Perfecting The Art Of Napping: What Makes The Best Possible Nap?

What do Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Edison, Salvador Dali, and Gene Autry all have in common? Apart from being famous for leading extraordinary lives, all of these people are notorious serial nappers.

Napoleon is even said to have been able to fall asleep without trouble, as a battle loomed later in the day, or while cannons raged loudly nearby. It’s what gave him the energy and alertness to lead battles and turn the tides of war. Just like General Nap, you too can reap the benefits of a bit of controlled shut-eye in the early afternoon.

10 To 20-Minute Naps Are Safe

When you sleep for just 10 to 20 minutes, your body doesn’t fall into a deep sleep that requires hours to complete. In this short timeframe, your body can only enter the first and lightest stage or level of sleep, known as non-rapid eye movement sleep (aka non-REM sleep). This means that while you’ve opened and entered the ‘sleep gate,’ it’s not too late to wake up as your body is far from entering a hormonal state of deep slumber.

Under non-REM sleep, it’s still easy to wake up and you’ll only suffer grogginess for the first couple of minutes, after which you’ll immediately feel more energized, relaxed, and alert. Successfully napping under non-REM sleep and waking up at the right time also reduces fatigue and can even improve mood, memory, and reaction time.

Naps Longer Than 20 Minutes Are Rewarding But Risky

Longer naps can give you the same benefits described above, but at greater levels. The more you nap, the more you gain – however, there are certain risks involved in taking 30-minute to 1-hour naps. And the longer you nap, the more the risks increase.

After the 20-minute mark, your nap slowly moves into the territory of deep sleep. Take a nap for an hour or so and you could significantly reduce fatigue while heightening awareness – at the risk of waking the body up in the middle of ‘slow wave’ sleep, leaving you extra groggy upon awakening.

Keep your nap to a strict 30 minutes and it could significantly relieve stress and reverse the hormonal impact of not getting a good night’s sleep. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 11 men (ages 25 to 32) underwent two 3-day sessions of sleep testing. During the first session, researchers found that after getting just 2 hours of sleep, the men experienced an increase in the stress-response hormone, norepinephrine, which increases heart rate, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

However, during the second session, when the men were allowed two 30-minute naps after their 2 hours of sleep the previous night, no changes in norepinephrine levels were recorded. The napping along managed to negate the stressful effects of an extreme lack of sleep. Apart from stress reduction, their findings also suggest that 30-minute naps can help with immune system recovery after a punishing night of limited sleep.

But before you go ahead and take a long nap, you should know that when it comes to the risks, post-nap grogginess is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Apart from lethargy, there are even more alarming risks associated with taking long naps. In one meta-analysis, it’s been found that napping for 40 minutes or more can increase your risk of metabolic syndrome – a combination of having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and more fat around the waist; all of which leads to heart disease.

It would be an understatement to call the study comprehensive, as it evaluated data from 21 observational studies spanning 307,237 Western and Asian subjects. It also builds on and combines with the previous work of the study’s lead author, University of Tokyo diabetologist Tomohide Yamada, and his team of colleagues.

According to this particular study’s findings, taking naps less than 40 minutes won’t increase your risk of metabolic syndrome. But if your nap lasts for 90 minutes (an hour and a half), the metabolic syndrome risk increases by as much as 50 percent.

Additionally, those who napped for just 30 minutes or less enjoyed a slight decrease in the risk – evidence that shorter naps might be better for you in the long run.

There are even earlier studies by Yamada and his colleagues that pegged naps longer than 1 hour to be responsible for significant increases in risks related to cardiovascular disease and all-cause death.

However, there is another study that presents a different opinion regarding longer naps. This one was conducted by the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychology, and is aimed at addressing the cognitive deficiencies associated with prolonged wakefulness and sleep deprivation.

It involved 40 subjects and a frustration tolerance task. The study found that those who napped for 60 minutes felt less impulsive than those who didn’t nap at all. The napping group could also tolerate significantly more frustration than the non-napping group. According to the authors of the study, this signifies that wakefulness built up during the day can impair emotional control, and napping for prolonged amounts of time could help counter this effect.

Because of the obvious contradictions regarding longer nap times, it’s up to you to weigh the possible risks versus the possible benefits. If you exercise regularly and aren’t prone to metabolic syndrome, maybe you can risk napping for an hour so you can be more tolerant of work-related frustrations. If your risk of metabolic syndrome might already be high, maybe you should keep your stress-relieving naps to a strict 30 minutes. It’s really up to your current health, mindset, and how your body actually responds to shorter and longer naps.

Improve Your Napping

Apart from timing your naps, there are plenty of other ways to improve them and maximize their many benefits:

  • Drink some coffee right before a short and sure nap. Depending on your body weight, caffeine takes about 10 to 20 minutes to kick-in – the exact time for a quick nap with minimal risk of grogginess (or other possible long-term conditions). The caffeine will both wake you up as well as contribute to the energized feeling you’ll have upon waking from slumber.

  • Negotiate for napping rights. Even if you’re at work, you might be able to negotiate with the boss for a 15 to 30-minute break. Reasoning that it’ll help you relieve stress and increase productivity is a good way to convince the higher-ups to let you regularly sneak a quick nap in an empty office or conference room at lunch break. Just make sure that you wake up in time, and that you put all that extra energy and alertness to good use.

  • Do it around lunchtime or early afternoon. Eating a hearty lunch is a great way to induce sleepiness, allowing you to nap with ease even if you’re far from your cozy bed at home.

  • Find or make a napping nook. Do what you can to nap in a dark and quiet place with a temperature that’s amiable to your body. If you don’t have a nice latex or memory foam mattress to nap on, find the next best thing. If you can’t find a place where you can fully lie down, find some pillows to rest your head. Do whatever you can to find or make a place that’s conducive for the perfect nap.

Do you take a daytime nap? Leave a comment below and let us know how it benefits you.

About Author

Randy Vera is a freelance writer, licensed nurse, and sleep enthusiast from Los Angeles, California. After traveling through SE Asia to learn of his heritage, he joined a few of his colleagues at Onebed Australia. He practices Zen meditation daily and prefers living a natural health lifestyle.