What Everyone Should Know About Napping

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If you’re one of the many who struggle to sleep at night, you might realise the power of a brief nap now and then. Wellness and sleep experts will tell you there’s a science to it – from the optimal length to why you should never nap after 3pm, we asked four of them to share their insights…
Photography DEANDROBOT/ISTOCK

Napping Can Boost Mind & Body

“Naps are a smart way of quickly reaping the benefits of sleep on all aspects of our health. For example, a 2008 study showed that when compared to caffeine, a full cycle nap of 90 minutes had greater benefit on improving verbal memory, while a 2009 study showed a 90-minute nap significantly improved creative problem solving compared with quiet rest. This is in line with the phrase ‘sleep on it’, which postulates that sleep helps us to solve problems. Naps have also been shown to block feelings of anger and fear. If that wasn’t enough, research also shows people who nap regularly have a 37% lower risk of coronary heart disease and lower blood pressure.” – Dr Guy Meadows, co-founder & clinical lead at Sleep School

The Earlier In The Day You Nap, The Better

“Human sleep is regulated by two systems – your body clock (or circadian rhythm) and your homeostatic sleep drive. The hormone associated with your body clock is melatonin, and this peaks at night just before sleep. There’s also a small rise in melatonin secretion in the early afternoon that makes it an excellent time for a nap. Your sleep drive, however, works differently. It’s cumulative, meaning the longer you’re awake, the greater the pressure to sleep. If you nap for long periods of time during the day, you’ll reduce the sleep pressure, and this can make it trickier to fall asleep at night. Try to allow a minimum of six hours between waking up from your nap before trying to go to sleep at night. As a rule, the earlier in the day, the better.” – Kirsty Vant, sleep therapist

 

Try to allow a minimum of six hours between waking from your nap before trying to go to sleep at night.

 

Don’t Nap Later Than 3pm

“The best time to nap is between midday and 3pm, when we naturally feel sleepy. To find your ideal nap time, take a moment to consider whether you’re a morning person (wake and sleep early) or an evening type (wake and sleep late). Early risers tend to nap closer to midday, whereas evening people fare better around 3pm. Be aware though that napping later than 3pm can make it difficult to fall asleep during at night. If you do choose to nap, aim to repeat it every day, as this will help you make it the kind of habit your body recognises. Napping is a skill and if you want to get better at it, you should do it daily.” – Guy 

Combining Coffee With A Nap Can Help

“When you do nap, it can help to have a coffee, and then nap for 20 minutes. When you wake up, go outside for 15 minutes. This combination will act as three boosts to your alertness.” – Dr Kat Lederle, sleep scientist at Somnia

Stick To 30 Minutes Only

“The research on the ideal nap length varies significantly, and this is probably due to the wide range of circumstances in which people nap. However, naps that are under five minutes don’t tend to result in observable improvements in people’s cognitive or biological functioning, while a nap that’s longer than 20 minutes will likely include some slow wave sleep, which is thought to be the most restorative aspect of sleep. Naps longer than 60 minutes are more likely to cause sleep inertia (i.e., feelings of grogginess), so aim for around 20-30 minutes for the best benefits.” – Kirsty 

 

Napping occurs on the verge of sleep, therefore if you’re lying with your eyes closed and resting, you are on the right track.

 

See It As A Moment Of Rest

“Napping is good for you. Studies show it improves overall memory and pushes memories to the brain’s neocortex (its permanent storage facility) while we sleep, preventing us from losing any data. Anecdotal evidence also says that a 30-minute yoga nidra, or yogic nap, where you lie down, shut your eyes and listen to a guided meditation, is the equivalent to four hours of sleep. If you struggle to nap in the traditional sense, yoga nidra can be very effective for rest and relaxation. A weighted blanket can also help – they ground the body and leave you feeling safe and warm. If you struggle to nap, it can also help to ‘welcome in’ noises around you. You can’t expect complete silence during a daytime nap, so by accepting noises that are coming and going, you’re more likely to stay relaxed.” – Sarah Lloyd-Morrison, yoga nidra & sleep expert at Awakened Rest

Be Careful If You Have Insomnia

“If you enjoy good sleep, then having a short nap is fine. But, if your sleep is disrupted on a regular basis, then a daytime nap will function as a substitute for some of this lost night-time rest. However, it’s impossible to recover all lost sleep, and even if you could, you’d confuse your body clock with a sudden long sleep period during the day, which can cause circadian misalignment. Furthermore, a long nap in the day will only perpetuate poor sleep at night. If you struggle with insomnia, try to stay awake for 16 hours – this is the optimal amount of time to encourage sleepiness in the evening.” – Kat 

Try Not To Think About It Too Much

“Having the right mental attitude for napping is important, because if you believe you can’t sleep, then you won’t. Napping occurs on the verge of sleep, therefore if you’re lying with your eyes closed, resting your body, and allowing your mind to gently wander, you are on the right track. If you feel wide awake, acknowledge this thought, and accept it. Understanding that you don’t have to fall asleep to rest is vital for getting the most from your naps. Paradoxically, this often takes the pressure off sleep, increasing the chance of falling asleep.” – Guy 

 
For more information, visit AwakenedRest.com, Somnia.org.uk & SleepSchool.org. Kirsty is a sleep coach for Koala & Joe, a new nationwide marketplace for parent and child experts – visit KoalaAndJoe.com & KirstyVant.com.

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SLMan are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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