Sleep expert reveals top tips for having a better nap

Ever desperately tried to catch up on sleep by having a quick nap, only to wake up feeling more tired and groggy than before?

If this is something you experience on the regular, you’re in need of these tips.

In theory, napping should be easy. What’s simpler than closing your eyes and having a snooze?

But the reality is far more complex.

There’s endless debate over whether napping is good (the general consensus: a solid period of good quality sleep is best, but as long as you’re getting that as a base, nap away as a bonus). Naps often go wrong, whether by being impossible to end, leaving you feeling messy and dazed, or by simply not achieving their desired purpose of making you more awake/more productive/less falling-asleep-at-your-desk-ish.

So, we need some help. Handy, then, that sleep expert Kiera Pritchard from Eachnight has shared some essential wisdom for the perfect nap.

How long should a nap be?

The big question: what’s the ideal length for a nap?

Kiera advises aiming for 90 minutes.

‘Sleep happens in cycles, so it’s important to choose a nap length which works with the demands of your day,’ she explains. ‘A normal sleep cycle averages 90 minutes in length, and it starts with lighter stages of sleep before entering deep, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.

‘While naps lasting 30-60 minutes might seem tempting because of their short, manageable time frames, these naps usually send you into the third and fourth stages of sleep, which are much deeper. When you wake up, you may experience sleep inertia (the transitional stage between sleep and wakefulness) which can leave you feeling groggy and drowsy – not ideal if you have to focus for the rest of the day!

‘A 90-minute nap allows you to complete one full sleep cycle, and waking from these naps is generally easy. Since you experience each stage of sleep and wake up back at stage one, these naps leave you feeling refreshed and more awake, so they don’t cause sleep inertia like an hour-long nap can.

‘A full sleep cycle can boost creativity and improve procedural and emotional memory. However, you should avoid taking 90-minute naps within seven hours of your scheduled bedtime to ensure it doesn’t interfere with your nightly sleep.’

If you don’t have time to fit in a one-and-a-half hour snooze, don’t panic – a 10 to 20-minute power nap can also be helpful in boosting your energy.

‘During a power nap, you stay in the first two stages of non-rapid eye movement – these are the lightest stages of sleep, which means you’ll wake up easily,’ Kiera notes. ‘Power naps provide immediate benefits. They boost alertness and performance levels and can decrease any feelings of sleepiness.’

When is the best time for a nap?

Don’t try to play off a lie-in as a nap. Kiera says the best time to catch some extra z’s is usually six to eight hours after waking.

Any earlier and you’ll mess with your natural wake up time. Any later and you could make it tough to fall asleep later and get a full night’s rest.

A lunchtime nap to perk up on your break from work is a great shout.

What are the health benefits of napping?

‘Aside from feeling more rested, napping provides many mental and physical benefits,’ Kiera says. ‘In fact, one study found naps can even be as effective as nighttime sleep in enhancing memory processes.

‘It’s important to note while naps can offer an array of benefits, nothing can replace a night of lost sleep. Maintaining healthy sleep hygiene and getting good sleep at night should be your number one priority.’

Hear that? A nap is great, but it’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep, night after night.

Bearing that in mind, though, there are some benefits of a good nap…

  • Improved mood
  • Improved memory
  • Creativity
  • Recovery
  • Productivity

Three steps to take a great nap

Step one: Create a good setup

Kiera recommends: ‘Find a quiet, restful place to take your nap. Ideally, the space should be dark and relatively cool with minimal distractions.

‘However, if you’re not at home taking a nap in your bedroom, you may have to improvise.

‘If you plan to nap at your office or in your car, an eye mask and earplugs can help you block out outside noise and light.’

Step two: Set an alarm

Make sure you’re not free-wheeling a nap – this can often turn into an unplanned seven-hour rest and mess up your entire routine.

Before you close your eyes, set an alarm for 10 minutes or 90 minutes.

Step three: Try breathing exercises to drift off

Once you’ve decided you want a nap, it can be tricky to get your mind and body to catch up with your plans.

Try a breathing exercise to help you sink into snooze time.

‘Once you’re lying down with your eyes closed, breathe slowly in and out,’ Kiera suggests. ‘While breathing in, focus on directing your breathing down to your belly. Saying a mantra to yourself such as “Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I am coping,” while performing this breathing exercise may also help.

‘After you’ve taken a few gentle breaths, start tensing groups of muscles as you breathe. This method requires you to hold a muscle’s tension as you breathe in, releasing it as you breathe out. Start with the muscles in the head and neck, then move your focus down your body. Tense and relax your muscles in your shoulders, arms, back, stomach, thighs, etc.’

What to do when you wake up from your nap

You did all the right things but you still feel a little out of it. What now?

Kiera suggests:

  • Take a walk in the sun to get your body moving and your circadian rhythms back on track
  • Have a small cup of coffee or tea
  • Splash some cold water on your face

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