Scientific studies consistently hail napping as an undervalued resource.
The problem: They don’t always leave us with step-by-step instructions on how and when to nap.
So we reached out to a number of sleep experts to get their insights on exactly how to foster peak mental performance — and it’s going to make you want to crawl back into bed immediately.
A couple of studies have found that napping in the afternoon can be beneficial.
In fact, older adults who engage in moderate naps after lunch report better cognition than those who forgo napping altogether, according to a 2016 study in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania and the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study.
What’s more, those who don’t recover their sleep debt by way of afternoon napping report having significantly increased amounts of repetitive negative thinking, according to research from Binghamton University.
In other words, that indulgent afternoon nap you’ve been sneaking in while working from home might not be a guilty pleasure, after all — it might be shoring up your mental and cognitive health.
When to nap
Although afternoon napping is generally going to reap benefits, the timing of your nap is quite important.
According to insomnia therapist Candice Seti, if you nap later than 3pm, then you run the risk of interfering with your regular bedtime and ruining your oh-so-important sleep at night.
For that reason, make sure to get that nap in prior to mid-afternoon, with a hard deadline of 3pm. Grabbing a few winks during lunchtime can be ideal.
How long to sleep for
“Though it may sound tempting to snooze for a couple of hours, a proper nap is short and sweet,” Seti said.
Aim for between 15 and 30 minutes for your mid-afternoon nap.
Bestselling author Daniel Pink, who writes about business and human behaviour, coined the term “nappuccino” to describe his trick for not over napping.
Brew and drink a strong cup of coffee right before your nap. After 20 minutes of rest, that caffeine will help wake you so you can finish the day. Once you wake up, give yourself a moment before returning to any activities that require a fast, sharp response.
Where to get some shut-eye
“The world would probably be a much healthier place if people could nap anywhere they wanted,” Seti said.
“Since most people require being horizontal in order to nap, napping anywhere is not really an option. Instead, you will want to do your best to ensure that you have created a restful environment for your nap.”
Preferably, you will find somewhere that is dark, comfortable, and quiet.
The benefits of napping
Napping can reduce fatigue and improve relaxation. It has also been shown to help increase alertness. It may even lead to improved performance and memory.
Another benefit? It helps with digestion.
According to Juli Kramer, a Colorado-based specialist in Chinese medicine, after lunch, the small intestine is dominant, working hard to separate food into what’s useful and what’s waste.
“Napping at this time reserves the energy for the small intestine to do its work, nourishing and supporting the body,” she said.
“It’s no accident that thousands of years of case study research in China matches what many European and other Asian countries have also practised for centuries.”
Napping has also been proven to release stress. Afternoon siestas not only boost digestion and nutrient absorption, according to Kramer, they also release stress and tension, boost immunity, support the heart, relax the nervous system, and strengthen circulation.
This article was originally published on The Ladders.