So You Think You Can Nap: How to Get Better at Sleeping for a Little While

Contrary to popular belief, it's not a willy-nilly operation.
Publish date:
August 31, 2016
sleep, naps

I always think back to being a little kid in pre-primary school with regret. From my viewpoint, I wasted so many opportunities as a 5-year-old that I would love to have now. One of those is nap time. I used to hate it when they lined up all our little mattresses and urged us to nap in unison. Like, what kind of dictatorship hell had I found myself in?

Turns out, as an adult, napping in unison sounds like an ideal situation. Imagine if, at a certain time, we all just had to roll out a couple of mattresses and take a nap, no questions asked, no excuses allowed. I would be so in for that. Back then, though, I used to stay awake through nap time, probably daydreaming about the day I'd get to be a 26-year-old stress ball or, more likely, an 18-year-old princess with long blonde hair and blue eyes.

The thing about napping, though, is that I've learned over time that it's a science. It requires a lot of preparation and follow-through. Contrary to popular belief, it's not a willy-nilly operation. There are so many factors to consider at any given point. It's basically like a complicated game of chess, but the stakes are much higher. (What are the stakes in a game of chess? We just have no way of knowing.) If you don't do it right, you risk messing up your sleep schedule or waking up feeling much worse than before. I don't know about you, but I've woken up from many a nap with a sense of deep existential dread and confusion. Like, did I sleep through the whole night? Is it the next day? What? The abyss?

Napping can also be extremely beneficial; not only can it make you feel refreshed, it has also been shown that afternoon naps can greatly increase the brain's learning capacity. Napping has also been shown to improve memory consolidation and performance in a variety of studies.

Here's how to ensure your next nap is productive and existentialism-free.

Get in the right zone

The perfect time to nap is obviously not in the morning, when you're freshly awoken, or too close to bedtime, but somewhere between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Depending on when you feel like you need it, play around between these times to see when the right nap time is for you.

Get comfy, but not too comfy

Whenever I nap, to ensure that I don't end up sleeping for three-and-a-half hours and wake up wondering what happened to all my hopes and dreams, I like to get comfortable enough to sleep, but make sure it's not too comfortable so that, when it's time to wake up, I don't ignore my alarm and roll over back to sleep.

This means that I don't close the curtains in my bedroom, and I don't get under too many blankets or change into sleep clothes. Try to remember that you're not in this for the long haul, and your body shouldn't feel like it is. You want to avoid a deep sleep. This isn't the time for dreaming.

Set an alarm! Set an alarm! Set an alarm!

I have to stress this point, because it's the most important ingredient in a good nap. Do not, and I mean do not, doze off without having set a wake-up time. If you're like me, you could end up sleeping the entire day away and you'll wake up feeling groggy and your sleep that night could suffer, too.

According to Mayo Clinic, it's best to keep your naps between 10 and 30 minutes for optimal results. A study also found that the most recuperative nap time was 10 minutes. I take forever to fall asleep, so I factor that kind of thing into my alarm setting, generally giving myself a full half-hour in total.

If you need more help figuring out your perfect napping schedule, you can even use this interactive Nap Wheel to make sure that you doze off right.

What does your napping routine look like? Is there anything more disturbing than waking up from a too-long nap?