may be daytime napping all wrong.
Here are a few tips for the perfect daytime nap:
Set an alarm to gently wake you from your snooze.
Ensure there will be no noise interruptions, so turn off televisions and close windows if there is a lot of outdoor activity.
Turn the lights off and close curtains or blinds.
Lie down, or relax into a comfortable chair where you won’t be disturbed.
Place a blanket over your body, as when you sleep your metabolism slows down, and your body loses temperature.
To avoid sleep inertia (that groggy, disoriented, zoned-out feeling) try not to sleep for more than 30 minutes.
Sip some honey and lemon water before and after the nap.
Ensure you have a period of recovery time free, so that you can awaken fully before continuing with activities.
Waking up at approximately the same time each day—and going outdoors for an early morning stroll to absorb morning sunlight—also helps to keep our circadian rhythm balanced, as well as refreshing and awakening the body and mind.
It can take around 30 days to reset the body clock, so if you’re new to napping, you may feel a little jet-lagged at first, which is perfectly normal, until the body and mind adjust to the alterations.
According to James K. Walsh, PhD—a researcher at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center, consuming coffee while working, as well as taking a nap before work, can stave off sleepiness and was found to be an effective strategy for remaining alert and awake.
A study at NASA on military pilots and astronauts discovered that a 40-minute nap during the day improved their performance by 34 percent—and alertness by 100 percent. The research also found that those who napped made fewer mistakes and had fewer accidents.
Another study found that a lack of sleep can result in us feeling more emotionally reactive or emotionally blocked—also, judgment may become skewed, our speech can become impaired, which can lead to poor performance and functioning, and we may struggle to process emotions.
When our sleep patterns are regulated, and we are not sleep deprived, we are more likely to be emotionally balanced and stable. We will feel calmer and more rational, our perception is likely to be heightened, and our general health and well-being is enhanced.
A daytime nap can prevent us from feeling burned out, particularly if we are going through a stressful or busy period. Slowing ourselves down, so that our body and mind receive the opportunity to rest and re-calibrate for a short period of time, has been proven to have positive impact. Although it may feel as though taking a nap is time wasting, it is actually time saving, as research has shown that our productivity increases when we gift our system the time to rest, relax, and recuperate.
Napping isn’t for everyone, and different studies show a mixture of findings, with some suggesting a 10-minute nap is sufficient, while others suggest 30 minutes or more. Therefore, I believe it is always better to carry out a little research, and then listen to the body and mind. We will quickly learn what’s best for our own health and vitality, and we can adjust our pattern until we find what suits us.
For me, a 20-30 minute downtime between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. leaves me feeling rejuvenated, creative, motivated, recharged, and ready to navigate the second half of my day.