Tips on Napping

Lifehacker’s Adam Pash recently blogged about a new article in the Guardian called Napping: The Expert’s Guide which is a text-based re-hash of an older Boston Globe guide called How to Nap (this was published on the web as an image file).

As you would expect, the article gives some pretty useful tips on how to nap. For example, it suggests you limit your afternoon nap to 45 minutes or less. Unless, of course, you don’t get enough sleep at night in which case it might be good to nap for more than 90 minutes.

The sleep science behind these tips also helps explain my own heuristics around napping. For example, I’ve always likened afternoon naps to charging mobile device batteries:

  • If all you need is a quick recharge, either sleep for 10-15 minutes to clear your head or for 20-30 minutes to get a more useful recharge (that will help you function for a few hours longer that a 10-minute nap would).
  • If you’re tired, do a full recharge which takes about 2 hours – but make sure you don’t do it too late in the afternoon (like 4-6pm) otherwise you’ll wake up feeling groggy and goggle-eyed.
  • Make sure you’re in a quiet and dimly lit (or dark) location to get your nap.
  • Don’t let anyone interrupt you because getting woken up 5 minutes into your nap is the worst thing that can happen.

I also have a few heuristics for night time sleeping – some which I have collected over the years (from other news articles or research on sleep) and some of which I’ve come up with myself:

  • Never sleep for less than 3 hours at a stretch. Indeed, it’s almost better to not sleep at all (or take a quick 30-minute nap) than it is to sleep for only 1-2 hours at night. This tends to happen when, say, you need to pick someone up from the airport at 2am and you figure you should get an hour’s worth of sleep from midnight to 1am. No! Either go to sleep at 10:30 PM and wake up at 1:30 AM or don’t sleep at all. Trust me on this one.
  • If you’re a college student, the previous rule changes to never sleep for less than 2 hours at a stretch. The 2-hour rule was actually my original sleep rule and, as you can guess, I came up with it while I was in college. Once I graduated, developed a more regular sleeping pattern, and (basically) got older, the 2-hour rule became the 3-hour rule.
  • Make sure you get 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep at some point during the night. This is important.
  • If you and your partner sleep in the same bed (or you have a room mate), make sure you take their sleeping pattern into account when planning your own. For example, you don’t want one partner interrupting the other when the latter is deep in the middle of a sleep cycle.
  • If you’re not getting enough sleep (i.e. 7-8 hours every night), at the very least sleep in on weekends or nap in the afternoons. However, doing just that is not sufficient to completely repay your sleep debt. What you have to do is sleep a little extra every night till your natural sleep cycle is restored. That is, sleep for 9-10 hours every night till your body tells you its time to go back to your regular 7-8 hour sleep schedule.
  • Don’t drink too much liquid before going to sleep otherwise your 5-7am sleep will be disturbed by your need to go to the bathroom.
  • One good way of waking yourself up – especially if you’re feeling tired or groggy – is to start breathing deeply while still in bed. This increases your heart rate and will pump more oxygen into your blood, both of which will help make you more alert which, in turn, will make it easier for you get up and out of bed. Also, force open your eyes to let the daylight in. Your body reacts to environmental light and using your eyes to acknowledge that, “yes, indeed it is morning” helps wake you up.

If you have any napping or sleeping tips of your own, please do let me know. I’m always looking for ways to do things better.