Learning How to Nap

By: Shannon Ullman

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Napping is a skill that is often denied to adults, but it can have benefits when done correctly. Naps may not be right for everyone, either. You can wake up from a short siesta feeling on top of the world or like you’ve been hit by a truck. There is no in-between—unless you learn how to nap like a pro.

The benefits of napping are well-documented. Naps can help improve alertness, boost your memory, and even help you be less reactive to life’s many frustrations. In other words: napping could help makes you feel better in general, especially if you’re unable to get good sleep at night.

Want to learn how to take a nap and wake up feeling refreshed? Here’s how to get the most out of a midday snooze.

How to Nap: General Rules

First, let’s start with the basics. When it comes to napping, there are a few general rules you should follow:

Set up a good napping environment

Turn off the lights and find a cozy spot to lay down. Similar to how you optimize your bedroom at night, you want to make sure your environment is conducive to sleep during the day by making it dark and lowering the temperature.

Sleep aids like noise machines, eye masks, weighted blankets, and blackout curtains can help. The quicker you can fall asleep, the more you can benefit from an optimized nap.

Set a timer

Set a short timer for around 15 minutes. Long naps can actually make you feel worse when you wake up, so it’s best to keep your daytime snoozes short and sweet. That’s the trick to a good nap: keep it short and sweet.

Sleeping too long during the day can also cause wakefulness at night, so it’s important to nap strategically and only for a short amount of time. Don’t worry, that little power nap will still be effective.

Consider the timing

Nap in the early afternoon. Early afternoon is the prime time for napping as it won’t likely interfere with your regular sleep schedule. Anything after 3 p.m., and you might have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime.

How to Fall Asleep Quickly When Napping

Now that you know the basics of napping, it’s time to learn how to fall asleep quickly when it’s time to give your eyes a rest. Here are a few science-backed tips you can try:

  • Visualize somewhere calm and relaxing. Research has found that engaging your imagination with “imagery distraction” can help you fall asleep quicker.
  • Put on some calming music. Soothing sounds and white noise machines can block distractions and help you relax.
  • Tell yourself not to fall asleep. Also called paradoxical intention, this technique releases the pressure to fall asleep, which can actually help you drift off in seconds. It can be especially effective for those with insomnia.
  • Create a space conducive to napping by manipulating the light, sound, and temperature in the room. This will help signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. This can also include what’s called “night lighting.”

How to Wake Up and Avoid Grogginess

You drifted off to dreamland only to be rudely awoken by an alarm 20 minutes later. Usually with a power nap this short, you shouldn’t feel too groggy. (It’s the long naps that do that.) But if you do, there are a few tips to help you wake up feeling refreshed:

  • Splash your face with water and get some sunlight as soon as possible. Sunlight helps to reset your internal clock and fight off the post-nap grogginess.
  • Put on your favorite playlist. Research shows that listening to upbeat music can help increase your energy levels and get you out of that post-nap funk.
  • Guzzle a little caffeine right before your nap. Because caffeine peaks around 30-60 minutes after you drink it, timing your coffee nap perfectly can help you wake up feeling more refreshed.
  • Get up immediately. Don’t hit the snooze button! Getting up and moving around will help you wake up better than staying in bed.

How to Nap While Traveling

Traveling can be exhausting, especially if you’re jet-lagged or pulling an all-nighter to catch your flight. If you find yourself in need of a quick power nap while on the go, here are a few tips:

  • Make the most of where you are. Whether it’s a gate at the airport or the backseat of a car, take advantage of any space you can find to catch a few winks. Remember: it doesn’t have to be long to be effective.
  • Bring along some sleeping essentials. Pack a neck pillow, eye mask, and earplugs to make your napping experience more comfortable and productive.
  • Set an alarm. Make sure you set a timer so you don’t sleep past 15-20 minutes.
  • Adjust your schedule. If you’re traveling to a different time zone, try adjusting your sleep schedule before your trip by going to bed an hour earlier or later (depending on the time difference) for a few days. This will help you acclimate to the new time zone and avoid feeling jet-lagged.

Napping While Polyphasic: What is Polyphasic Sleep?

Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern that involves splitting your sleep into multiple shorter periods throughout the day instead of the traditional seven to eight hours at night.

While there are many different polyphasic sleep schedules, they all typically involve taking at least two naps during the day in addition to your regular nighttime sleep.

What are the Benefits of Napping in Polyphasic Sleep?

The research behind polyphasic sleep is uncertain, and most of the reported benefits are anecdotal. Here are the most commonly reported benefits of napping during polyphasic sleep:

  • Many people who practice polyphasic sleep claim to have increased productivity.  But that could be just because they have more time in their day to get things done.
  • Napping can reduce fatigue and safety hazards in the workplace, particularly for those working overnight shifts.
  • Frequently waking up during the night (which happens in different polyphasic sleep schedules) can increase instances of lucid dreaming, which is when you become aware that you’re dreaming while you’re still asleep.
  • Napping and sleeping, in general, can help you store memories. However, there is no noticeable effect on your memory on sleep windows shorter than 30 minutes. 

Takeaway

When you’re a new parent, a shift worker, or a student trying to juggle a busy schedule, napping can be a lifesaver—if you know how to do it correctly.

Like all skills, napping takes practice and a willingness to experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you. But with a little bit of effort, you’ll be napping like a toddler in no time.

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