It's about 2 o'clock. You're trying to get that last bit of energy to get through the work day, so you decide to take the time-honored power nap. But how long is too long for a nap and is it really beneficial?
Dr. Gandis G. Mazeika, founder of Sound Sleep Health sleep disorder centers, says power naps can improve your ability to do complex thinking. You can sustain attention and multitask better. But in order to benefit, the key is making sure you don't oversleep.
"No longer than 30 minutes of sleep," says Mazeika. "Preferably 20 minutes." Any longer than that and you risk going into "slow wave sleep," a longer cycle that can leave you groggy if you wake up from it too soon.
Mazeika says if you wake up when most people do in the morning, alertness naturally takes a dip in the early afternoon hours. You should nap between noon and 2 p.m. If you're a night owl, your "afternoon" dip may come around 5 p.m.
To get a good power nap, preparation is important.
"The most important considerations are the comfort level of your body, the surface you're on and the environment you are in," says Mazeika.
For a basic power nap, be in a quiet, darkened room with a comfortable temperature. Set an alarm for 30 minutes so you don't drift into slow wave sleep. For the advanced power napper, wash your face to get some of the oils out of your skin, change into more comfortable clothing and wear earplugs.
Some studies have suggested that taking a 20 minute nap in the afternoon does more good than sleeping an extra 20 minutes in the morning. But Mazeika reminds us that there is no rule of thumb that applies to everyone. He also says that if you feel the need to nap in the afternoon all the time, you may need to ask yourself why.
"If there is no obvious answer, then you should wonder whether you have a sleep disorder you are not aware of," says Mazeika.
You may have also heard of the "caffeine" or "espresso" nap, in which you drink coffee before your nap. The theory is that the caffeine won't kick in until right about the time your power nap ends. Mazeika says it may postpone slow wave sleep, but not everyone can get away with it.
"I think it's kind of exotic," says Mazeika. "Kids, don't try this at home."
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