The next time you feel your eyelids starting to droop, consider a power nap before reaching for more coffee. While it won’t make up for a sleepless night, a nap can be the perfect prescription for late-afternoon fatigue.
Research suggests that the “right” kind of nap can improve your alertness, performance, and mood because of physiological changes that happen in your brain while you sleep. Napping affects neurotransmitters, mainly serotonin, which help your psychological state and allow you to relax, says William Kohler, M.D., medical director at the Florida Sleep Institute.
A few tips on how to do naps right:
Timing is everything. Napping too late in the day can interfere with your nighttime sleep, so mid-day power naps are the way to go. For the majority of us, the best time to rest is between 1 and 3pm. “Our body’s internal circadian rhythm hits its lowest point in the early morning hours when most of us are asleep, and then dips again at mid-day,” explains Dr. Kohler. This decrease in alertness provides the perfect opportunity to close your eyes and reboot.
Create the right space. Shut off the lights, draw the shades, and flip your cell phone over to create a dark room ideal for dozing. Too much light may disrupt you from falling or staying asleep. Also be sure that you’re napping in a room that isn’t too hot or cold; temperatures in either direction will make it hard to nod off.
Set an alarm. Studies show that a 15-20 minute nap is the ideal amount of time for improved performance. “Longer naps allow our bodies to get into deeper stages of sleep and then we feel groggy when we wake up,” says Dr. Kohler. Naps that last longer than 20 minutes can also disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night; so stick to a cat nap to help refresh you and keep your natural sleep cycle intact.
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