Article14_Napping-83024996-680x300-HR

Famous high-achieving adult nappers include Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton.

Naps are good for us, mentally and physically. Practiced properly, napping can boost our reaction time and ability to concentrate and learn, better our memory and mood, increase our stamina, performance and productivity, and keep us and those around us safe at work, in transit and at home. If those aren’t good enough reasons to have a siesta, Sara Mednick PhD, the author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life (Workman, 2006) and a sleep researcher in the department of psychology at the University of California at San Diego, claims regular naps can help you avoid weight gain, give you younger-looking skin and improve your sex life, too.

We need to tailor our naps to our individual needs and lives

There are several tricks to helpful, healthy napping: Schedule them as a regular part of your day. If you are not a shift worker, and normally sleep through the night, make sure you finish your nap before 3 p.m., to avoid disrupting your normal nighttime sleeping pattern or promoting insomnia. And don’t even think about an after-dinner doze in front of the TV.

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Keep your naps short and sweet – even 15 minutes can restore your alertness. If you doze for more than 45 minutes, though, you may enter into deep sleep and then awake feeling groggy and out of sync with your surroundings (this is known as “sleep-inertia”). According to the Canadian Sleep Society1, the ideal snooze time is 20 minutes.

Choose a quiet, safe place, turn off the lights and close the curtains (or wear an eye mask), and turn off your mobile phone. Kick off your shoes and loosen your tie or other tight clothing, sit in a comfy chair or lie down (with a pillow and throw, if you like). If you are physically tense or too keyed-up to fall asleep, you can try some conscious muscle-relaxation techniques. If outside noise or your own “mental chatter” is keeping you awake, you can try plugging in a pair of ear buds and listening to a CD designed to help you nap (Google “napping CD” to see what’s available) or peaceful music. If all that fails and you can’t drift off, simply relax during your scheduled “nap time” (a regular time-out is good for you and will help enhance your napping habit).

Some experts recommend drinking a cup of coffee before you start – the caffeine takes a while to travel through your system and will help you awake alert – and indulge in a few stretches to limber up, once you awaken.

While these so-called “power naps” may be especially beneficial to long-distance drivers, medical residents, shift workers, students and busy stay-at-home moms, naps can help us all to top up a good night’s sleep. We need to tailor our naps to our individual needs and lives, however, and there is still some controversy about how much napping helps people who work unconventional work “days.” While Mental Health Canada says regular naps may help those working nights to “reduce shift-related fatigue”2 and the National Sleep Foundation in America recommends naps for shift workers3, a NASA study found that the sleep inertia suffered “after a nighttime nap was much more severe”4 than after a short, daytime sleep.

If you are prone to daytime fatigue along with sleeplessness or fragmented sleep at night, and find yourself slipping into unintended “micro-sleeps” during the day, check with your physician – you may have a chronic sleep deficit or health condition that is causing your tiredness, which won’t be solved by napping.

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