You open your eyes. Everything is dark. You squint at your phone lying beside you, shining like a beacon in the darkness, and groggily try to make sense of the numbers on the screen. Eyes heavy, you succumb to the temptation and shut them again. You’re woken by the sound of someone knocking at your door, almost an hour later. Unwillingly, you drag yourself out of bed, and mumble at them. You stumble around the house in a daze. It’s going to take you a little while to snap out of this.
The above scenario is something most of us must have experienced, generally after a nap. It’s an established fact that a nap can go one of two ways – we emerge feeling well-rested, or utterly disoriented and cranky. I feel like this image sums it up well.
Studies show varying results as to how long one should nap for, but the general consensus seems to be that unless you can sleep for 90 minutes or more, thus completing an entire sleep cycle, (perhaps to prepare for a night of little sleep), shorter is better. A nap of under half an hour is thought to be ideal, as anything in that interim 30-60 minute period tends to wake you at your groggiest. Something I’ve read in several places is that a 15-20 minute nap following drinking coffee is found to be very effective, as this is the amount of time that the caffeine takes to set it, leaving you doubly energised when you wake.
Some other general things to keep in mind when taking a nap are as follows.
- Are you in a comfortable location? Some people find it impossible to fall asleep unless they are lying in a comfortable bed or soft surface, in darkness and silence. Others, like myself, can fall asleep anywhere at the drop of a hat. In both cases, however, it has been found that an ideal setting improves the quality of your nap significantly. So darken your room, ensure it’s silent or play some white noise or gentle, soothing music, get the temperature just right (about 15-20°C, or 60-67°F) and find yourself a cosy bed or couch for the ideal nap.
- How much do you sleep at night? Once again, studies vary on their findings regarding the optimum amount of sleep required, but anything less than 6 hours tends to be insufficient for most people to function at their best. For people who have trouble falling asleep at night, napping may just add to the problem, while those who get less sleep at night for other reasons may find that it improves their day significantly. Taking a nap is also found to be far more effective as a preparatory measure than in order to catch up on missed sleep the following day.
- When should you nap? Depending on when you wake up, the ideal time to nap changes, according to Dr Sara Mednick. You can calculate your ideal nap time using this nap wheel.
Some further images indicate a few other findings.
To sum these up in the simplest way, all naps have their benefits. Personally I have found that no matter how long the nap, the action of leaving the dark room and washing my face and drinking cold water (and often interacting with people) helps me to snap out of it, and that is the most important stage. The coffee trick rarely works for me, as unless I’m already dozing off, I’m unable to fall asleep for long enough before the caffeine hits. Thus I prefer to have coffee just after I have woken up if I feel like I still need it, multiplying the effects and leaving me as energised as ever.
Eventually though, while these guidelines help, it all varies among individuals. It depends on how much sleep you got the previous night, how much sleep you get on a regular basis, what you’ve got on your mind, and even just how nap-compatible a person you are. So try a few variations, and hopefully you can soon establish your ideal individual dosage of napping for when you need it.
(Much of the findings are those of Professor Sara Mednick, Ph.D., in her book ‘Take a Nap‘)