How to Nap Without Affecting Your Sleep at Night

Let’s be honest. Sometimes a nap is the only way to get through the day with energy. But have you ever napped and then found it incredibly difficult to fall asleep (or stay asleep) during the night? While napping can absolutely affect your sleep at night, if you do it right, you get the best of both worlds (that is, napping during the day and sleeping well at night).

With a few nap tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can avoid that oh-so-awful delay in your nightly routine and learn how to optimize your nap time so you can spend the rest of your afternoon feeling energetic—all without the post-nap grogginess .

What causes afternoon sleepiness?

The natural dip in energy and focus you feel after lunchtime is known as the “afternoon slump.” This is part of your circadian rhythm, the biological clock in your body that regulates your sleep cycle. It is caused by fluctuations in hormones and neurotransmitters, particularly cortisol and adenosine.

Cortisol keeps you feeling awake and alert. Cortisol levels in the body are generally higher when you first wake up and steadily decreases throughout the day. However, your body produces more cortisol in response to certain stimuli, such as B. Exercise, which is why an afternoon workout can make you feel more alert.

Adenosine, on the other hand, makes you sleepy and your body secretes more of it throughout the day (fun fact: caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors on your cells, which is why it keeps you awake).

Aside from your natural internal clock, things like nighttime sleep quality, diet, caffeine consumption, room temperature, screen time, and exercise habits affect afternoon sleepiness. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia also contribute to daytime sleepiness.

Who Should Take a Nap and Who Shouldn’t?

dr Ramiz Fargo, medical director of Loma Linda University’s Sleep Disorder Center, told CNET that most people can nap and still enjoy a healthy sleep cycle, but people struggling with insomnia should avoid napping make.

For people who already suffer from nocturnal wakefulness, napping can make the problem worse and lead to trouble sleeping in a number of ways, including:

If you haven’t been diagnosed with a sleep disorder and you don’t typically have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, you’re most likely able to nap without any problems.

How to take a nap without ruining your sleep

Initiate a collective sigh of relief: You can rejoice that it’s possible to enjoy an afternoon nap without feeling like you’ve ruined your sleep cycle for the next five days.

While some people should generally avoid naps, as mentioned above, with the right strategy, most people can enjoy an afternoon nap and still keep a good eye out when the world turns dark. Here are seven do’s and don’ts to consider before your next nap.

1. Try to take a nap in the early afternoon

The earlier you can nap (as soon as you start feeling sleepy), the better. Just like long naps, late naps can disrupt your sleep cycle and keep you up at night. Although everyone’s circadian rhythm is unique, most people experience a lapse in alertness between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. If you can make it to a quiet area within that time frame, this is your best bet for a good nap that doesn’t interfere with your night’s sleep.

Bedroom with closed curtain

The room where you take a nap should have minimal light. This is difficult to achieve during the day without room-darkening curtains, so definitely invest in some if you take a lot of naps.

Emily Keegin/Getty Images

2. Set the scene

If you’re napping, you can tweak it too. Your sleep environment should be just as restful as your sleep environment. Ideally, you sleep in the same place you sleep. A nap in a restful environment — with little to no light, a comfortable temperature, and a pillow that suits your sleep style — can help you fall asleep faster and reap the full benefits of a short power nap.

3. Guilt-free naps

A nap should make you feel better, not worse. Don’t let your nap tempt you into working late or doing more—you needed the extra rest for a reason. Saying things like, “If I take a nap now, I’ll have to stay up later.” [insert task],” can further disrupt your sleep cycle and cause you to develop a shameful attitude about napping like you should never do it. So take a guilt-free nap while you’re still meeting your most important commitments.

And if you’re still feeling guilty about your afternoon nap, remember that some cultures literally build naps into their collective daily schedule, which should be proof enough that naps are good for you.

4. Keep naps short

More isn’t better when it comes to naps. The Mayo Clinic advises people to do this Nap for only 10 to 20 minutes. That might seem ridiculously short — even pointless — but research shows that naps of this length improve alertness without the post-nap grogginess that most people are familiar with. Naps as short as 30 minutes can produce “sleep sluggishness,” a period of reduced performance immediately after the nap.

If you sleep for up to an hour or more, you can seriously disrupt your circadian rhythm. Besides, says Dr. Fargo, waking up from longer naps can leave you feeling groggy and grumpy because it requires you to wake up from a deeper sleep. This can negate the benefits (read: alertness) you were hoping for from a nap.

5. Don’t put your naps in front of the screen

The whole point of a nap is to make you feel better, not worse. Interspersing your naps with screen time can make the nap less effective because the psychosocial effects of screen time (especially social media use) can erode the peace of mind you’ve gained from your nap.

If you work a job that requires the use of computers, avoiding screen time before your nap may not be possible. But that’s all the more reason to avoid screens for a few moments after your nap. Put your phone down and do something to prolong relaxation: meditate for five minutes, stretch your arms and legs, go for a little walk, or eat a healthy snack. Then get back to work or whatever task is calling you.

6. Don’t replace your nap with caffeine

Everyone is busy and burnout is at an all-time high — but stress and anxiety for work and life keep us all going 100 miles an hour. It’s often tempting to get through the afternoon with an extra cup of coffee and the belief that you’ll cross more things off your to-do list, but your body will do better with a power nap.

Afternoon caffeine consumption is associated with nighttime alertness, even if you drink your afternoon coffee six hours before bed. And drinking espresso three hours before bed delays melatonin production (the hormone that makes you sleepy) by almost an hour.

However, a short nap can reduce drowsiness, improve focus, and increase productivity without the dreaded caffeine crash.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions about a medical condition or health goals.

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