"Sleep like a baby" isn't simply an expression -- it's also a directive from health experts. "When it comes to getting rest, adults should do things more like infants do," says renowned sleep expert James Maas, Ph.D., author of Sleep for Success and Power Sleep. "Adults are always trying to work both ends of the clock, staying up late, getting up early. They treat sleep as a luxury and it is not. It's a necessity and babies already know that." Even when babies have a packed schedule (you cannot miss yoga, they have to get to Gymboree), they never let deadlines, or stress, or "Scandal" episodes sap their sleep -- nor do babies consider it a badge of honor to get by on as little rest as possible. To adopt smarter habits, steal these strategies from little ones.
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Get On A Schedule
Babies crave routine -- snack at 10 a.m., nap at noon, bedtime at 7 p.m. -- and there's a biological reason why. "If you stick to a schedule, your body is more alert than if you slept for the same total amount of time at varying hours during the week," says Maas. "And over time, having such regularity actually lowers the total sleep time required for maximum daytime alertness." In other words, if you keep your bedtime and wakeup time roughly the same each day, you'll more easily bounce back when you don't catch enough zzzs.
Create A Nightly Power-Down Ritual
Most parents don't just drop a baby in his crib and say, "Sleep tight." Typically, babies get set with a bath, books and maybe a lullaby or two. These days, winding down for 30 to 60 minutes before bed can work wonders. "In order to sleep soundly through the night, your body needs to prepare itself for the long period of inactivity ahead," says Maas. "It needs a buffer between the day's stress and the night's rest." Try taking a hot shower or reading a book or magazine. (Sorry, but you should skip the Kindle or iPad: Exposure to artificial light before bedtime significantly suppresses levels of melatonin, hindering the body’s ability to fall asleep, according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism).
Pay Attention To Position
For babies and adults alike, proper sleeping position is a serious health matter. While newborns need to be positioned on their backs to prevent SIDS (until they are able to roll over independently), adults should do their best to assume a side-lying sleep position, says Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor. "Sleeping on your back is less ideal because the airway can relax too much, which can cause snoring and disruptions in breathing like sleep apnea," says Kennedy. "These issues are much less prominent when sleeping on one side. The side-lying position is also better for spinal alignment, whereas stomach sleeping can cause back and neck problems."
"There is a normal dip in alertness, typically between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., but it's exacerbated if you're sleep-deprived," says Maas. "Adults do best if they mimic the baby's schedule and take at least a 15- to 20-minute power nap around that time. It's just enough to restore your energy and mood, but not long enough to make you groggy or disrupt your nighttime sleep." And while a Pew Research Center survey found that 30 percent of adults already take naps, perhaps we should be pushing for a napping nation: Adding in a few quick snooze sessions can help avoid accidents, illness, heart attacks, strokes, mood shifts, irritability, anxiety, depression and obesity, says Maas.
Earlier on HuffPost:
To Nap Or Not To Nap?
If you've got a big project you have to really focus on, or especially if you have to drive, hit the hay. If the rest of the workday looks like smooth sailing, or you often have trouble sleeping at night, skip the nap. "Naps are sort of a double-edged sword," warns Dr. Epstein. "If you're indeed sleepy and it's going to interfere with your performance, the best way to get over that is to go to sleep. But if you have trouble sleeping at night, taking a nap can be a problem, because if you sleep in the daytime you won't sleep at night." You've also got to be tired enough to fall asleep during the day. "Well-rested people don't have the ability to power nap and that's great," says Maas. "It's much better to get good nocturnal sleep and not be able to than to <em>have</em> to power nap. While we do have a natural dip in our circadian rhythms that usually occurs in the afternoon, that is exacerbated by not having good nocturnal sleep."
What's The Best Time For A Nap?
Because of the natural cycles of our circadian rhythms, we are at our most tired twice during a 24-hour period. One peak of sleepiness is usually in the middle of the night, so the other, 12 hours later, falls smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon. "It's not that [there's] a good time to get the nap, it's that's the time you're going to be sleepy," explains Dr. Epstein. "It's a physiologic basis for a siesta," he says, and also why so many of us feel a slump around that time and head for the coffeemaker. If you get enough sleep at night, chances are you won't be bothered by the mid-afternoon peak of sleepiness. But if you're sleep-deprived, you'll feel that "sleep debt" greater in the afternoon, and be more inclined to nap.
Where Should You Nap?
"The more comfortable you can get, the easier it is to fall asleep," says Dr. Epstein. That could mean closing your office door and dimming the lights, or finding an unused conference room, parking yourself on a common area couch, or even just putting your head down on your desk, he says. But sleep-chasers should also get creative. Many large companies, especially in their headquarters, have infirmaries or other first-aid offices. Maas suggests calling to see if they have any available beds. Or, in warm climates, lie down for a few minutes on a bench outdoors. Desperate? "Even restrooms give you an opportunity to sit for 10 minutes," he only half-jokes. Better still, try heading out for a nap on your next "lunch" break -- no one has to know you're not actually eating! "A lot of workers are kind of sneaky in these naps, they'll go out to the parking lot and take a quick snooze," says Maas, but most are allowed (if not legally required) to take a break during the day. Or, head to a local spa that provides nap rooms for a fee. Locations are popping up <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2008/08/21/smallbusiness/naps_for_sale.fsb/index.htm" target="_hplink">in numerous cities</a>, reports CNN Money.
What Else Do You Need?
The same sleep hygiene rules apply to naps as to nighttime rest, namely that you want the environment to be quiet, dark and cool, says Maas. That might mean bringing an eye mask or ear plugs to work, he says, especially if you're opting for a nap on a communal couch.
How Long Should You Nap?
Maas's definition of the power nap calls for only 10 to 15 minutes of rest, but Dr. Epstein says even up to 30 can still be beneficial. However, sleep much longer than that and you'll enter deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy when you wake up, warns Maas. If you really need more than 15 minutes of shuteye, you're better off shooting for a full 90 to guarantee waking up feeling refreshed, as that's how long it takes your body to complete an entire REM cycle, he explains. So set a cell-phone alarm and then get back to business.
Should You Skip Caffeine?
"Caffeine acts as a way to avoid sleepiness, but it's not a replacement for sleep," says Dr. Epstein. If you have a big project to focus on in the afternoon, caffeine can help you power through the work, but it won't do anything to chip away at your sleep debt, he explains. Plus, if you resort to caffeine too late in the day you risk messing with your nighttime sleep. As long as you're four to seven hours away from bedtime, there's no real need to skip your afternoon pick-me-up, even if you're going to steal away for some zzz's. In fact, <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100511192248.htm" target="_hplink">caffeine can even improve your performance</a> later in the day. It takes some time for the caffeine to kick in, so some experts suggest what's been dubbed a "caffeine nap" -- drinking a cup of coffee before a 20-minute nap, then waking up to "maximum alertness," says Dr. Epstein.
Boss Won't Go For It?
Smart, educated companies are catching on to the fact that sleepy employees are bad for their bottom line and promoting short breaks as a potential solution. If your boss is at the other end of the spectrum, presenting the facts might be a good idea. Many corporations are already promoting preventive health and wellness programs focused on exercise and nutrition, says Maas, so why not add sleep? "They've got to realize that there are three things that determine longevity: nutrition, exercise we're already doing a lot about, but we're totally ignoring the third component, which is sleep," says Maas. "Sleep is treated as a luxury in American society, and it's a necessity."