Many of us miss those times from childhood when we had the benefit of taking a nap every afternoon—and we usually didn’t even appreciate it! While most adults tend to think of taking a nap as a luxury that they can’t afford, some people are learning that a nap is not a sign of laziness or a waste of time. Many people are learning that working a nap into their schedule (whether an everyday habit or just on a particularly exhausted day) can bring a myriad of physical and psychological benefits.
Afternoon Sleep—Good or Bad?
Naps can be an extremely helpful life tool that allows for more productivity and effectiveness in the later part of the day. One study performed by NASA has shown that a 40-minute nap can improve alertness by 100% and work performance by 34%. That’s quite a boost!
Napping has also been shown to have positive psychological results offering relaxation, rejuvenation, and a bit of a feeling of a mini-getaway from life—even if just for a few sweet minutes in the middle of the day. People who have night shifts scheduled into their work may find naps to be particularly beneficial in improving performance as well as reducing fatigue from interrupted circadian sleep rhythms.
Some other positive results of getting an afternoon nap include a boost in memory (especially for people who nap for only 10 minutes) to lowering of blood pressure related to stress and anxiety. People who nap may have calmer nerves, a deeper reserve of willpower, more positive mood, and restores amounts of focus.
Sleep researchers have found that getting a short nap in the afternoon may actually be more effective than drinking that extra cup of coffee! While a nap can improve learning performance, caffeine does not benefit and may even impair learning.
Warnings About Afternoon Sleep
Sleep just after lunch can have a negative side. If you’ve eaten a large meal and then immediately lie down to take a nap, this can be disruptive to the digestive process. Your digestive juices rely on gravity to keep everything where it should be. When you lie down just after eating, some of the stomach acids can flow back up into your esophagus and cause the discomfort of heartburn and acid reflux.
Sleeping just after eating a meal has also been linked to obesity in certain situations. So if you are going to sneak in an afternoon nap, be sure to get a couple of hours of awake time in after eating but before going to sleep.
Sleep inertia is that feeling of disorientation and heavy grogginess that sometimes comes when waking up. This I typically experienced when a person’s sleep is interrupted in the middle of a deep sleep cycle. Although this sleep inertia usually only lasts for up to half an hour, it can be a problem for people who need to perform immediately upon waking up from a nap.
How to Sleep in the Afternoon
If you aren’t sure of the best ways to sneak in that afternoon nap, take advice from these tips for afternoon napping.
- Keep it Short. When it comes to napping in the afternoon, most people find that a short, twenty minute power nap is much more energizing than sleeping for an hour or more. This allows your body and brain to rest, without getting into deep sleep (which could make you feel more tired than rested when you do wake up).
- Get a Full Sleep Cycle if Needed. For days when you are particularly exhausted, allow enough time for a full sleep cycle (90 minutes). This will let your brain and body get a full REM cycle. But be careful, as this can be much harder to wake up from.
- Avoid the Bed. It’s better if you can find a place to nap that is happy and comfortable—but not so perfect that it lulls you to sleep for hours. Do make sure that the place where you are napping has a comfortable temperature and is limited on the amount of light and noise.
- Don’t Exercise Just Prior to Your Nap. Give yourself at least 45 minutes following a workout before you try to go to sleep. This will help your body to cool down and allow your nap to better aid in exercise recovery.
- Don’t Nap Immediately After Eating. Try to schedule your nap so that you have a couple of hours after lunch but before sleeping. This will keep you from experiencing heartburn or acid reflex by lying down just after eating.
- Plan to Wake Up by 4pm. Napping is only helpful to you if it doesn’t keep you from losing sleep at night. The best plan is to be able to finish your nap prior to 4pm. This will give you a good energy boost to get through the rest of the day and the evening, but won’t interrupt your nighttime sleeping routines.
- Avoid the Alarm. As an alarm causes your brain to jolt awake, it can actually sabotage your energy storage by using up a bunch of adrenalin in response to the alarm. Instead, if your napping habits are healthy, you’ll likely be able to wake up on your own—when your body is ready.
- Make Napping a Habit. Children benefit greatly from taking naps at the same time every day—and you might too! Working a nap into your daily routine can be a great way to fight the afternoon slump and make the rest of your day more productive.
For people who aren’t able to get to sleep, or feel like they don’t have time for a full-on nap, even just getting a few minutes of quiet rest or meditation in the afternoon can do wonders for the rest of the day. Sitting in a quiet room and focusing on breathing can take the place of a nap in a pinch—especially if you’re feeling stressed but you aren’t actually sleep deprived.
All in all, giving some time a couple of hours after lunch to get in a nap or some rest can be an extremely positive habit for your life. You’ll likely find that the time you give to napping will be beneficial to your physical and mental well-being, allowing you to be more effective, happier, and live an overall healthier lifestyle.