If you're dragging this first day back to work after the holiday weekend, think again before heading for the coffee machine: Taking a short mid-day snooze could actually be a more effective way to give yourself a mental boost. Naps have been shown to counter the effects of sleep deprivation, boost energy and productivity, and improve cognitive functioning, among other health benefits.
But not all naps are created equal. Taking a snooze at specific times of the day and for only certain lengths of time can help you to optimize your naptime and ensure that you wake up feeling rested and refreshed. We enlisted the help of sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D. for his best tips on successful napping. Scroll through the list below for seven essential rules.
1. Avoid Naps If You're An Insomniac.
If you're sleep deprived, then you stand to benefit greatly from a short daytime snooze as a supplement to your regular nighttime sleep. But if you suffer from insomnia (meaning you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both at night), naps could make it even harder to fall asleep at night: Research has found that avoiding naps can actually improve sleep continuity for insomniacs.
"If you've got insomnia, you don't want to be a napper because there's data that shows that the last time you were asleep will directly affect how long it takes you to fall asleep," Breus says. "So if you're asleep taking a nap at 2 p.m., it's going to take you much longer period of time to fall asleep."
2. Give Yourself A 30-Minute Limit.
Short naps should generally last around 25-30 minutes, says Breus. That amount of time allows you to rest without the risk of entering into deep sleep and waking up feeling even more tired.
"The [30-minute] nap is particularly important for people who are tired during the day and didn't sleep enough that night, and want to supplement their sleep a little bit," says Breus. "If you take it longer than 30 minutes, you end up in deep sleep. Have you ever taken a nap and felt worse when you woke up? That's what's happening -- you're sleeping too long and you're going into a stage of sleep that's very difficult to get out of."
3. Try For A "Full Sleep Cycle Nap" If You Have Time.
If you're feeling particularly tired and have time for a 90-minute nap, your body will thank you for it. This amount of shuteye will allow your body to go into REM sleep, which can begin to make up for lost sleep and maybe even enhance creativity.
"The average person's sleep cycle is about 90 minutes, so you either want to take a 25-30 minute nap, or you want to take a 90-minute nap, depending upon how much time you have and how you want to feel when you wake up," says Breus.
4. Try A Caffeine Nap.
Breus recommends trying a short caffeine nap (or as he calls it, a "napalatte"), that can leave you feeling extra energized afterwards. Quickly drink a cup of coffee (slightly cooled, of course) and take a 20-minute nap immediately afterwards. The caffeine will kick in right after you wake up, leaving you feeling mentally sharp and refreshed.
"You're good for four hours, guaranteed," says Breus.
5. Try A Walk Outside Instead Of A Nap After Lunch.
When patients complain of lagging energy after lunch, Breus often recommends taking a walk outside in the sunshine for 15 minutes instead of lying down. If you're tired because of stress or a hectic schedule, spending a little time outdoors may be a more effective energy-booster.
"If you're normally getting tired between one and three in the afternoon, which most people do, that doesn't necessarily mean you need a nap," Breus explains. "It might mean that you need sunlight. Your core body temperature drops at this time of the afternoon and that's a signal to your brain to produce [sleep chemical] melatonin, so going in the sunlight, where melatonin can't be produced, may help."
6. Don't Nap After 4 P.M.
If your tiredness is the result of sleep deprivation, taking a short nap in the middle of the afternoon can give your energy levels a boost. You're most likely to fall asleep is between noon and 4 p.m., which matches the low point of the body's circadian cycle.
If you're going to nap at work, Breus advises bringing a "napping kit" with an eye mask, ear plugs, and a mini alarm clock to improve your chances of falling asleep.
7. Even A 10-Minute Rest Can Help.
"We do see value in those kind of naps, absolutely," says Breus of the super-short nap.
Even if you don't fall completely asleep, a five or 10-minute power nap can still be beneficial if you're feeling sleep-deprived. A 2002 study found that snoozing for just 10 minutes can result in greater feelings of alertness after a night of restricted sleep.
Tell us: How do you optimize your naps? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet @HealthyLiving.