How to nail a perfect nap

Ever napped so long you felt more tired after? Or maybe you’re napping too late? We talk all the tips to nail your nap with sleep expert, Olivia Arezzolo. 

Napping, especially after a day in the sun, a long lunch or a few big nights, it’s all we feel like doing.

But you may not know – is it ok to nap? When should I nap? How long should I nap for?

Well, well Sleep Well Wednesdays community, fear not. Herein lies the PNP: the perfect nap plan.

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Before I get into the specifics, let’s share – why nap?

  1. NASA Research shows it can can boost alertness by 54%
  2. The same paper noted it could improve productivity by 34%,
  3. Napping also allows us to catch up on sleep debt without altering our sleep schedules (a top 10 sleep saboteur, for the reference)

So be it for performance or just to give you that much needed second wind, a nap is the answer.

That is – if you do it right.

And for that, here is my perfect nap plan (PNP)

Keep it short

The NASA study above specified 26 minutes, so set an alarm for that timeframe. This ensures you stay in a light sleep (stage 1 and 2 NREM).

Keep it dark

Light is our #1 zeitgeber (factor to control the circadian rhythm), and suppresses sleepiness hormone melatonin. More light = limited effectivity of the nap

Keep it early

At least 6 hours before bed. This allows your body to build up sufficient sleep promoting hormone adensoine. Like melatonin, adenosine encourages us to feel tired and crave sleep.

Naturally building up when we are awake, adenosine dissipates when we are asleep. Thus, if you take a nap too close to bedtime, chances are, you’ll find it hard to fall asleep – your body doesn’t have sufficient amount of adenosine to feel sleepy.

Simple, right?

Other important considerations:

Your chronotype

The earlier your circadian preference, the earlier so too should your nap be. Thus – if you are a lion – waking around 6am, sleeping at 10pm; napping at 2:30pm is ideal; a bear – waking around 7am, sleeping around 1030pm; nap at 3pm; a wolf, waking at 7:30am and bed at 11pm, nap at 3:30pm is great.

Respecting your chronotype is critical to getting nap benefits without sabotaging your sleep that night.

Sleep inertia

Woken from a nap feeling groggy? You’ve over-napped – as in, it went for too long. Instead of staying in a stage 1 and 2 NREM sleep – light sleep – you’ve entered stage 3 and 4 NREM sleep – deep, slow wave sleep.

Avoid this by setting a timer.

If you’re a shift worker or new parent

If you are lacking the capacity to have a solid block of sleep, you have an exemption from the 26 minute rule.

Instead, you can nap for 90 minutes at a time – this allows you to move through an entire sleep cycle so you’ll still wake in a light sleep stage, preventing sleep interia.

Make sure it respects the other two principles of the PNP though – keeping it dark and keeping it early still apply.

Olivia Arezzolo is a sleep expert who holds a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology); Certificate of Sleep Psychology and a Diploma of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine); and Certificate of Fitness III + IV. Olivia is passionate about delivering straightforward, science-based strategies to improve sleep.