Written by Benjamin Semmens, Registered Nutritionist (BHSc)
If you’re not taking advantage of the benefits of napping, you’re really missing out! Often people complain that napping causes you to wake feeling tired and groggy, but these are generally those who haven’t yet mastered the art of napping!
I used to regularly try to overcome afternoon fatigue by drinking copious amounts of coffee, however this would often leave me feeling wired, unproductive, anxious and affect my sleep later in the evening.
My life changed when I travelled to Spain a few years ago where I learnt about the art of napping. In Spain, every afternoon they shut up shop and indulge in an afternoon nap, otherwise known as a siesta. Sounds crazy right? But this ancient tradition now has modern evidence to support its health promoting benefits!
Now, I must be very clear – there are some strict rules when it comes to napping. However, once you master this skill you can expect to feel less tired, more productive, improve your memory and boost your mood!
This may take some time, but I can guarantee that once you’ve learnt the ins and outs of napping, you will transform your afternoons and evenings from feeling fatigued and lazy to a productivity machine!
In the blog you’ll learn about the benefits of napping, and tips and tricks to master the art of napping!
What are the benefits of napping?
To understand napping, you need to first understand the science of sleeping. Homeostatic sleep drive is a fancy term for the feeling of pressure to sleep. When you wake up in the morning your homeostatic sleep drive is low and gradually builds throughout the day up until you fall asleep at night. Once you fall asleep this cycle repeats again the following day (1).
Photo credit: CDC
However, napping during the day can reduce your sleep drive helping you to feel more wakeful and perform better. In fact, napping has been scientifically proven to reduce sleepiness, improve learning, aid memory formation, improve immunity and regulate emotions! (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Many large companies are now making the most of the benefits of napping with iconic brands endorsing “nap time” such as Nike, Google, Facebook, & Huffington Post (7).
How long should you nap for?
Anytime you fall asleep you go through sleep stages and knowing how long to nap for is essential as your nap should neither be too short or too long.
Studies have found that five-minute naps provide no benefit as they do not allow you to progress into deeper restorative sleep stages (8).
Naps for 30 minutes or longer will help you to start to experience deeper (slow-wave) sleep that can help you awaken feeling rested and recovered ready for the afternoon and evening.
Be cautious though, because if you nap for too long you may wake up from slow-wave sleep feeling groggy that can last for a while!
As noted, the duration of your nap is essential! You want to be somewhere in between light sleep and deep sleep. Naps that last for 10 – 20 minutes, known as “power naps”, are considered ideal for most people because you generally wake without feeling groggy.
If you’re a night-shift worker or feeling unwell, these rules may not apply. Sometimes you need to take longer naps, especially when you’ve doing a graveyard shift or recovering from an illness.
Timing is key!
The best time to nap is usually around six to eight hours after waking, for most people napping between 1-3pm is the optimal time. If you take your nap too late in the day or nap for too long, this can disrupt you sleep that night. That’s why it’s important that you find your perfect ‘nap time’ that works best for you (9).
Get comfy, but not too comfy
One of tricks I picked up in Spain, is to always nap lying on your back. If you nap on your side or front, you may get too comfy and trick your body into thinking that its night-time and not wake up. I don’t know exactly why the sleeping on your back technique is so effective, but I’ve found since changing to this technique I’ve been able get up with ease!
Set up is essential
If you trying to nap while the sun is blasting through the window you’re dreaming (pardon the pun). Providing your mind and body the right environment for napping is crucial! Firstly, make sure your room is as dark and quiet as possible. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, get yourself a sleeping mask and ear plugs. If you’re like me and like to dose off to peaceful sounds, you can now even purchase sleep masks with bluetooth headphones!
Unwind before your nap!
Going from your busy day straight into a nap can sometimes be extremely difficult, especially if you’ve been chugging lattes all morning. If I try to nap and feel my heart pounding and my mind racing, I know that I need I need to first unwind. I like to use guided meditation apps like headspace, calm, smiling mind (whatever one works best for you!). Once, I’m calm enough, I’ll switch to some calming music and… Zzz.
What about the infamous coffee nap?
There is a myth that having a coffee before your nap will help waking up easier. The theory is that coffee takes 30 – 45 minutes to take effect, therefore you will awaken full of beans (another pun – seriously!).
But even tiny amounts of caffeine can mess with your sleep quality and in my opinion cancel out the potential of the benefits of napping. Having a nap after a coffee isn’t going to kill you, however its best to have your coffee a couple of hours prior to a nap to get the most out of your siesta!
Can I eat before a nap if I’m hungry?
Yes, in fact you’d be doing yourself a favour. If you go to sleep hungry, your blood sugar may drop too low, a process in the body known as hypoglycaemia. In Spain they typically have their siesta not long after lunch (probably for this reason) and why taking a nap in the early afternoon may be the optimal time.
Wake up tips
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is using intense alarms to wake up that induces a stressed state, that is frankly the worst way to wake up in my opinion. Instead, try a gentle calming alarm that starts off quiet and gradually increases. This helps to signal your body to wake up, without your nervous system going bonkers.
Set an alarm for around 20 – 30 minutes once you’re ready to nap. I find getting some sunshine a great way to get back into the swing of things as it helps to signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up!
It took me a long time to master the art of napping and believe me I made all the mistakes you could possibly make when it comes to napping. I was napping for too long and waking groggy, or I was napping too late in the day and would be up all night feeling even more tired the following day. Now my body is basically hardwired to have a nap around 2-3pm every day and it has dramatically improved my health and performance in every way.
Maybe napping isn’t your thing
I’m not going to lie - napping isn’t for everyone! Take your time, be patient. Healthy habits can take some time to get used to. Don’t be surprised if you wake up feeling groggy the first few times after using the using the rules above. If you’re still struggling after a couple of weeks, then maybe napping isn’t for you and that’s ok!
Naps can be handy trick to help reduce sleepiness, improve learning, aid memory formation, improve immunity and regulate your emotions! Just Remember to follow the rules when napping that include napping for no longer than 30 minutes, don’t nap too late in the evening, and always lie on your back. To help make the waking up process easier set a calming alarm and get some sunshine to signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up.
If you have any questions or need support with your health, feel free to email our head nutritionist Ben at email@example.com
This article does not constitute as medical advice and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Please see your medical professional before implementing the above.