By Caitlin Schille
The life cycle of naps is an interesting thing; children resist naps, and adults crave them. But whatever your age, naps can do wonders, if done the right way.
Naps are much more complex than we may realize. David Dinges, a sleep scientist at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, asserts that there are several factors that go into the making of a successful nap.
“You have to be deliberative about when you’re going to nap, how long you’re going to nap and if you’re trying to use the nap relative to work or what you have coming up,” he says.
If all you need is a little re-charge, or if that is all you have time for, then a 10-20 minute power nap can be beneficial. This short power nap will help you regain alertness and enable you to make it through more of your day effectively. In fact, a study published in Sleep found that a 10-minute nap can result in immediate improvements that last for more than two hours. The same study showed that 20 and 30-minute naps also produced improvements in fatigue, vigor and cognitive performance, but that a buffer of about half an hour was needed after waking up before improvements set in.
A longer nap offers different benefits. An hour-long nap will help you better process things, problem solve and form memories to enable you to remember facts and faces. However, don’t expect to pop up after an hour and be productive. Grogginess will delay things a bit.
In addition to determining the optimal length of a nap, there is also an optimal time for naps. Experts assert that the best time for a nap is in the afternoon, particularly between 1:00 and 4:00 PM. The afternoon is when weariness is most likely to set in, making it prime time for naps. Naps later than 4:00 PM should be avoided as they may interfere with falling asleep at bedtime.
Many people turn to caffeine to help them overcome a slump. While that may feel good for just a quick second, it is just that–a temporary fix, and a fix that can negatively impact mental performance and cause you to crash later.
Other benefits of naps, as shown by research:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce the risk of developing heart disease
- Can reverse the effects of a poor night’s sleep
- Bolster the immune system
Naps provide numerous health benefits, and a well-timed, well-planned nap may even help you successfully make it through the afternoon slump. Some think naps are lazy, but they can be just the opposite.