How to take the perfect nap : Life Kit : NPR

1709308851 How to take the perfect nap Life Kit | isentertainmentgroup

Ever woken up from a nap and felt more tired? Or so discombobulated you forgot which planet you were on?

There’s a term for that sleepy, almost-drunk feeling – it’s called sleep inertia, says Dr. Seema Khosla, a sleep medicine physician and the host of Talking Sleep, a podcast from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It’s a sign you’re overshooting your napping mark. It can slow you down in the short term and potentially sabotage your nighttime sleep in the long run.

To avoid that, you’ll need to keep your naps « consistent, early and brief, » says Jade Wu, a sleep medicine specialist and the author of the book Hello Sleep.

A good, short nap can offer mental health benefits, says Wu. « It makes us less biased towards negative stimuli and more flexible in our thinking. »

It can even act as « a performance-enhancing drug without the drug, » she adds. A 2023 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that athletes who napped had « more power, faster sprints, more stamina and felt fatigue less quickly. »

To take the perfect nap — and begin a napping routine that will leave you feeling refreshed — follow these three principles.

Consistency counts

Take a cue from Mediterranean cultures that siesta and take your nap at the same time every day, says Wu. You don’t want a « haphazard » napping schedule where you sleep « sometimes early, sometimes late, sometimes short. »

So pick a time, like after lunch or in between your afternoon meetings, and stick to it.

If you can, use the same sleep environment for your afternoon snooze and be as intentional about your nap space as possible, says Khosla. If you’re napping in your car on your lunch break for example, consider bringing a pillow, an eye mask or earplugs to help boost your nap experience.

Nap early in the day

From the moment you wake up in the morning, sleep pressure builds in your body to push you to fall asleep again at the end of the day, says Khosla. Napping relieves some of that pressure, so it’s important that you nap early enough in the day for it to build back up by bedtime.

If you follow a conventional nighttime sleep schedule, take a nap between noon and 3 p.m, says Wu. Any later and you might start to encroach on your nighttime sleep.

For people who work nights, Khosla suggests taking a nap at least 6 hours before you sleep. So if you sleep at 5 p.m. to wake up for a 2 a.m. shift, take a nap around 10 a.m. to give yourself enough time to get sleepy again.

Keep your siesta brief

The experts we spoke to say to keep your naps between 10 minutes to an hour, tops. This principle might be painful if you’re a fan of a long, leisurely afternoon snooze.

You want to « remain in the lighter phases of sleep rather than the deeper phases, where sometimes it’s a little bit harder to wake up, » says Khosla.

If you take a longer siesta, say, a two-hour nap, « that almost becomes an additional sleep period, » she adds — which might mean you’re engaging in polyphasic sleep, or breaking up the traditional 7- to 9-hour sleep schedule into smaller periods of sleep. That’s not necessarily a problem, say the experts, but it’s something to be aware of when considering your overall sleep hygiene.

If you find yourself falling asleep quickly and dipping into deep sleep with only 30 minutes of napping, « that’s a sign you’re not getting enough sleep at night. Your brain is so desperate to get into deep sleep that even a 30-minute nap will get you there, » says Wu. If this is the case, take steps to prioritize your nighttime sleep.

Not everyone has the time or the ability to nap everyday, but Khosla says there’s still a lot of value in taking an intentional daytime break. « We still undervalue rest as a society, » says Khosla. So even if you don’t fall asleep in that 30-minute period you set aside in the early afternoon, you’ll still benefit from rest. « Closing your eyes, checking out from what you’re doing and having a little bit of ‘me’ time – that is OK. »

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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