What do Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Capuchin monks and top-performing military pilots and astronauts all have in common?
They are all proud, devout nappers!
While some people view napping as “lazy,” or something that’s only appropriate when you’re recovering from an illness, the truth is that taking a daily nap is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being, mental clarity, and productivity.
To me a nap sounds like the ultimate guilty pleasure, rarely indulged. But after reviewing the research, I may have to reconsider!
Taking a nap is like plugging yourself into wall socket and recharging your batteries for the rest of the day. Need proof? A study at NASA on sleepy astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34%.
If you’d like to feel 34% more alert, energetic and productive for the rest of the day… read on. Your official guide to the ultimate power nap is right here.
– Time it right.
A high quality nap… is all about timing. Use Dr. Sara Mednick’s brilliant “Nap Wheel” to calculate the optimal time for your nap based on when you woke up and when you intend to go to bed.
Nap at this time and you’ll reach “a perfectly balanced state in which REM and slow-wave sleep are equally proportioned, and where The Ultimate Nap occurs.”
– Set the scene.
You don’t need a sleep researcher to tell you that napping is easier when you are comfortable! If you’re at home, draw the blinds to darken your room. Gather your favorite pillows and blankets. Invest in ear plugs and a light-blocking eye mask or some aromatherapy oils. Lavender is especially relaxing and nap-inducing.
– Quiet your mind.
If your mind is racing, write down whatever tasks or concerns are frittering around in your noggin. Or make a list of everything you intend to do once you wake up, if that’s helpful to you. (Personally, I’m always worried I will forget something important, so dumping everything into a list instantly alleviates some stress.)
Quiet your thoughts and remind yourself, “Everything on my to-do list will still be there when I wake up… and I’ll be much more alert and efficient. Everything will be easier after my nap!”
– Have a cup of coffee.
Surprised? It’s counter-intuitive, but having a cup of coffee immediately before settling down for a nap means that you’ll wake up extra-bright and bushy tailed.
Why? To quote this piece on The Huffington Post:
“It all boils down to body chemistry — specifically, to the competing effects of caffeine and adenosine, a drowsiness-inducing chemical compound that accumulates in your brain when you’re awake and dissipates as you sleep.
Caffeine’s alertness-boosting effect typically peaks about 30 minutes after the stimulant is consumed. So by sleeping for 20 or so minutes of those 30, you can reduce the amount of adenosine the caffeine has to compete with. And voila, the caffeine has a greater effect.”
Translation: a cup of coffee turns a power nap into a super-powered nap!
But this doesn’t give you carte blanche to chug triple-shot lattes all day long.
Try to ramp down your caffeine intake starting a few hours before you intend to take a nap so that you can relax. Then have a cup just before you close your eyes. That’s the ideal timing! And most of us should cut-off caffeine for good by mid-afternoon so that you can sleep well at night.
– Aim for 45 minutes or less.
There’s a bit of disagreement about how long the “perfect” power nap ought to be.
Most sleep researchers agree that a 10 – 20 minute nap can provide a measurable alertness and productivity boost.
Other studies suggest that a longer nap — about 45 minutes — can provide different kinds of benefits, including heightened creativity and problem solving abilities.
If you’ve got plenty of time, you could aim for a 90-minute nap, which will allow your body to move one complete sleep cycle, passing through all five phases of sleep. This means you’ll wake up feeling as rested as possible, instead of groggy and discombobulated.
My thoughts… Who has time for a 90-minute nap? You probably won’t be sleepy at your usual bedtime, which could throw your body and lifestyle out of whack. But everyone is different. Experiment with naps of different lengths to figure out what feels best for your body.
(Maybe, like the eccentric artist Salvador Dali, you will become obsessed with a “one second nap!” He swore by these micro-naps and believed they unlocked new depths of creative brilliance. Could be worth trying, at least once!)
“Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.”
— Barbara Jordan, American politician and Civil Rights movement leader
I could not agree more!
Even with a frantic schedule, could you plan for a short nap? You might just wake up refreshed and better equipped to tackle everything on your to-do list.
Whether you are flying a space ship, leading a civil rights march, working on a blog post, or finishing up a project at home, everything feels more doable after a nap!
~ Dr. Sue
Question of the day: what is the strangest place you’ve ever taken a nap?
(Me: At a club concert during college…I was soooo tired. I still remember the band Robots Raised In The Wild. My body needed it badly, and my friends didn’t mind that I snagged some spontaneous shut-eye. And the music was really bad, so I didn’t miss much!)