Whether you think you need daytime rest or not, picking up a nap habit—or continuing to make time for one—is a smart, healthy move. Consider the evidence: The Mayo Clinic says naps promote relaxation, reduced fatigue, better mood and alertness, and a sharper-working mind (better memory, less confusion, fewer mistakes). A 2008 British study found that compared to getting more nighttime sleep or guzzling caffeine, a mid-day nap was the best way to cope with the mid-afternoon slump.
According to the Harvard Health Letter, several studies have shown that people remember new information better when they take a nap shortly after learning it. And, most incredibly, a 2007 study of nearly 24,000 Greek adults in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who napped regularly had a 37 percent reduced risk of dying from heart disease compared to people who didn’t nap.
Of course, napping isn’t right for everyone. If you’re prone to insomnia, naps that are too long or taken too late in the day can interfere with your ability to fall or stay asleep at night. Also, people with certain sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, may feel more tired if they take a nap than if they don’t.
But for most, naps can make you feel sharper and happier. To get the most out of your rest, follow these tips.
How long to sleep: Naps provide different benefits depending on how long they are, says MentalFloss.com. A 20-minute nap will boost alertness and concentration; a 90-minute snooze, which includes deeper stages of sleep, can enhance creativity. The danger zone is when you’re somewhere in between, because waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle can lead to sleep inertia, or that feeling when you wake up groggy instead of refreshed. So stick to 20 or 90 minutes for optimal benefits. If you wake up from a nap feeling disoriented or more tired, chances are your timing was just off.
What time to sleep: According to Prevention.com, you experience a natural dip in body temperature (the same kind that makes you feel sleepy at night) between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. A power nap at this time can boost alertness for several hours and, for most people, shouldn’t affect being able to fall asleep at night.
How to get comfy: According to MentalFloss.com, it takes about 50 percent longer to fall asleep sitting up than lying down. (That’s why we sleep so poorly on planes and trains!) Pick a dark, cozy place that’s not too warm or too chilly. Prevention.com recommends napping on the couch instead of in bed, so you’re less tempted to snooze for too long.
Surprisingly, the best place to crash may be a hammock if you have one. A Swiss study published last year found that people fell asleep faster and had deeper sleep when they napped in a hammock than in a bed. That same rocking motion that lulls babies to sleep works wonders for grown-ups too.
Consider a “caffeine nap”: It sounds counter-intuitive, but sipping coffee right before a nap may be the perfect aid for optimal alertness, according to Japanese research. Since caffeine takes 20 to 30 minutes to take full effect, you’ll feel even more awake after your 20-minute rest. As Newsweek put it, “think of a nap as an extra shot in your latte.”
Don’t nap instead of sleeping at night: If you feel too tired to make it through the day without a nap, then you’re probably not getting enough nighttime Zzzzs. Naps are great for your health, but they won’t make up for the hours you may be losing at night, says Newsweek. And we’re all too aware of the many dangers of too-little sleep: It boosts your risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, depression, accidents, and more.