In case you aren't aware of the health benefits of napping, it's worth doing a little research into how they can boost memory, improve mood, help combat heart disease and extend your lifespan. These are all compelling reasons to nap more and when you look to nature it does indeed appear as though napping is a widely utilised trick for conserving energy and repairing the body and mind in the animal kingdom.
But deciding to nap alone is not enough. Now you know that you should be incorporating naps into your routine, you need to ask yourself how you're going to do that and you need to learn how to go about getting the 'perfect' nap. A lot of people find that upon waking up from a nap they actually feel worse rather than better, so let's take a look at how to do napping right!
The When and Where of the Perfect Nap
The first question to ask yourself is when and where you should be napping.
To answer the question of 'when', you should listen to your own body which should tell you when you are starting to run low on energy. A good time for many people will be 4pm, at which point our bodies will often be at their coolest until 4am.
This does vary however depending on a number of factors, including your individual differences, your activities and what time you wake up. Generally though you will want to nap around 8-10 hours after waking up due to your body's natural cycles and it's a good idea to go to sleep then – but best is to just see how you feel and whether or not you think you could benefit from a nap.
As for 'where', the ideal situation will be somewhere where you can lie down in the dark (complete dark) with the same ideal conditions that you would look for when sleeping at night.
This is perhaps the biggest question of all: how long do you nap? This is crucial as the length of your nap is going to greatly impact how refreshed you feel when you wake up and how many benefits you get from it.
There are numerous factors to account for here and the duration you aim for will depend on your goals with a few caveats. For the best memory-enhancing effects a good nap should be around 90 minutes. This way you will be asleep long enough to reach 'REM' sleep (dreaming) which is believed to be instrumental in laying down new memories.
On the other hand, if you don't have time for a long sleep, then you should be sure to always keep your naps under 45 minutes. This is important as you will otherwise wake up during a slow-wave sleep cycle. Twenty minutes seems to be a good aim for most people, while 26 minutes is the advice given to air-traffic controllers.
The tricky part is accounting for how long it takes you to get to sleep. The average time it takes for the regular Joe (or Josephine) to get to sleep is 10-20 minutes, so if you want to get 26 minutes of sleep then you need to set aside 46 minutes.
Tools and Tricks
There are a few tools and tricks you can use to get even more from your naps. One tip is to drink a cup of tea or coffee right before you set down to sleep. That sounds counterintuitive but makes sense once you realise that caffeine takes about 25 minutes to take effect. In other words you'll be roused by the drink just as you want to wake up.
Another very useful strategy anyone can use is to try meditating before heading to bed. Meditation is an incredibly useful tool for relaxing the brain and teaching you to 'let go' of the things you find stressful. This is incredibly powerful as it gives you the ability to instantly switch on and off from your 'work mode' so that you can forget your worries and drop off into a sound sleep.
Finally, bear in mind that even if you don't quite manage to fall asleep, simply relaxing with the intention of sleeping can actually still have many rejuvenating effects. Don't worry then if you don't master the art of napping right away, just lie down with intent to chill and you'll feel better for it.
Again though, everyone is different so it's a good idea to listen to your body and to experiment until you find the perfect set-up for you. Whatever that may be, it's worth incorporating into your routine and may help you to start getting much more from the second part of your day.