Naps are the best! While it's generally frowned upon to nod off at your desk or in class, a nap may actually be the best way to boost your productivity, improve your memory, and reduce stress and anxiety. To round out National Sleep Awareness Week, here are seven tips for making the most out of your mid-afternoon Zs.
1. NAP WITH DISCRETION.
Before you get too comfortable, keep in mind that napping isn't for everyone. According to the Mayo Clinic, while short naps don’t usually interfere with nighttime sleeping, people who already experience insomnia or can’t sleep well at night can make it worse by napping. The National Sleep Foundation agrees, saying, “Short naps can be helpful for some people, but for others they make it difficult to fall asleep at night.” So nap carefully.
2. SNOOZE IN THE EARLY AFTERNOON.
According to a 2010 study by the University of California, the best time to take a nap is after lunch. The study found that a 90-minute nap in the afternoon allows your brain time to clear short-term memories out from the part of the brain that stores them, making room for new information. "It's as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you're not going to receive any more mail," according to lead researcher Matthew Walker. "It's just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder."
3. GET COZY.
While a power nap might do wonders for you afternoon productivity, it can be tough to find a good place to get some (sanctioned) shut-eye during the workday, especially if you don’t have a private office, break room, or dedicated napping pods. But finding a place that is quiet and dark is very important to taking an effective nap, so wear an eye mask and earplugs if you plan to doze in a shared office space or library. (And definitely get the boss's permission before closing your eyes.)
4. SET AN ALARM.
Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle might cause sleep inertia, which may lead to grogginess and sluggishness. Try to take a nap within a set timetable and set an alarm, so you don’t oversleep. Some rules of thumb: Taking a 10 to 20 minute nap will boost your alertness and energy in the middle of the day; since your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep hasn't yet kicked in, it will be easier to get back into work without any grogginess or irritability. Thirty to 60 minute naps have been shown to improve decision-making skills, so they're recommended for students who are studying for an exam. And a 2008 study of 90-minute naps found that the mid-day snooze improved memory.
5. COOL DOWN.
Your body temperature falls when you go to sleep, so napping in a cool room can work with your body's natural inclination in order to make you sleepy. The ideal temperature for snoozing is between 60 and 67°F.
6. GEAR UP.
There are a number of smartphone apps that can help you plot out the best time to take a nap. Sleep Cycle Power Nap for iOS allows you to set an alarm for a power nap (20 minutes) or a recovery nap (45 minutes) and uses your phone's built-in accelerometer to track when you fall asleep (and when it's time to wake up). Pzizz for iOS and Android will set the mood with relaxing sounds to help you reduce stress and easily fall asleep.
There are also a few high-tech accessories on the market that will help you take the perfect nap. Napwell is a sleeping mask made especially for taking mid-day naps. It gently wakes you up from a light sleep cycle with interior lights that gradually illuminate, mimicking a sunrise. The Ostrich Pillow might look silly, but it effectively blocks out any light and sounds and offers you a warm, cozy place to rest your head and hands. Light in the Box also offers an inflatable mattress that turns the backseat of your car into an inexpensive napping pod.
7. DRINK COFFEE.
To get an extra boost of energy, drink a cup of coffee before you take a power nap. Really! It takes about 20 minutes for caffeine's energy-boosting effects to kick in, so if you settle down for a short snooze after you down a cup of joe, the caffeine and natural boost will work in conjunction with one another.