Napping, when used appropriately, is an essential part of a good sleep tool kit. Naps have been shown to improve cognitive functioning, co-ordination, memory, learning and to improve decision making.
The key principle of napping is that it is should be used as a ‘top-up’ or ‘add-on’ to a healthy sleep routine, and not as a substitute. Science has shown that night-time sleep is unique in restoring specific mental and physical processes which cannot be achieved through day time napping. Equally for those with insomnia, taking a nap in the day will exacerbate rather than solve the issue.
Naps ranging from 10 minutes through to 90 minutes have all been shown in studies to enhance performance and alertness.
So when is it best to nap and how long should you nap for?
Top ten tips
Here’s my guide on how to take naps…
1) A Siesta nap
Taking a Siesta between 1pm and 3pm is the perfect time to nap. This is a natural period of sleepiness and occurs irrespective of whether we have eaten of not. Aim at having your nap during this down time within your circadian rhythm. You can chose either a short nap or long nap depending on how tired you are and how much time you have.
2) Short naps
These are often called Power Naps. They range from 10 minutes up to 25 to 30 minutes, with 20 minutes the most popular time taken. Set an alarm at the time you want to wake so that you aren’t worried about oversleeping. Use meditation techniques like breathing and visualisation to help you settle quicker.
3) Long naps
These are about 90 minutes, which is a complete sleep cycle, and have the best chance of leaving you feeling both physically and mentally refreshed.
4) Avoid 30 to 60 minute naps
The trick to successful napping is to either wake up at the end of a complete 90 minutes cycle or to stop short of waking up in the deep sleep phase. Our deep sleep phase starts after about 30 minutes after falling asleep and lasts 30 minutes. Waking in the middle of the deep sleep phase leaves us with ‘sleep inertia’ where we feel groggy and disorientated.
5) Nap ahead
Napping ahead is proven to be the best napping strategy to maintain alertness. This involves ‘banking sleep’ before a late night. Thus, rather than suffer sleep deprivation the next day you, will have accumulated some sleep in the ‘bank’. Try to nap for full sleep cycle of 90 minutes or even 2 cycles of 3 hours if possible. You will then be starting the next day from a position of a normal amount of sleep rather than trying to catch up on lost sleep. This can significantly improve your alertness the day after a late night.
6) Where to nap?
Napping in a cool, dark, quiet space would be perfect. If not use an eye mask, ear plugs or a white noise device to help you settle. Lie down if you can, as it’s a far easier to get to sleep in this position than sitting.
7) Add a coffee
Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to enter our blood stream and to deliver its effects on our body. If you are having a power nap of 20 minutes early in the day it can serve as your alarm clock. Caffeine will then kick start your brain as you awake, making you instantly more alert. Use this sort of technique in the mornings only though as having caffeine after lunch can prevent you falling to sleep at night .
8) Don’t nap if you suffer from insomnia
For those who struggle to get to sleep at night or stay asleep, naps can sometimes interfere with the nighttime sleep pattern. Thus, if you suffer from insomnia it is always best to sort out your regular sleep first before you consider adding naps to your routine. Research has shown that when insomniacs avoid napping in the day it tends to improve their ‘sleep continuity’ at night.
9) Don’t nap too late
The cut off for naps is around 4pm ( unless you work night shifts). After this time it is considered to be too close to a normal bedtime and will interfere with your ability to sleep that night. Keep to the ‘siesta zone’ when it’s easier to naturally nap.
10) Picking a specific window of time
For those who nap at work, most tend to take a power nap within the Siesta two hour window from 1pm to 3pm. If you plan to do this, a good way to pick your optimal time slot is to add between 6 and 8 hours from your wake up time. This nap schedule should then fit in with your chronotype or sleep type. A morning lark, who goes to bed early and gets up early then naps earlier. Night owls, whose wake up time can often be later would nap slightly later too.
Thus if you wake up at ;
5.00am your nap would start about 1.00pm (+8hrs)
6.00am your nap would start at 1.30pm (+7.5hrs)
7.00am your nap would start about 2.00pm (+7 hrs)
8.00am your nap would start at 2.30pm (+6.5hrs)