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7 Napping Tips for a Refreshing Snooze

Happy, healthy napping is just a few bits of advice away

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Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: GettyImages)

A power nap, a cat nap, an afternoon snooze. Whatever you call it, the concept of a nap is nothing new. But is a quick bit of shut-eye good for you? And when and how often should you take one? For National Napping Day, which we are very happy to celebrate on March 11, we talked to the experts to find out how you can set yourself up for sleepytime success.

Is it healthy to nap?

The answer depends on the person, say experts. Marjorie Ellen Soltis, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Duke Health, does not consider napping every day to always be normal.

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She says people who are regularly napping during the day should think about why that might be, adding they may not be getting adequate sleep at night.

Another potential reason for needing to nap all of a sudden: underlying health issues, says Sara C. Mednick, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine.

But, says Mednick, as long as there are not underlying health issues, a nap during the day can actually be beneficial – a way to counteract the weakening of circadian rhythms that often occurs as we age.

Mednick supports a midday nap routine as a “great way to consolidate the sleepiness into one concentrated good snooze, rather than nodding off throughout the day.”

 If all this talk of napping is making you want to curl up on the sofa under a warm blanket, here are tips from the experts on how to get the best and healthiest nap.

1. Personalize your nap space

Not all nappers are the same, says Soltis, so first and foremost, you need to listen to your body.

“I think sleep, in general, is the biggest victim of everybody saying here’s exactly what you need to do and how, when realistically, everyone’s a little bit different,” Soltis says.

“Some people, like Winston Churchill, need to take off all their clothes and go back to bed, while others are happy with a head-on-the-desk snooze,” Mednick says.

Soltis recommends adding a weighted blanket to your bed linens. It’s a blanket filled with plastic pellets or glass beads that weighs anywhere from five to 30 pounds. While there isn’t a lot of research on how well they work, the idea is that the extra weight calms you down for a better sleep.

When it comes to pillows, Maha Alattar, MD, the medical director of the Sleep Center at VCU Health, usually recommends a firmer pillow that keeps your head from bending too much.

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2. Time your nap well

The timing of a nap can vary based on your daily schedule. For a midday nap, Soltis suggests aiming for a few hours after you wake up and at least four or five hours before bedtime so you don’t impact your nightly sleep. Alattar says a nap between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. is probably good.

And what about how long you should nap? Alattar says a nap should be between 30 and 45 minutes, adding that longer napping may increase the risk of negatively affecting your nighttime sleep.

An alarm can be your best friend when it comes to getting napping just right, says Mednick, because you can train yourself to take shorter naps, with the added benefit that you won’t sleep through an appointment.

An alarm can also help you know when to give up and get up, says Alattar. “Put an alarm on, go to bed and try to sleep,” she said. “If you can’t sleep after that 45 minutes, just get up and move on.”

Video: Find Your Best Sleep Position

3. Put your phone and computer away

Phones, tablets, laptops – anything with blue light is a no-no, says Alattar, because even if you’re tired, electronics can affect your sleep. Why? Blue light slows the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. In general, says Alattar, try to avoid blue-light exposure from screens about an hour before your nap.

4. Kill the lights

Another kind of light that may affect your sleep: good, old fashioned daylight, says Soltis.

She recommends using an eye cover and blackout curtains but says the eye cover will help even the most light-sensitive people.

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5. Embrace silence

Alattar, Soltis and Mednick all say ear plugs can be a great way to combat noise during a daytime nap. A white noise machine can also be helpful for some, according to Alattar and Soltis, but the former says to “make sure your white noise is not too noisy.”

“It may cause hearing loss, so we try to avoid that,” says Alattar, “but if it’s a very low white noise, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

6. Keep it cool

Sleep quality suffers when you try to sleep in the heat, says Soltis. “[People] tend to be more restless, they tend to be less comfortable and so they don’t tend to sleep as well.”

Turning down the room temperature is helpful for a lot of people, Soltis says, adding that you might also want to avoid being really active right before your nap because it can raise your body temperature “even if you don’t necessarily feel it.”

7. Exercise after your nap, not right before

While exercising before your nap might not be the best idea, getting your body moving after is great to “get the juices flowing and heart rate up” for the rest of the day, says Mednick.

Alattar says that exercise is good for sleep in general. So, if you want to get that exercise in after a nap, then by all means, do it! Whether you’re heading to the gym or taking a stroll in the sunshine, exercise can help your nighttime sleep because it promotes deep sleep and decreases stress hormones.

What you don’t want to do is just sit down and watch TV after a nap, says Alattar, because you’re more likely to doze off again, and that can affect your nighttime sleep.

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