How to Have the Best Nap of Your Life (and Why You Should)

If describing the nap as an art form makes you skeptical, number yourself among the blessed (and rested). I’ve never been able to do it. Even in Kindergarten, where consuming craft supplies and sleeping are most kids’ strong suits, I would lie on my mat and fake unconsciousness, urging time to tick faster. 

Recently, thanks to a work schedule that has me rising early in the AM, I’ve decided it’s time I stop whining about my inability to nap, and start trying to get better. Luckily, science and the internet are flush with recommendations for how to steal some day-time Zzzs. Whether you’re a non-napper looking to start, a seasoned pro honing your craft, or one of the 80 percent of women who would forgo sex for a good night’s sleep, you may find the following how-to helpful. 

Those of us who don’t nap well usually face one or more of the following obstacles: 

1. We can’t fall asleep during the day, even when exhausted. Whyyyy?

2. We’re fine getting to sleep, but waking up from a nap is ten times worse than waking up in the morning and kinda feels like being born again (and not in the hallelujah way). 

3. We are nap ignorant. Naps are for babies, who needs 'em? Besides, Red Bull tastes like candy and ordering a triple-shot red eye is badass.

To begin with number three, studies indicate the urge to nap is programmed into our DNA. Most mammals sleep for short periods throughout the day, and though we now consolidate our sleep at night, the biological vestige remains. Ever wondered why you’re drowsy after lunch? Turns out it’s not because of food or heat, but because humans are programmed for two periods of intense sleepiness — in the early morning, from 2 to 4, and mid afternoon, from 1 to 3. Take that siesta-haters!

Research has shown napping basically has the power to turn you into a superhuman compared to your non-napping peers and coworkers. A little daytime shut-eye boosts alertness, creativity, mood, memory, and productivity. One study conducted on NASA pilots found that a 26-minute nap enhanced flying performance by 34 percent and alertness by 54 percent (but made the original Flight script super-boring). Another found naps rank higher than caffeine and more nighttime sleep in over-all energy-restoring effectiveness. Additionally, naps are associated with a 37 percent lower risk of death from heart disease.

Now that you know the why, here’s the how of napping strategically (leaving out the obvious like darkness, quite, a place to lie down, meditation — all the things you’ve already tried). 

1. Figure out if you’re a “lark” or an “owl.” Larks rise as early as 6 AM and are in bed by 9 or 10 PM. Owls are up by 8 or 9 and stay awake till 1 AM. If you’re a lark, your optimum “sleep gate” is around 1:30PM, if an owl, your best chance of shut-eye is 3 PM. OK, totally doable over the weekend, but what about at work? More incentive to gun for the corner office with the couch, though a surprising amount of posters on sleep forums are car-nappers. Hope you parked in a cool spot — and keep the doors locked. If you live in New York, well, it’s the city that never sleeps after all…

2. The length of your nap is critical to restfulness. Keep them at 15 to 30 minutes on the short end, where stage-two sleep will enhance your concentration, mood, and motor skills. For a longer nap, sleep at least 90 minutes — enough time for you to go through a whole sleep cycle. The hour is the basic unit of our day, but do not nap for an hour. You’ll be waking during the middle of slow-wave sleep, and it will not be pretty.

3. For an even more powerful power nap, try the caffeine nap. Caffeine takes 15-20 minutes to kick in, so if you down a cup of coffee immediately before your siesta, when your alarm goes off in 15-20, you should be non-drowsy and ready for action. 

4. Slow to sleep? Have some toast. Carbohydrate-rich foods cause a spike in blood sugar levels, requiring your body to produce insulin to bring them down. Insulin creates that “crash” of tiredness you feel after great Italian food. If you have difficulty sleeping during the day, use this crash to your advantage. Munch on a piece of toast ten minutes before you attempt to nod off.

5. Self-impose stillness with the military crawl. If you’re tired but too restless to nap, force your nervous system to chill TFO by lying on your stomach and assuming the “crawl” position. If your head is turned to the right, your left arm and leg should be straight at your side, while your right arm bends toward your pillow at a 90-degree angle. Bring you right knee up to the side until it’s also bent 90 degrees. This last-ditch posture forces you to lie still because the rest of your body literally cannot move. For an illustration click here

6. Try these handy nap apps. Pzizz (best name ever?) turns your device into a sleep aid with soothing sounds and voices. The $6 dollar app claims to give you billions of custom naps so you never hear the same thing twice. For those who hate the power nap because they only manage to fall asleep five minutes before their alarm sounds, Sleep Now by Mobitobi ($2.99) can sense when you doze off and start your 20-minute countdown accordingly.

7. Take it to the next level with polyphasic sleep. You love napping so much, you want to do it all the time. Turns out you can! For when you truly master the art of napping, there’s the polyphasic sleep cycle —six 30 minute naps spread evenly among a 24-hour period, so you can spend your extra hours writing a novel, working on a medical breakthrough, watching Netflix Insta. You just have to push through the two-week adjustment period where, for all intents and purposes, you are the undead. Sounds like a great use of that summer vacation time.   

Image via Flickr

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