Do you know how to pick the perfect nap?
I love naps. I think most of us do. Especially on Saturday afternoon, while watching golf. Have you ever noticed that golf is the perfect show for napping? Must be all that soft talking they do.
To get all the potential benefits—and avoid the pitfalls—naps need to be used correctly. I can’t count the number of patients I have who try to catch some rest during the day, only to have their naps interfere with their nighttime sleep and throw their sleep-wake cycles out of sync.
Let’s talk through good napping. Then I’ll show you nine types of naps you can choose from.
Here’s a quick recap of the benefits of napping, which are pretty powerful. Naps can:
- Boost your brain function, including focus, accuracy, and concentration
- Enhance your creativity
- Improve your critical thinking skills
- Lower your stress levels and lift your mood
- Give you more energy and improve your physical performance
When it comes to napping, choose wisely. Know first what you want to get out of your nap before you decide when and for how long you’ll sleep.
- Are you looking to re-claim mental sharpness in your busy working afternoons?
- Want to have more power and energy for your end-of-day gym session?
- Need to prepare for—or recover from—a long-distance trip?
The timing and duration of your nap depend a lot on your individual needs and circumstances. Those needs and circumstances change over time—which mean your nap needs change, too.
What nap is right for you?
The CEO nap. If you’re looking for a boost to your daily energy, focus, and mental performance, then a short power-nap (25 min) in the mid-afternoon (1-3 p.m.) is a good napping option for you. Any longer and you will feel terrible. Whether you’re the CEO of a start-up or your family’s household, you can stay sharp throughout the day with a brief rest between 1-3 p.m. Just don’t stop paying attention to getting the nightly rest you need.
The Nap-A-Latte. This is my favorite strategy for those days when your energy is really lagging and you need a quick lift. The Nap-A-Latte combines a moderate amount of caffeine with a short period of rest to deliver you the benefits of both at once. Here’s how it works:
- Drink a 6-to-8-ounce cup of coffee, quickly. (Add ice cubes to cool it down–if you’d like.) You want about 90-100 mg caffeine, which is roughly the content of a regular cup of coffee—not a super-sized version.
- Quickly, find a quiet place to lie down and take a 20-minute snooze. Set a timer so you don’t oversleep.
You’ll wake just as the stimulant effects of the caffeine are kicking in (roughly 20 minutes), having also relieved some of the sleep pressure that’s been building and making you feel tired.
The Nap-A-Latte is not an everyday napping strategy. I recommend using this nap no more than two times a week. If you find yourself seriously tired during the day on a routine basis, it’s time to take a close look at your sleep routine, including how much sleep you’re getting and your sleep hygiene habits.
The New Mom nap. Moms (and dads) taking care of newborns and young children not sleeping through the night: the strategy here is to nap when your child naps. Resist the temptation to try to be productive in other ways while your child is sleeping. As a parent getting the sleep you need, you’ll have more energy, more patience, and more focus for your child and all the other parts of your busy life if you’re not chronically sleep deprived.
The Sports nap. Sleep is a not-so-secret weapon in sports performance—so long as you time it right. Whether you’re playing in a cutthroat doubles’ tennis tournament, running a 10K road race, or tearing up the field in an evening indoor soccer league, a well-timed nap can give you an edge. A short, 15- to 20-minute nap will deliver immediate benefits to physical and mental performance for a period of time—without any sleep inertia upon waking (feeling like you just can’t wake up). A longer nap can also deliver significant physical and mental benefits, and they will last longer once they kick in—after a period of clearing the cobwebs. If you don’t give yourself enough time for sleep inertia to pass, you’ll be sluggish and groggy on the field rather than stronger, faster, and more energized.
The Disco nap. This is a classic nap strategy that comes from the days of the Bee Gees and Donna Summer. When you’re planning a late night, take a 90-minute nap before you head out for the evening. You can combine this rest with the Nap-A-Latte for an even greater energy boost. This is an effective way to give yourself the stamina and energy for an evening celebration that you know is going to run late into the night (or early morning). A couple of important caveats:
- This is a special occasion nap! A lifestyle that makes the Disco nap a regular habit isn’t good for your sleep or your health.
- Get up at your regular time the next morning. Yes, even if you stayed up until sunrise. Your day will feel long and sleepy, but you’ll be ever-so ready for sleep come nighttime, and you’ll keep your sleep schedule intact.
The Siesta. Some cultures are way ahead of the United States in embracing the practice of a rest period during the day. In Spain, Greece, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Philippines and other nations around the world, naps are a part of daily life. I’d love to see workplaces in the U.S. and other non-napping societies start to dim the lights and close the shop doors at 2:30 P.M. to give everyone time to re-charge. We’re not there yet—but I believe we will get there. If your life and culture incorporate a daily rest period, fantastic. If they don’t, be on the lookout for ways you can adjust your daily routine to make time for some downtime during the day.
The Shift Work nap. Shift workers face a number of challenges to healthy sleep because they’re so often awake and active when their bodies are meant to be asleep. As a result, they’re more likely to be sleep deprived. They face particular risks to their health, linked to their atypical sleep-wake schedules, and they also face elevated risks for accidents and injury because of fatigue. Shift workers are more likely than the rest of us to need to break up their sleep into segments, and they can benefit greatly from strategically timed naps.
Depending on your schedule and the requirements of your job, napping as a shift worker might include:
- A short nap before your shift begins, and/or napping on short breaks during shifts
- Scheduling sleep in two or more segments, including a longer segment (4-5 hours) at the end of a shift, combined with one or two 90-minute naps throughout the day leading up to your next shift.
Shift workers can benefit greatly from workplaces that allow—and encourage—nap breaks during a shift. But on-the-job napping is a benefit that I’d like to see for all workplaces. Companies are getting better at addressing sleep as a workplace issue, but we have a long way to go. Nap rooms and nap pods are popping up at companies including Google, Procter & Gamble, and Zappos, among others. Knowing what we do about the cognitive and psychological benefits of napping, encouraging employees to take rest periods during the workday is a smart move for employers.
The Teen nap. Teens experience a significant shift to their circadian clocks, making them biologically driven to stay up late and wake late. That biological drive to be awake and alert at night, combined with early school start times, leaves a great many teens with a chronic sleep debt. Their lack of sleep puts them at greater risk for academic, behavioral and emotional problems, as well as health problems later in life. For teens, a short 20-minute nap after school, or some longer recovery sleep—up to 90 minutes—on the weekends, can help. Just so long as it doesn’t push their weeknight bedtimes even later, or leave them with Sunday night insomnia.
The Jet Lag nap. This is the type of nap I use most often. Travel-related naps spare me frustration and fatigue, reduce jet lag, and help me keep my energy up even with a very rigorous travel schedule. Naps can help your body transition to new time zones, can make up for lost sleep during travel, and can supplement nighttime sleep when your itinerary is very busy. The most important thing to know about scheduling sleep for travel is to adopt the schedule that fits your destination time zone. Sleep when the locals sleep. An extended nap on a long flight can help you begin to transition your body to your new time zone, provided you’re sleeping during a time when you’d be sleeping if you lived at your destination. A short, 20-minute nap can help you make it through the first, jet-lagged day in a different time zone, and still allow you to fall asleep on local time.
CAUTION: Remember, naps aren’t for everyone. If you’re suffering from depression, you’re likely experiencing some type of sleep issue, and your circadian rhythms may be disrupted. Napping can make your depression worse. People with insomnia also shouldn’t nap. For insomniacs, a daytime nap can make it harder to fall asleep on schedule at night. Naps should work with your nighttime sleep routine, not undermine it.