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How To Perfect The Power Nap

If sleep is something that often evades you, you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. But napping can do more for your sleep schedule than you think. Here, everything you need to know about making the most of a power nap.

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Vogue Arabia, September 2019. Photo: Fernando Gomez

According to reports, we are a world of poor sleepers. One particular study, which looked at the night-time habits of over 8,000 participants, found that people in Britain only got 5.91 hours of sleep a night on average in 2023 – down from 6.11 hours in 2022 and 6.19 in 2021. And it’s not just how much sleep people are getting, the type of sleep they’re getting has suffered too, with almost half revealing that their sleep quality has worsened over the last year.

If you’ve ever suffered from broken sleep, you’ll know just how badly it can affect you the following day. But on top of feeling groggy, exhausted, lacking in focus and even craving unhealthy foods, regular poor quality sleep can also impact everything from heart to brain health, and bring about an elevated risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.

Although napping is something most people leave behind in childhood, many experts believe that, approached correctly, napping can be an effective support if you’re struggling with sleep issues. In addition to boosting cognitive function, a power nap can improve memory consolidation, reboot focus and productivity, and reduce feelings of fatigue and inertia. One caveat though; although power naps are a great way to support temporary sleep issues, they should never be used to replace proper sleep. If you suffer from insomnia or any serious sleep disorders, it’s always best to seek medical help.

Here’s how to make the most of your power nap.

Timing is everything

Although you might be tempted to squeeze one into your day whenever tiredness threatens to overwhelm, it’s important to stick to the golden rules of napping, and knowing when to nap is the one of the most important. Don’t try to doze off any later than 3PM, as doing so could impact your night-time sleep and cause more disruption. Most people usually find fatigue hits them after lunch when blood sugar levels are low, so if it suits, aim to coincide yours with a post-prandial slump.

Once you’ve navigated when to nap, it’s time to work out exactly how long your sleep should be. For that you need to think about sleep cycles. When you sleep for several hours during the night you go through several cycles of sleep, each of which totals roughly 90 minutes and contains four different stages. The first two stages are light sleep, which represents the majority of sleep and is vital for learning and motor skills. This is followed by deep sleep which is needed to boost immunity, flush waste material from the brain and repair and rebuild muscle. The final stage is REM which is associated with memory, dreaming and creativity, and helps to energize your mind and body. When it comes to napping, you ideally want to stay in the first two sleep cycles and wake before you enter the third deep sleep stage, which means setting your nap alarm for between 15 and 20 minutes. Allowing it to spill over into the deep stage can result in you feeling groggy and disoriented, as it’s a much harder stage to physically wake from.

Location, location, location

Choosing where you nap won’t be a problem if you work from home, but if you work in an office it might require a little more thought. Whichever spot you choose it should be free from distractions: other people, devices or anything else that could distract from your efforts to drift off. It needs to be as quiet as possible – so consider earplugs – and ideally the space should be dark, so that your body knows it’s time to sleep. If you can’t facilitate that, opt for a sleep mask that blocks out as much light as possible including bright displays from any screens. We like Sensory Retreats’ Sensory Sleep Vegan Silk Mask, which fits snugly around your eyes, is padded for optimum comfort and comes with heated eye pads that encourage deeper relaxation. It’s important to get the temperature of the room right too, so, if you can, adjust the thermostat, remove or add layers, or open a window if necessary. Although you shouldn’t be cold, dropping off is easier when the room is on the cooler side.

Enhance your power nap

If you need to nap but are worried about being able to actually fall asleep in the middle of the day, it might be worth seeking out some white noise (one study found it helped 38 per cent of people to fall asleep faster). If you have a little extra time to spare, a short meditation or guided breathing session can be useful to help get your head out of work mode and into a more relaxed state before you drop off.

It might seem counterintuitive to drink coffee right before you settle down for a snooze, but a “coffee nap” is a smart move if you want to wake from your nap feeling refreshed and ready to go. Because caffeine takes around 20 to 40 minutes to have an impact on your body, if you have coffee right before you settle down for your nap, you ought to wake just as it starts to take effect, helping you to feel doubly alert. Just watch that the coffee doesn’t fall within six to eight hours of your bedtime, or it may cause its own issues.

Post-power nap etiquette

Once your alarm has sounded, it’s time to get up – now is not the time to snooze. As soon as you’re up, it’s time to get your body back into daytime mode, and the best way to do that is to get outside and into the daylight as soon as you can. If that’s not possible, splashing your face with cold water or dunking your arms in a sink of cold water will momentarily activate your sympathetic nervous system and help your body and brain feel more awake. If you do feel a little bit slow and sluggish after your nap, try some gentle stretching or movement, or try listening to fast-paced music to re-energize you.

Originally published in Vogue.co.uk

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