Being underslept feels awful. Worse, it’s bad for your wellbeing1, causing everything from lapses of attention to depressed mood. Fortunately, naps are here to save the day! If you do it right, a nap can make you more alert, happier and even healthier2. So, what’s the trick to happy napping?
Know your naps
Naps are often seen as the preserve of babies, the elderly and inhabitants of siesta-loving hot countries. But they can and do make life easier for adults all over the world. Enjoying a snooze in advance of a tiring event, shift work or a late night is known as planned napping. Catching forty winks because you’re tired and, for example, worried about falling asleep at the wheel is known as emergency napping. And organising your daily schedule to include a regular rest is called habitual napping. All three types have benefits, especially if you abide by a couple of simple tips.
Two tips for serious zzz’s
Short naps are best. The US Sleep Foundation3 and the Mayo Clinic4 recommend a short nap of around 20 minutes. A nap of this length will provide plentiful benefits, but will help you to avoid sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the disorienting, groggy feeling that can occur when you waken from a deep sleep. It doesn’t usually last for long but it makes it difficult to think clearly and effectively, which isn’t good if you’re taking an emergency nap because you need to drive or operate machinery safely. Short naps are also less likely to interfere with your sleep that night.
The second tip: don’t leave it too late. A late nap, like a long nap, could make it harder for you to fall asleep and reduce the quantity or quality of your night-time sleep. And that would defeat the point of having a nap in the first place. Trial and error will help you to work out your ideal time for a nap, but the ‘post-lunch lull’ between 1pm and 3pm5 is a good place to start.
Sleep on it
But napping in today’s busy, noisy world? Easier said than done. If you’re very lucky, you’ll have an enlightened, nap-friendly employer6. Most people, however, will have to get inventive if they want to integrate a nap into their working day7. For successful napping, you’ll need to create a dark, quiet and comfortable environment on the sly. Think ear plugs8, eye mask9, or even an ingenious travel pillow and eye mask combination10. Then find an undisturbed corner (your car? the stationary cupboard?), settle down, and relax….
The benefits of napping
So, why is napping worth doing? Research has shown that naps can increase alertness11, reduce the risk of accidents12, increase happiness and psychological wellbeing13, and can even help your immune system overcome the negative effects of sleep debt2. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: Einstein, Napoleon, JFK, Thomas Edison and Churchill were all devoted to the nap14. Who knows what you might achieve if you took twenty minutes for a snooze tomorrow?