The ABC’s (and Zzzzz’s) of Proper Napping

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to get more sleep, we applaud you but realize that it may be easier said than done.  That’s a where a nap comes in.  Naps were once considered something that small children and lazy people did, but scientists are discovering more and more that there are huge benefits to taking a short siesta in the afternoon.  Those benefits include improved work performance, quicker reaction time, better memory, less confusion, and fewer accidents and mistakes.

If you’re not used to taking a nap, you may not know where to start.  It seems pretty simple — just lay down and close your eyes — but napping at the wrong time of day or for the wrong length of time can leave you groggy or unable to sleep that night.

Let’s start with when you should nap.  For those on a normal day-night schedule, the best time of day is 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon.  That’s the time of day when you might experience post-lunch sleepiness or a lower level of alertness. In addition, naps taken during this time are less likely to interfere with nighttime sleep.  If you are unable to nap in the late afternoon, try in the late morning.  No matter how tired you are, however, try to avoid napping after 4 p.m., as it will interfere with your nighttime sleep.  If you find that you’re exhausted at that time of day, do you best to stay up for a while, and then just go to bed early that night.

The next important thing to learn in order to “nap right” is to know how long to nap.  Inexperienced nappers may just lay down and doze for a couple of hours.  That long of a nap is almost sure to get in the way of your nighttime sleep.  Additionally, if you’re able to sleep for that amount of time in the middle of the day, it’s a sign that you’re very sleep deprived and need to make adjustments to your lifestyle.  The best nap length for most of us is about 20 minutes.  For many people, a successful nap doesn’t even involve fully falling asleep, but rather just resting their eyes for 20 minutes.

A couple of final notes about napping — if you find that you dream during your nap, you’ve likely napped too long.  Additionally, if you tend to suffer from insomnia, then napping may not be for you as it may worsen your problem.