While naptime is a given for the toddler set, adults can also benefit from a midday sleep. And with 30% of American workers getting just six hours of sleep per night instead of the recommended seven or eight, it sounds like we should start following the preschool set’s lead, pronto. Don’t have time to doze off? Research shows that you need only nap for 20 minutes to increase alertness and concentration—and improve your mood. And if you can’t conk out on command, these tips will help.
It’s all in the timing. To figure out when the best time is for you to nap, look at your sleep patterns. If you’re an early bird who rises at, say, 6 a.m., you’ll probably be ready for a nap around 1 p.m. If you’re a night owl and wake up at 8 or 9 in the morning, napping around 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon will be most beneficial. Stick to 20-minute naps to boost alertness and mood, or 45 minutes if you’re working on a project that requires creative thinking. Anything longer and you’re likely to feel groggy upon waking.
Set the mood. Find a cool, dark place to nap and if you can put your feet up, even better, as raising your knees above your heart decreases your heart rate and helps you relax. To get you primed for sleep, keep a favorite pillow or blanket in your nap space and launder it with a comforting scent. And turn off anything in the room that has a screen, including your cell phone; the light from electronics is stimulating and can keep you up.
Train yourself to nod off. If you have trouble falling asleep in complete silence, invest in a sound machine or play soothing classical music at a low volume. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly and deeply, concentrating on relaxing your muscles one at a time. Set an alarm to wake you, preferably one with a gradual sound increase instead of a jarring ringtone, so you’ll awaken gently, not with a jolt.
Know when to let go. As beneficial as napping is, if you nap too late in the day, it could interfere with your nighttime sleep. So if you weren’t able to sneak in a short slumber session this afternoon, skip it and try again tomorrow.