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Napping: 5 Tips for Taking Better Naps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 5, 2021 • 2 min read

If stress and work cut into your nighttime sleep, you can supplement your nightly rest with daytime naps.

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Matthew Walker Teaches the Science of Better SleepMatthew Walker Teaches the Science of Better Sleep

Neuroscience professor Matthew Walker teaches you the science of sleep and how to optimize it to better your overall health.

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5 Types of Naps

You can take a nap at any time of day or night, but many people nap in the afternoon. There are five basic types of naps.

  1. Essential nap: An essential nap takes place during illness. This form of sleep is needed to boost the body's immune system. When you are fighting off infection, a doctor’s medical advice may include routine napping until you recover.
  2. Prophylactic nap: Prophylactic napping is used to prepare for a period of sleep deprivation. A shift worker might know they will not be able to sleep during a long stint at their job, so they get some daytime sleep to ward off future drowsiness.
  3. Recovery nap: While a prophylactic nap anticipates lost sleep, a recovery nap is used to compensate for sleep you have already lost. The need for a recovery nap may be indicated by drowsiness and reduced cognitive function.
  4. Appetitive nap: This type of nap is for pleasure as much as for health. You may simply enjoy napping or taking a siesta as part of their daily routine.
  5. Fulfillment nap: Growing children nap far more frequently than older people. They need fulfillment naps as part of their daily schedule. Young infants may take short naps throughout the day. Older children often take one long nap in the mid-afternoon.

5 Benefits of Napping

A mid-afternoon nap can counteract nighttime sleep deprivation and may provide the following benefits.

  1. Increased energy
  2. Better cognition
  3. Memory consolidation
  4. Improved mood
  5. Reduced sleepiness throughout the day
Matthew Walker Teaches the Science of Better Sleep
Matthew Walker Teaches the Science of Better Sleep
Matthew Walker Teaches the Science of Better Sleep
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3 Disadvantages of Napping

Despite its potential benefits, napping can come with certain disadvantages.

  • Grogginess upon waking (sometimes called sleep inertia)
  • Disrupted sleep cycle, leading to poor nighttime sleep
  • Interference with you daily schedule

5 Tips for Taking Better Naps

If you are looking to work power naps into your daily routine, there are several tips for doing it the right way.

  1. Aim for shorter naps. Neuroscience studies have suggested that a 20-minute nap may be just as regenerative as a longer nap. During this time, you may enter REM sleep (which is why many nappers experience dreams). You will not enter slow-wave deep sleep, which is usually best saved for nighttime.
  2. Set an alarm. Without an alarm, your naptime can run far longer than planned and interfere with your day. Set an alarm and resist the urge to hit the snooze button over and over.
  3. Avoid sleep medicine. While you may need sleep medication for a full night of sleep, it’s best to avoid using sleep meds to induce short naps.
  4. Nap in the early- to mid-afternoon. In order to ensure a good night's sleep, schedule your nap before late afternoon so it doesn’t interfere with your nocturnal sleep.
  5. Listen to your body. While 20 minutes may be a good nap length for most people, no two bodies are alike. Listen to your body: Extreme drowsiness may be telling you something. It could be a warning of infection or a response to sleep deprivation. If you find yourself napping constantly, consult a doctor for detailed medical advice.

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