How To Take The Perfect Nap
From siestas in South America to nap salons in Japan, naps are as much a regular part of human culture as sleeping at night. With sleep deprivation at practically epidemic levels in certain parts of the world, it’s no wonder that scientists are increasingly interested in how naps affect performance. One major upshot of this is that there’s been a fair bit of research on the right way to nap to increase wakefulness and general well-being.
First, set an alarm. If you’ve ever woken up from a 3-hour daytime snooze feeling like a confused time-traveller in a strange land, you already know that sleeping for extended blocks during the day is not ideal. Research suggests that this is due to the way your body cycles through different stages of sleep. Shorter naps—under 20 minutes or so—make it less likely for you to go beyond the first two (lighter) stages of sleep. Beyond that, you get into slow-wave sleep territory, which makes it much harder to wake up and can leave you feeling groggy for hours afterward if you don’t complete a full sleep cycle.
The best time for a nap is usually the afternoon, when most people experience energy dips and find it harder to focus. Research shows that an afternoon nap can significantly boost your learning capacity, making it easier to acquire and remember information. If you find yourself feeling tired around the 3PM mark, and you can manage it with your work schedule, napping for 20 minutes is one of the best things you can do for your brain.
Get in the napping zone as much as you can according to your surroundings. If you’re not one of the lucky few working for a company that gives employees access to nap rooms (like Google or Uber), simulate a peaceful sleep environment as best you can. If you have your own office, turn off the lights or wear a sleep mask, and use earplugs or headphones to block out external noise. Lie down if it’s possible.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for prioritizing napping in your daily schedule. The benefits of a properly timed nap are well-documented—that is, science is on your side. If you can, work regular naps into your life and enjoy your increased alertness and productivity.
All that said, keep in mind that naps are not a long-term solution to chronic sleep deprivation. A nap after a night of poor sleep will certainly help, but no amount of napping will make up for not getting enough sleep at night on a regular basis.