There's a right way to do it.
On a recent Friday before I’d installed my air conditioner, I sat on my bed (sitting was the easiest way to keep cool) and decided to take a nap. More specifically, I accidentally slipped into a delicious 45-minute nap. When I woke up, it occurred to me that I hadn’t taken a midday snooze (other than on a snow day or a sick day) in several years. There was a pleasure in being relaxed enough to just drift into sleep, and there was also a distinct lack of guilt. Though it crossed my mind that I might not be able to sleep that night, the nap was so pleasurable (and life has been so stressful) that I didn’t waste much time admonishing myself.
Rest as a form of activism isn’t a new concept, but the stressors of the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing toll systemic racism can take make resting more vital than ever for many of us. In fact, Tricia Hersey, activist and founder of the Nap Ministry, has grounded an entire social justice framework in the truth that deep rest, sleep, contemplation, and dreaming are necessary tools for Black liberation and the dismantling of white supremacy.
While other countries, like Italy and Spain, may consider naps a facet of their culture, American nap time seems to expire after primary school and resurge again around retirement. But naps can be pretty useful at almost every point in our lives. When was the last time you felt free to take a nap? Maybe you nap pretty regularly but have never thought about why you limit napping strictly to rainy days. Or maybe you’re one of those folks who stopped napping years ago, preferring to think of naps as something for children. Whatever your napping style (or lack thereof), if you don’t take frequent naps and find the idea intriguing, I’m here to convince you to go for it.
Here’s why taking a nap can be so beneficial.
The average adult between the ages of 18 and 65 needs about seven to nine hours of sleep each night, SELF previously reported. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 70 million Americans deal with sleep problems. The reasons for this are multifaceted. Many of us have insomnia, sleep apnea, or just environmental habits and circumstances that keep us awake at night. Whatever the cause, struggling to get enough sleep at night can have a huge impact on how you function during the day, as you may very well know.
Naps aren’t a replacement for nocturnal sleep, but there’s strong evidence that taking naps can improve your performance and alertness. A 2017 literature review published in Sleep Medicine explained that the longer you’re awake, the more your memory and other cognitive abilities decrease, and that a midday nap can help you “recover” by taking away some of that accumulated sleepiness. Sure, seems pretty obvious, but it’s always nice to have solid science on your side.
For this reason—and also because naps can feel luxurious and pleasurable—my position is that folks should embrace naps more widely. There is a caveat: Truly useful napping is an art form. Taking a nap can minimize the impact of daytime sleepiness on your mood, concentration, emotional processing, and cognition, but too much sleep can leave you wide awake at night and exacerbate any underlying sleep issues you might have. This is why, when people experience difficulty sleeping, one of the main recommendations is to assess daytime napping, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Still, I have faith that naps can help so many people live their best lives. Below you’ll find tips to help you become unapologetic about taking a nap and a few parameters to consider so that you’re getting as many nap benefits as possible.
Here’s how to take a nap that’s as productive as you are.
Keep your naps short: Before you nap, the CDC recommends setting an alarm for 15 to 30 minutes. Why? The longer you sleep, the more likely you are to be groggy when you wake up, the Mayo Clinic says. Aim to keep naps on the shorter side so that you wake up feeling recharged and ready for the next part of your day. That said, if you have circumstances that make longer naps a necessity—if you’re an essential worker who puts in long hours or someone who regularly does overnight shifts—the CDC says that 1.5-hour naps are also an effective way to help maintain alertness.
Schedule your naps earlier in the day: One of the reasons naps have such a bad reputation is because they’re known for being nightly sleep busters. But if you’re able to schedule naps in the late morning or early afternoon (before 3 p.m., the Mayo Clinic suggests), you can reduce the chances of being wide-awake when it’s time to sleep at night. You can, of course, tweak this depending on your circumstances (if, for instance, you work overnight shifts).
Nap lying down: Have you ever been so tired you’ve slept sitting up? While you can get your naps in where they fit in, it’s best to actually lie down so that you’re not sleeping in an awkward position. The CDC also explains that when you lie down, it allows your brain to move into deeper sleep a bit more seamlessly. The takeaway here is to get horizontal and embrace napping so that you get the most of it.
Block out light and sound: There’s significant research that sound and light disrupt sleep. If you’ve only got 30 minutes to burn (no pressure), you want to set yourself up for glory. Consider grabbing an eye mask to block out any light and a white noise machine or earplugs if you can’t find a quiet spot.
Do something to energize you when you wake up: If you take a shorter nap, you should wake up fairly alert, but if you oversleep or take a longer nap, you might need a few minutes to reenter the waking world. Much like you wouldn’t operate heavy machinery immediately after waking up, the CDC recommends that you schedule a few extra minutes to shake off disorientation before easing back into your routine. This can involve splashing water on your face or going into a room with bright light.
Consider having some caffeine before your nap: If you really think you’ll have trouble waking up, consider drinking a bit of soda or coffee before you nap, the CDC says. The organization suggests limiting it to up to 100 milligrams of caffeine, which is about one cup of coffee. This might sound counterintuitive, but the CDC says that caffeine takes about 30 minutes to perk you up, so it should coincide well with your wakeup time. This might be especially useful for essential workers who are incorporating rests and naps into their shifts.
Enjoy your nap: The CDC doesn’t recommend this explicitly, but we do. Giving yourself permission for self-care can be a challenge. It’s easy to believe that you don’t deserve rest or relaxation, or that you don’t have enough time to hit pause for 30 minutes. If you’re able to carve out time for yourself, enter into each nap you take with a spirit of enjoyment. You deserve rest—even if it’s happening in the middle of the day. It’s good for you. Though it can be difficult to find the time, it will serve to make you more productive and, hopefully, feel a little more restored when you get back to your day.
Original article appeared on SELF | Author Patia Braithwaite