How to Nap: 6 Tips for Catching Some Extra Z’s

by   |   estephen@bju.edu   |  
Brody takes a nap on a bench

If there’s one thing most American adults have in common, it’s that we’re all busy and we’re all tired. If you catch yourself nodding off in class (or at work) or you’ve started noticing dark circles under your eyes, you probably need a nap.  

Napping isn’t easy for everyone, though. While some have the skill (or at least the exhaustion) to fall asleep anywhere, many of us need special conditions to fall asleep. I’m one of those people—for me, getting sleep takes work. I’ve had to learn through trial and error how to get the rest I need, even if it’s in the middle of the day.

In honor of National Nap Day, I’d like to share a few tips that help me stop and reenergize after late nights and early mornings.

Set a time limit

Try to limit your rest period to about 15 minutes—that’s enough to recharge without lapsing into REM sleep. You’ll feel alert when you wake up and won’t have to grapple with a post-nap fog the way you would with a longer nap. If you’ve got time to sleep longer, aim for 90 minutes (no more, no less). Ninety minutes is just long enough to get the benefits of REM sleep without dozing so long you won’t be able to fall asleep at night.

Even if you’re worried you won’t be able to sleep on demand, fifteen minutes of closing your eyes and resting will still help you recharge.

Put weight on your stomach

A weird trick that works well for me is putting a little weight on my gut. Whether that means crossing my arms over my stomach or resting a heavy object on my waistline, something about having weight pressing down on me helps me sleep. That’s the science behind weighted blankets, which are designed to help people with insomnia and other sleep disorders nod off at night.

Prop up your knees

If you have trouble settling down enough to sleep, try sticking a pillow under your knees or elevating your feet. This trick slows your heart rate and relaxes your adrenal glands, prepping you to snooze.

Drink coffee right before you sleep

This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out: drinking coffee immediately before taking a nap maximizes your snooze power. It takes around 30 minutes for caffeine to kick in, so if you drink a cup of coffee right before lying down, you’ll wake up just as the caffeine really starts working. Think of it as twice the nap in half the time.

Turn down the lights

If you’re aiming for a short nap, then sleeping with the lights on can prevent you from oversleeping. But if you’ve got the time for a longer nap, leave the lights off. Our bodies respond to light as part of our circadian rhythm, so shutting out light mimics the conditions at which our bodies are designed to sleep. If you’re in an environment where you don’t have control of the lights, then a sleep mask (or an improvised sleep mask, like a folded washcloth) will help.

Nap when you feel tired

If heavy eyelids are keeping you from getting your work done, let yourself sleep, if only for a little while. Fighting sleep prevents you from working as hard as you can but letting yourself rest will refocus your brain enough to keep plugging away. So if you start nodding off in the middle of doing your homework, set it aside and lie down for fifteen minutes. Your brain will thank you.

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Emma Galloway Stephens is a writer and faculty liaison in BJU’s Marketing department as well as an adjunct writing faculty member.