A study by researchers Sara Mednick, Denise Cai, Jennifer Kanady, and Sean Drummond published in Behavioural Brain Research (2008) found that naps are better than caffeine for improving verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning.
Many people avoid napping during the day to not interfere with a good night's sleep. "Why should I sleep now," they might ask, "if it's only going to make me toss and turn in bed tonight?" Actually, naps can be helpful in recovering from sleep deprivation, refreshing your energy supply, and reducing stress. Naps can do more harm than good, however, when taken at the wrong time or for the wrong amount of time.
So, when to nap? Health.com advises that the preferred time to experience deep sleep is between noon and 2 pm. Naps at other times of the day tend to not be as deep, and therefore will not be as refreshing.
Alternatively, according to Dr. Jack Eddiger at Duke University, the ideal time to take a nap is between 1 pm and 3 pm to 4 pm. These guidelines particularly apply to weekdays. Dr. Eddiger further suggests setting a timer to keep your nap to 20 minutes or less. In that time frame, you can awake refreshed, and more easily resume what you were doing. Longer than 20 minutes and you run the risk of entering into deeper REM sleep. Thereafter, you might need a while to return to where you need to be mentally.
Refreshed or Groggy? – Experts at the National Sleep Foundation concur that when you nap prior to 3 pm, you're less likely to incur difficulties falling asleep that night. The journal Sleep published a study concurring that shorter naps can be more beneficial. A 10-minute nap both diminishes sleepiness and improves cognitive performance. A 30-minute nap or longer can result in lingering grogginess.
When napping, seek a dark, cool place, in any comfortable position. Once you find the perfect nap time for you, you’ll find that your mood, productivity, attitude, and energy increase. When you start experimenting with your nap hours and your nap lengths, don’t be surprised if you can succeed outside of the recommended guidelines.
When you do nap, choose a cot or a bed, versus a chair, in a location where you won’t be disturbed. If at home, hang a sign to tell others in advance. You’ll find that the quality of your nap is higher and the benefits to you will be apparent.
Forbes reports that some high-powered executives and CEOs, whose names are well known, are advocates of taking naps. Many have elaborate napping procedures, knowing that once they awake, they’re ready to jump back into the fray to do great work. Beware: Naps are not to be used as a substitute for getting the right amount of sleep each night. They are a supplement. It is not ideal to be taking naps to make up for sleep that you missed during the night. In fact, that misses the point altogether.
What about napping on the weekend? Generally speaking, it’s okay, and you can loosen up on the time intervals and the length of the nap. Presumably, on the weekend, you have more flexibility. Nevertheless, don’t nap too late in the afternoon or approaching the early evening, if you intend to get to bed at a reasonable hour. You can let the 4 pm guideline slip, but don’t go much past five or six.
An exception is when you have a late night activity planned. For example, when you’re heading out to a social gathering at 9 pm or 10 pm, a nap as late as 7 pm could be to your advantage. You’ll have the alertness and energy to fully participate in the event, even if it extends past midnight.
Napping later in the afternoon or in the early evening is a useful strategy when you’re going to watch a television program that you know will run long. In the U.S., most major events, including the World Series, Academy Awards, Grammys, and NBA finals are scheduled to start at 9 pm on the east coast and 6 pm on the west coast. Hence, Californians have no real issues in finishing the telecast. East coasters, who want to watch the end, can benefit from a nap of a couple hours before a telecast begins.
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com