Quick Restful Remedy: How to Get the Most Efficient Nap (No, Really!)

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(Image credit: Abby Stone)

You haven’t even read this post yet and you’re already poised to leave a comment along the lines of “What a first world problem.” I get it. I do. But for those of us who are napping challenged — unlike my dog, who regards afternoon snoozes as his birthright — the inability to doze during the daytime can be a real drag. There’s a whole lot of research documenting the many health benefits associated with napping.

Did you know that most mammals nap? Just because humans have designated a nocturnal block of time as our normal sleep pattern doesn’t mean it best suits our biology. Our bodies have two major periods of sleepiness: between 2 and 4am (when most of us are sleeping) and 1 and 3pm (when most of us are desperately slurping down double cappuccinos).

Napping can boost your creativity, alertness, productivity and mood later in the day. Studies also suggest that napping benefits your entire body, from reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke to staving off weight gain. Of course, most bosses still aren’t cool with us crawling under our desks, George Costanza style, so you may consider grabbing some extra Z’s on your weekend.

Get the maximum amount of rest out of a nap and still have time to tackle your DIY projects, cleaning tasks and planned events this weekend with these tips:

Figure out if you are a lark or an owl
A lark is an early riser, up at dawn and to bed by 10pm, and should aim for a nap around 1 or 1:30pm. For owls, who are up until the wee hours, the best time to nap is around 2:30 or 3pm.

Keep it between 20 to 30 minutes for a pick-me-up
Longer naps can also be beneficial — especially if you’re making up for lost sleep — but can result in grogginess, which is a no-no for a work day.

Drink a cup of coffee just before your nap
It sounds counterintuitive, but caffeine takes 20 to 30 minutes to kick in. Time it right and you’ll get a real jumpstart just as you wake up.

Find a cool, quiet, dark place to shut your eyes
Use a mask and earplugs if you have to, and lie down if possible. (It can take nearly twice as long to fall sleep sitting upright).

Take deep breaths and try to clear your mind
Focus on relaxing one group of muscles at a time. If you can’t keep your mind quiet, count sheep or just do a backwards countdown.

On weekends, if you wish to take a longer nap, try to sleep between 90 to 120 minutes, which usually covers an entire cycle, including REM and deep slow-wave sleep.
This kind of nap helps you bounce back from lack of sleep and improves your memory recall. A full sleep cycle also helps you wake up more readily after your nap.

Don’t feel guilty
That’s probably the hardest part for many of us, but remember: It’s good for you! And don’t feel like a failure if you can’t fall asleep, either. Just resting for a few minutes can work wonders.

Do you nap regularly? If so, do you have any strategies on falling asleep and making every minute count?

Re-edited from a post originally published 1.25.12 – AB