Groggily, I drag myself to a sitting position at the edge of my bed. 6:30 a.m. — why did I stay up so late binging “Dead to Me?” Friday is my go-to writing day, but my brain just doesn’t want to wake up this morning.
A nap, that’s what I need. A nap, and then I’ll jump out of bed raring to go and ready to write clever copy for hours and hours.
Going back to sleep for an hour isn’t a nap so much as it is plain old sleeping in. I have a 12 Week Plan with time blocking, dammit, and I don’t want to blow it.
Coffee, that’s the ticket: good old, reliable caffeine. Within minutes, I’m two-handing an over-sized mug of pour-over half-caff. Two scoops of Swiss Miss will boost my buzz with a lot of sugar and a little chocolate.
“Have a good day,” I say to my husband as I hug him at the back door. After he walks outside, my drooping eyes turn longingly toward our bedroom. I’m oh so tempted. Sighing loudly, I instead head downstairs to my office, Hawkeye, our mostly-Lab mutt, at my heels.
After busying myself with a whole lot of nothing for two hours, I give up. Waking the old dog from his nap, we go upstairs for mine. Crawling to the middle of our bed, I lay on top of the oh-so-soft flannel duvet and pull a long edge over my body, burrito style. Hawkeye sniffs my feet for a few seconds, then groans as he settles onto his bed for nap №2.
Today is a nap day; to hell with time blocking.
But naps shouldn’t make me — or you — feel guilty. Naps done right can make afternoons more productive and improve our mood. Naps are also good for our physical health. The trick is to develop a healthy nap routine. Here’s what you should know about napping.
Why You Should Nap
Naps are periods of sleep outside regular sleeping hours. Napping is often studied by sleep researchers as a replacement for nighttime sleep. However, naps don’t have to be designed to make up for missed sleep.
Scheduled naps help me recharge. When my energy dips, it’s like someone unplugged my power cord. I suddenly become so tired I could lie down in traffic and snooze. Other days, my anxious, unfocused brain simply needs a break from work and worries.
Not napping results in reduced afternoon productivity. Writing and research are not up to my usual standards. Daily goals get put off until the next day, and I ignore the urgent task on my To-Do list. Some days when I need to nap but don’t, I end up quitting work early to veg on the couch.
Napless afternoon grogginess also makes me moody. Very. Like a stubborn toddler who refuses to take a snooze then becomes a tyrant at dinner, I turn into a cranky pant. Impatient and selfish, it’s “Make your own dinner and dammit the remote is mine tonight” — yup, that kind of asshat.
Research indicates that napping improves emotional control. (Oh good, it’s not just me.) A 2015 nap study at the University of Michigan study found subjects who took naps were less impulsive and more tolerant of frustration.
How to Nap at Work
Napping in my car during lunch breaks became my go-to during 9-to-5 (more like 9-to-9) real job days. I’d drive to a favorite quiet — but safe — parking lot. Finding a spot, I’d park facing away from the sun. Cracking the window, I’d lean the seat back. After tucking a jacket or scarf under my neck, I’d turn on my white noise machine. Eyes closed, I’d think about anything but work and fall asleep. Bliss.
Quiet rooms and empty conference rooms worked better during cold and hot months. Most open-concept offices offer spaces for private conversations and calls. I’d appropriate a quiet room, lock the door, unplug the phone, and turn on my white noise machine. My folded arms served as my tabletop pillow. Ah.
Try it! If your boss gives you a hard time about napping, refer them to the Michigan study. “Napping… can be a cost-effective and easy strategy to increase workplace safety.” The work safety factor is particularly true for those who work long shifts. Therefore, your nap is for your boss’s benefit as much as yours — it’s science.
If the boss argues you can just wake up with a cup of coffee, there’s another study to share. Researchers studied caffeine’s effect versus a midday nap on the performance (subjects were good night sleepers). Nappers were better able to learn lists of new words. While the caffeine drinkers reported being more alert, their motor skills and verbal memory did not improve.
So, turn off the Keurig and slink into a quiet room. If you must, post a sign: Workplace Safety and Performance Enhancement Session.
My Best Naps
● Schedule naps. My weekly time blocking includes open midday slots for napping on most days. I know when my energy is most likely to dip and schedule naps for then.
● Drink a pint of water. Sixteen ounces of water is guaranteed to get me up even when I want to ignore my alarm.
● Put the phone on Do Not Disturb. There’s nobody in my life who can’t wait 30 minutes (or less) to talk to me. Only repeat calls or texts from my son or husband wake me.
● Use a white noise machine. I’ve scheduled a short time to fall asleep, sleep, and feel rested. Why let outside noise wake me? The mini white noise machine I bought a few years ago gets used every day (and night).
● Nap on the couch. I usually nap on my couch or in the guest bedroom if my husband is home. Why? My comfy master bedroom makes my brain think of sweet, delicious hours of nighttime sleep.
● Wake to a specific ring tone or song. My naps are Low Strung’s “Living on a Prayer,” which eases me into waking without words. I only use this song to wake me from naps, so my brain is used to it.
A Sleep Doctor’s Nap Advice
Don’t take my word for it: a sleep doctor told me that napping can be good for us if done right. His three-part napping advice:
● Drink a caffeinated beverage,
● Set an alarm for 30 minutes, and
● Lay down and shut your eyes.
The caffeine will kick in at 30 minutes, as will the urge to pee. The alarm is just a back-up plan to not oversleeping.
Napping longer than an hour can do more harm than good. That’s because about 30 minutes into sleep, our brains enter slow-wave sleep. Then when your alarm jolts you awake, you experience sleep inertia. That’s the disoriented, uncomfortable grogginess you feel. It takes you longer to wake up and be productive again.
How Long to Nap
I can get away with a 25-minute nap, but 35 to 45 minutes is ideal. An hour is okay, and 90 minutes is too long: I wake feeling fuzzy. Sleep research backs me up on this. Even if you’re not an “older adult,” the following recommendation applies:
“While a 30- to 90-minute nap in older adults appears to have brain benefits, anything longer than an hour and a half may create problems with cognition, the ability to think and form memories…”
Some power nappers sleep for only 10 or 20 minutes — more power to ’em. But to me, that’s a rest or timeout, not a real nap.
The hot trend is coffee naps, but they don’t work for me either. A coffee nap begins with gulping down a strong cup of black coffee followed by a 15- to 20-minute snooze. Research subjects drove better or were better at computer tasks after coffee naps. So far, only small studies have been done, so I feel okay ignoring the trend.
Convinced a nap will do you good? Go ahead and nap if you want to and have the time — even at work. Try my strategy, the sleep doctor’s, or develop your own. Then report back to me on your progress.
Until then, happy napping.