How to Take the Perfect Nap

4 min read
How To Take The Perfect Nap

Some people would win gold medals if napping was an Olympic sport. Others refuse to take naps. Those that avoid them complain of feeling groggy, hungry, cold, disoriented, or the feeling missing out on interesting or important things. Some will say they cannot fall asleep at all during the day.

The perfect nap will leave you unsure that you have been asleep at all. You drift off without noticing and wake up fresh, ready to start the next part of your day. Let’s examine some napping tips from expert nappers.

Know Your Sleep Stages

Know Your Sleep Stages

You are probably aware that when you are asleep, you go through stages of sleep. You can use this to maximize nap benefits. According to Sara Mednick, a leading voice in nap research and author of Take a Nap, Change Your Life!, the first 20 minutes of your nap is spent in Stage 2 sleep, the stage of replenishing energy and alertness. Next comes slow-wave sleep (SWS), where the brain processes information and memories. Last is rapid eye movement (REM), the creativity-boosting dream phase. Mednick calls a 90-minute nap, “the perfect nap.” If you can nap that long, you’ll get one full sleep cycle, with a balanced dose of all three phases.

But naps do vary. “As a rule of thumb, you can count on naps earlier in the day to be richer in REM, while late-afternoon naps tend to be higher in SWS,” Mednick writes.  You might prefer a REM-soaked late-morning nap if you’re working on a creative project or are interested in dreaming. If you are constantly physically exhausted, a long afternoon nap rich in rejuvenating slow-wave sleep will help significantly.

Clear Your Mind

Most of us have a mind that is going 1,000 miles per hour constantly. This is a barrier to napping. Journaling before you lie down can help process whatever is nagging you, according to “Nap Bishop” Tricia Hersey. A guided meditation like yoga nidra, (or yogic sleep) can relieve stress and give your brain a break.

Generally, It Should Last 20 Minutes

Generally It Should Last 20 Minutes

The National Sleep Foundation recommends a nap lasting 20 to 30 minutes. That’s long enough to get into Stage 2 sleep, without the slow-wave sleep that can make you groggy. A famous 1994 NASA study found that 26 minutes was the ideal time. In the study, long-haul pilots who took a nap for 25.8 minutes were 50% more alert than those who took no naps. The nappers also performed 34% better on certain tasks. Devoting 30 minutes to nap time will cover the time to get to sleep plus that optimal 26 minutes.

Feeling Groggy Means Your Nap was Too Long

That disoriented feeling is known as sleep inertia. It happens when you wake up during slow-wave sleep, the phase after Stage 2 sleep. If this happens to you, try waking up a few minutes earlier.

It’s All About the Timing

It's All About The Timing

Body and brain temperature that runs on a roughly 24-hour schedule called a circadian rhythm, creates the desire to sleep. Regardless of climate or eating a big meal, we experience these subtle changes at bedtime and, to a lesser extent, in the afternoon. You should notice them around six to eight hours after waking. For most people, “prime napping time falls between 1 and 3 p.m.,” writes Mednick. Plan your nap for the time when your body is naturally sleeper, and you’re more likely to fall asleep.

Keep It Fairly Early in the Day

Experts say that improperly timed naps can interfere with your nighttime sleep. Don’t sleep too long or too late in the day, especially if falling asleep at night is difficult for you.

The Caffeine Nap

The Caffeine Nap

Nap avoiders might fight off the afternoon slump with coffee. But you can have it both ways. It takes around 20 minutes to begin affecting the body. This is quite close to that ideal 26-minute nap. So drink your coffee just before lying down. The caffeine will mimic an alarm – you will wake up feeling refreshed and focused. A 2003 Japanese study found that caffeine naps were more effective at combating daytime sleepiness than non-caffeine naps.

Use a “Nap Kit”

Lots of things can hinder a nap. The room is too bright, and there’s too much traffic noise. There is such a thing as an airplane nap kit. It contains a sleep mask, neck pillow, and earplugs. You can create the right conditions for sleep almost anywhere.

It Takes Practice

It Takes Practice

You can train yourself to become better at napping, just like you can learn to ride a bike or train for a 10k run. Once you form the habit, you’ll learn to drift off quickly and even wake up at the perfect time without an alarm. “Take your time and don’t guilt or pressure yourself,” Hersey says. “Just slowing down is a big pushback against grind and burnout culture.” Even if you can’t fall asleep, just lying down can have a positive effect: Science has found “non-sleep dozing” to be drowsy drivers stay more alert.

Know What Makes You Look Forward to Sleeping

For some, perfecting the nap leads to an obsession for all things sleep-related – researching memory-foam pillows, linen duvets, and silk pajamas for future purchases. Hersey rejoiced when she found the perfect fleece blankets for her Nap Ministry. Whatever gets you excited about crawling into bed will make nap time that much more appealing. “But even if you don’t have that stuff, wherever you are, you can embody rest,” Hersey says. “If you’re sitting on a couch, on a park bench, on an airplane, it’s about your mentality around it and getting into a routine. Wherever your body is, it’s the site of liberation.”