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When my kids were little, the nap argument was real, at least for a brief phase. And I used to say – out loud – when the nap battles were particularly fierce, “I wish someone would tell me to go take a nap!” Sometimes a good nap can do wonders (and a bad nap can be a nightmare, but I’m here to focus on the positive). For kids, we know that a midday nap improves nighttime sleep. But I’m talking about adult naps, the quick, efficient, and effective short sleep that help us to reset and refresh. We reboot our computers and smartphones so they can update and be “restored.” We can do the same with our minds and bodies when we start to think of the smart nap as an important reboot.

Healthy adults generally don’t need to take a nap to get through the day, but the National Sleep Foundation says that one-third of adults take a nap. I’ll be the first to admit that for me, napping often leads to feelings of lethargy and even guilt for wasting time on something so gluttonous and indulgent as a nap. However, a smart nap – one that is under the right circumstances and set to a timer – can have some pretty extraordinary health benefits.

The Benefits of Napping

There are several reasons why you may feel the need to take a nap during the day. A recent bout of sleeplessness or recovering from an illness are both great reasons for needing to take a nap. Emotional distress and stress in general might make us feel like we absolutely need to go to sleep just to ease the worries away.

3 benefits to taking a nap:

  • Improved memory/feeling more alert
  • Mental health/stress-relief
  • Improved or increased immune response

If we use babies as an example, I can speak from my own experience that my children often woke from naps looking fresh-eyed and were in much better moods. It’s the hard naps that were the problem, the ones that were over-tired and too long that sometimes meant that the nap was my enemy. This is true for adults, too. For adults, too long of a nap might have the opposite effect, resulting in an inability to fall asleep at night, and this really is the most important sleep of the day and ought to be protected.

For a nap as a grown up to be the most effective, it needs to be what I like to call a “smart nap.”

What Is A “Smart Nap?”

A “smart nap” is one that is well-timed. Specifically, these brief naps need to be no longer than 30 minutes (although note that for some, especially essential workers or those that might work a night shift, a 90-minute nap can be more effective). The best “smart nap” is between 10-20 minutes. This time frame is important because past the 30-minute mark, our bodies start to enter into a deep sleep mode and that’s harder to wake up from.

How To Take A Smart Nap

  • The ideal time to take a nap is between 1 and 3pm.
  • Set an alarm. 10-30 minutes is the ideal nap time. Anything longer might disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle.
  • Lay down in a cool, dark place, ideally not in your bed!
  • Drink caffeine before you fall asleep. That way you’ll wake up right as the caffeine starts to kick in.
  • Allow a few minutes to “float to the surface” before you resume activity.
  • Drink a glass of water when you wake up. Whether or not you had caffeine before you fell asleep, hydration is important!

I realize that a nap is a bit of a luxury and that not everyone has the ability to squeeze one in on any given day. The idea is that when the circumstances allow, a smart nap is a good idea.

It’s important to consider whether or not there is an underlying health concern associated with feeling exhausted often or an inability to sleep at night (insomnia). If you feel like you have to nap frequently, consult your physician to determine if there aren’t other underlying issues, such as a nutrition imbalance or more significant health concerns. However, the occasional, well-timed “smart nap” is something that we should recognize as an effective way to take care of our health and well-being. So, set a timer and go ahead and take that smart nap!

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