Sleep expert reveals top tips for taking a better nap

Sleep expert reveals top tips for taking a better nap

Such a cute cat isn’t essential, but it certainly helps (Picture: Getty/

I’ve already tried desperately to catch up sleep with a nap, only to wake up more tired and groggy than before?

If it’s something you encounter regularly, you need these tips.

In theory, napping should be easy. What could be easier than closing your eyes and taking a nap?

But the reality is much more complex.

There’s endless debate about whether napping is good (the general consensus: a solid period of good quality sleep is best, but as long as you get that as a baseline, take a nap as a bonus). Naps often go wrong, whether by being impossible to complete, leaving you feeling messy and dizzy, or simply not achieving the desired goal of making you more awake/more productive/less sleepy at your desk.

So we need help. Handy, then, this sleep expert Kiera Pritchard from Each night shared some essential tips for the perfect nap.

How long should a nap last?

The big question: what is the ideal length of a nap?

Kiera advises aiming for 90 minutes.

“Sleep happens in cycles, so it’s important to choose a nap length that fits the demands of your day,” she explains. “A normal sleep cycle lasts an average of 90 minutes and begins with lighter stages of sleep before entering deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

“While 30 to 60 minute naps may seem tempting due to their short and manageable time frames, these naps usually send you into the third and fourth stages of sleep, which are much deeper.” When you wake up, you may experience sleep inertia (the transition phase between sleeping and waking) which can make you feel groggy and sleepy – not ideal if you have to concentrate for the rest of the day!

“A 90-minute nap allows you to complete a full sleep cycle, and waking up from these naps is usually easy. Because you experience each stage of sleep and wake up at the first stage, these naps will leave you feeling refreshed and awake, so they don’t cause sleep inertia like an hour-long nap.

“A full sleep cycle can boost creativity and improve procedural and emotional memory. However, you should avoid taking 90-minute naps within seven hours of your scheduled bedtime to ensure it doesn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep.

If you don’t have time for an hour and a half nap, don’t panic: a nap of 10 to 20 minutes can also be useful to increase your energy.

“During a nap, you stay in the first two stages of non-rapid eye movement – these are the lightest stages of sleep, meaning you’ll wake up easily,” notes Kiera. “Energy naps provide immediate benefits. They increase alertness and performance levels and can decrease any feelings of drowsiness.

Woman relaxing and taking a nap on the couch.

Aim for 90 minutes to feel completely refreshed (Picture: Getty Images)

When is the best time for a nap?

Don’t try to pass off a lazy morning as a nap. Kiera says the best time to catch a few extra z’s is usually six to eight hours after waking up.

Earlier and you’ll ruin your natural waking hour. Later, you may find it difficult to fall asleep later and get a full night’s rest.

A lunchtime nap to refresh yourself during your break from work is a big cry.

What are the health benefits of napping?

“In addition to feeling more rested, napping provides many mental and physical benefits,” says Kiera. “In fact, one study found that naps may even be as effective as nighttime sleep in improving memory processes.

“It’s important to note that while naps can provide many benefits, nothing can replace a lost night’s sleep.” Maintaining good sleep hygiene and sleeping well at night should be your number one priority.

Listen to this? A nap is fine, but it’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep, night after night.

With that in mind, however, a good nap does have some benefits…

  • Mood enhancement
  • Improved memory
  • Creativity
  • Recovery
  • Productivity

A trucker sleeping in his truck

Make sure you have a good setup (Image: Getty Images)

Three steps to a good nap

First step: Create a good configuration

Kiera recommends, “Find a quiet, restful place to take your nap. Ideally, the space should be dark and relatively cool with minimal distractions.

“However, if you’re not at home napping in your bedroom, you may need to improvise.”

“If you plan on napping at your desk or in your car, an eye mask and earplugs can help block out outside noise and light.”

Step Two: Set an Alarm

Make sure you don’t take a coasting nap – it can often turn into an unscheduled seven-hour rest and ruin your whole routine.

Before you close your eyes, set an alarm for 10 minutes or 90 minutes.

Step Three: Try Breathing Exercises to Fall Asleep

Once you’ve decided to take a nap, it can be difficult to get your mind and body to catch up with your plans.

Try one breathing exercise to help you dive into nap time.

“Once you’re lying down with your eyes closed, slowly inhale and exhale,” Kiera suggests. “While inhaling, focus on directing your breath toward your belly. Saying a mantra to yourself such as “Inhale, I’m calm, exhale, I’m coping” while doing this breathing exercise can also help.

“After taking a few gentle breaths, begin to tense muscle groups as you breathe. This method requires you to hold tension in a muscle as you inhale, releasing it as you exhale. Start with the head and neck muscles, then shift your focus down your body. Contract and relax your muscles in the shoulders, arms, back, stomach, thighs, etc.

What to do when you wake up from your nap

You’ve done all the right things, but you still feel a little left out. And now?

Kiera suggests:

  • Take a walk in the sun to get your body moving and your circadian rhythms back on track
  • Have a small cup of coffee or tea
  • Splash your face with cold water

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