- The 15 - 20 minute power nap. The theory behind the 15 to 20 minute power nap is that it is short enough that there is no risk of falling into too deep of a sleep and waking up groggy (see reference 1). This length of nap can be greatly effective in reducing the dangerous risk of falling asleep on the job for those with jobs involving aviation, trains, and other transportation. However, the downside of the power nap is that few people can fall asleep on demand for such a brief time.
- The 60 minute nap. The idea here is that longer naps help recharge the body and the mind. The 60 minute nap allows the brain to go into slow-wave sleep and delivers a boost in performance and memory (see reference 2).
- The 90 minute nap. One full sleep cycle, from first falling asleep all the way to REM sleep, is 90 minutes long on average (see reference 3). Completing a full sleep cycle will leave you feeling alert and refreshed, as opposed to feeling groggy if you had woken up mid-cycle. By completing your REM sleep cycle, your creativity will also be boosted (see reference 2).
- You suffer from insomnia. If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, or staying asleep, you should avoid daytime naps. It has been shown that insomniacs who take daytime naps have a harder time falling asleep at night (reference 3).
- You are a caregiver to young children. It only takes an instant for an inquisitive toddler to get into a harmful or potentially fatal situation. So parents of young children should not try to take a nap while their children are awake. Be alert at all times. Of course, if your toddler is taking his or her own nap in a safe place (e.g. their crib), then you can go ahead and take your own nap during this time. Otherwise, put safety first.
- Drink a caffeinated beverage. This is a 'quick fix' and not a long term solution to your sleep woes. However, drinking a cup of coffee will temporarily increase your alertness so at a pinch you can substitute that for a nap. Now for the bad news: you may feel more awake, but drinking coffee will not help restore memory function the same way a nap would (see reference 2).
- Take a walk outdoors. A short yet invigorating walk outside can deliver a big energy booster at a time when you might normally want to nap (reference 3). Part of this effect is due purely to the physical activity. The other part is due to the sunlight. Exposure to sunlight inhibits the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, banishing those mid-afternoon blues.
- Rest for 10 minutes. If you are tired, even a ten minute period of rest can be a big help. Sit down or lie down and just relax your body. Don't use any electronic devices during this time: that doesn't count as resting! You can get surprisingly big benefits from a rest, even if you don't nap.
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