What the Experts Say About Napping

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Whether it be late working hours, stress or nearby distractions,lacking a good quality sleep at night can become commonplace. This not only makes us feel tired the following day, but it also can reduce alertness and our ability to undertake our usual activities. Naps are one way that the Sleep Health Foundation suggests we can help pep ourselves up and concentrate better on tasks during the day. There is, however, an art to napping and some specific guidelines to follow.

How long should your nap be?

Professor Leon Lack from Flinders University in South Australia discussed in his study on how effective power naps really are. Lack believes that the length of the nap is crucial to how effective it is. He says that 10-15 minutes of sleep is optimum to help improve mental function, reaction times and performance. Professor Lack went on to say that the "improvement in performance and alertness seems to be maintained for up to two and sometimes three hours after the nap.”

While some experts believe in a shorter nap, the Sleep Health Foundation suggests a nap between 15-30 minutes is optimal to enhance your alertness. However there is a general consensus that after the 30 minute mark, you can wake up feeling more drowsy and even a little disorientated. This can have the opposite effect to what you’re aiming for with a power nap.

When is the optimal time of day to nap?

According to experts, the time of day that you decide to nap is also important. Sleep expertMichael Breus, Ph.D. suggests that the best time to take a nap is the middle of the afternoon. This is because you’re most likely to feel the need for some shut eye between noon and 4pm when your body’s circadian cycle is at its low point.

Napping too late in the day can affect your ability to fall asleep at night so avoid any napping after 4pm. If you have insomnia or you’re a light sleeper, it is advised that you nap seven to eight hours before you head to bed.  Naps are best taken six to eight hours after waking. For most people this will be between 1pm and 2pm. For those who want to boost their energy levels and ability to stay awake into the evening, a later nap around 2pm or 3pm will help.

NappIng on the job

More U.S. organisations are catching on to the power of napping and the resulting improvements in staff productivity. Companies like Google, Saatchi & Saatchi, Pfizer, and Procter & Gamble are all adding energy pods (also known as sleep pods) to their office spaces. The trend has also started to appear in Australia, with major companies like PWC, Salesforce and even the Australian Institute of Sport adopting sleep pods into their workspaces.

Not all workplaces believe in the productivity boosting abilities of the power nap. If you don’t have a sleep pod at your workplace, sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D. suggests that you create your own “napping kit.” This should include earplugs, an eye mask and a small alarm clock. All of these items will help improve your chances of falling asleep and also give you the confidence that you’ll wake up when you need to.

7 tips for a better nap

  • If you nap each day, try to nap at the same time. As we often feel mostly sleepy between 2pm and 3pm, around this time is optimal.
  • If possible, keep the room dark and quiet. Close the curtains or wear an eye mask to help keep the room as dark as you can.
  • Ensure the room is a comfortable temperature. If you’re too hot or cold you won’t be able to sleep. Try to sleep in a cool space with a light blanket.
  • Have an alarm set for no more than 30 minutes. This will help you fall asleep with the knowledge that you won’t oversleep. Also try to set an alarm tone that is gentle to wake up to.
  • Put all technology away. It’s best to keep all distractions at bay when you are trying to get a nap in, so leave all of your technology outside the room.
  • Lay down. When taking a nap, experts suggest the best way to fall asleep is with your body laying down and your head slightly propped upright.
  • Nap in a safe place. If you’re on the road and decide to take a nap, make sure you pull over somewhere safe, away from the road. Rest stops are ideal places for parking your car at nap time.

Sleep for a better you

While sleep experts suggest that napping is a useful tool to increase alertness and help fight feelings of tiredness, it’s not advised as a long term solution to replace a regular, good night’s sleep. Instead, prescribe yourself a dedicated nap time when needed and enjoy a mental boost that will endure far longer than a quick hit of caffeine.

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