For the Love of Naps

Whether you fall asleep or just relax with your eyes closed, your mind and body will thank you.

If you’re looking to increase your energy, boost your mood, improve your memory, and even enhance brain activity, it may be time to rethink your sleep — your daytime sleep, that is.

Benefits of Napping

It’s time to end the stigma against napping. While some people view napping as a hallmark of laziness, some of the greatest thinkers have been nap devotees (Einstein, Edison, and Dalí, to name a few).

A short nap can offset the effects of sleep deprivation and improve cognitive performance and memory.

Napping can also have surprising health benefits, including reduced stress, higher immune function, and better heart health. Even a 10-minute nap has benefits, and an hour-long nap can boost alertness for up to 10 hours.

So when that midday slump hits, give into a well-timed nap. You just might find yourself happier, more creative, and more productive.

When to Nap

The ideal nap window is in the early afternoon, but your personal optimal naptime can be determined if you know your chronotype. What time of day do you typically have the most energy? Are you at your best in the morning, or do you hit your stride at night?

“Larks,” who prefer to wake around 6 a.m. and be in bed around 9 or 10, will benefit from a nap around 1 or 1:30 p.m. “Owls” on the other hand, who go to bed after midnight and wake around 8 or 9 a.m., will likely need a nap around 2:30 or 3 p.m.

A word of caution: If you nap too late (generally after 4 p.m.), you risk interfering with night-time sleep. Skip the late nap and opt for an early bedtime instead.

The NASA Nap (25.8 minutes)

This is how science does it.

A 1995 NASA study found that pilots who took a power nap (average sleep time: 25.8 minutes) experienced better reaction time and fewer instances of micro-sleep. (Micro-sleep: potentially dangerous and often unnoticed seconds-long sleep episodes that can happen while doing things like driving).

The REM Nap (90 minutes)

Rather than dealing with sleep inertia, why not just sleep right through it? If you have the time, napping for 90 minutes will allow you to complete a full sleep cycle.

Naps that include a period of REM sleep can leave you refreshed and reenergized, with improved memory and creativity to boot.

What If You Can’t Fall Asleep?

So you’ve determined your optimal nap window, found a dark room, set an alarm and…you can’t sleep.

Consider first that maybe what you need isn’t a nap, but a quick walk outside. A little fresh air and sun exposure can go a long way.

If you do want to nap, breathing and meditation techniques can help. Use a relaxation app if you have trouble winding down on your own.

Still not asleep? Lifehacker Daniel Tenner claims that you can actually remain mostly awake and still reap the benefits of a nap. Just relaxing and letting your thoughts drift, even if you don’t manage to actually fall asleep, can be enough.

So the next time you find your energy flagging in the afternoon, give yourself the gift of a nap. Whether you fall asleep or just relax with your eyes closed, your mind and body will thank you.