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The Art of Taking a Nap…the Right Way

bigstock-133177946We all crave the power of a good solid nap, especially when we need it right smack in the middle of the day, right after lunch, or around the 2:30 pm slump, depending – of course – on your reasons for wanting and needing to nap in the first place.

It’s unfortunate that napping has sometimes been associated negatively with those over the age of 65, or those who might be feeling lazy. That notion couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that everyone, regardless of their age, can benefit from a proper nap. The key is when, how, and what type of nap.

All those factors are in fact quite subjective, and depend on the particular person’s biological and genetic makeup that sets the stage for one to achieve a high-quality nap that restores her (or him) from the inside out. This method leaves one feeling refreshed and productive, not just until the end of the workday, but everyday throughout the entire work week.

The only caveat to napping in general is if one has insomnia. If that is the case, it is best advised to avoid napping, and instead tire oneself out naturally during the day sans naps to achieve a decent quality of sleep come nighttime. Read on for a few ways to take the right catnap and incorporate it into your day in the right way.

  1. Explore Your Particular Napping Style
    You might have heard that napping can hamper your ability to fall asleep come nighttime, but that’s only partially true. Shorter naps between 20-30 minutes should help you stay alert without making you groggy, or affecting your nighttime sleep. That’s because you stay in the light sleep mode. Once you cross into REM sleep, past the 30-minute mark, you will probably wake up feeling very tired, and not refreshed, which inadvertently can have the opposite effect of the feeling you so desire. This could affect the quality of your sleep later in the evening. Play around with different nap lengths, subsequently see how you feel afterwards, and find the nap-period that is suitable for you.
  2. Where to Nap
    Where you choose to nap makes a huge difference in how easy it is to get some quick shuteye. Your napping environment should optimally be cool, dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. If you are in a conventional office setting, an empty conference room could potentially work. Try to minimize distractions such as TV, cell phone pinging, or music that could potentially wake you. All you actually need is an alarm to wake you up, so you don’t miss that meeting!
  3. Cognitive Benefits of Napping
    Many studies have found that napping boosts short-term memory, and your mood to boot. Naps can also help you relax when your stress hormone cortisol is overactive. If your nap takes you into REM sleep, while not being ideal for feeling refreshed, it could trigger your creative juices to flow, which, in turn, can spill over into a major productivity boost, as long as you don’t nap more than one hour. Research demonstrates an increase in divergent thinking–thinking about many possible solutions to a particular problem that may arise when one naps properly.
  4. How to Nap
    Set your nap to 20 minutes. That will allow you to reap the alertness and energy benefits without you ending up feeling groggy. This amount of sleep will keep your body calm, in a parasympathetic mode, which slows your heart rate, and allows your mind to reorient itself. You can even cut that time to 10-12 minutes, but that will be a difficult feat for many individuals to accomplish.
  5. Drink a Cup of Coffee
    It might seem counterintuitive, but consuming caffeine right before you take a nap has a hidden benefit. Caffeine from coffee takes about 20-25 minutes to kick in for most people. Only when you start feeling sleepy, get your dose of caffeine, and then proceed to close/rest your eyes, and/or take a nap. You should wake feeling refreshed from your nap, and more alert from the caffeine so you are not as groggy.
  6. Nap Sitting Up
    While this might not seem like the most comfortable sleeping position, the goal of napping isn’t obviously to secure a solid 7-8 hours of sleep. Napping upright prevents you from sleeping for longer than 30 minutes, because your body tends to have more trouble sleeping when you are sitting up since you are not as comfortable. It is also easier to find a place to sit and nap, than it is to find a place to lie flat. So in between meetings, close the door to your office, and turn off the lights. If you are in a cubicle or open space, try putting your head down, or simply close your eyes while sitting upright. 15-20 minutes later, you will be ready to face the rest of your day.
  7. Relax!
    Psychologically, when your alarm is set for only 20-25 minutes, you might feel nervous, or start worrying about whether you are going to actually fall asleep a little, or nap. Try to relax, but don’t force it. You can simply close your eyes, because the overarching goal of a power nap is to simply calm your mind, and rest. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this quasi-meditative state of mind you will find yourself in will leave you feeling more alert and refreshed.

As you can see, there exists a myriad of benefits to napping the right way. So find your personal napping style, and experiment with the suggested techniques above so you can feel more at ease and less stressed and drained during the work day, especially when your nap will be something you are actually looking forward to.

The Art of Taking a Nap…the Right Way

Emily Waters

Emily Waters earned her Master's degree in industrial psychology with an emphasis in human relations. She possesses keen insight into the field of applied psychology, organizational development, motivation, and stress, the latter of which is ubiquitous in the workplace environment and in one’s personal life. One of her academic passions is the understanding of human nature and illness as it pertains to the mind and body. Prior to obtaining her degree, she worked in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. Presently, she teaches a variety of psychology courses both in public and private universities.

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APA Reference
Waters, E. (2018). The Art of Taking a Nap…the Right Way. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 11 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.