Nap Hacks: How to Get the Most Out of Your 15 Minutes

People often wonder whether or not it’s good to nap. But with mounting evidence about the benefits of napping, the better question may be: what’s the smartest way to do it? Below we uncover the who, when, where, why and how of napping so you can make the most out of your next mini-snooze. Read on for five proven nap hacks to keep in mind the next time you feel that nagging urge to snooze.

Who

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Everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens can reap the benefits of a nap. If you already get plenty of sleep during the night and don’t feel the urge to snooze during the day, by all means skip it. But if you tend to fall short of your nightly sleep goals, napping can help you stay refreshed and alert enough to accomplish your daily tasks.

That being said, there’s a difference between smart napping and extravagant napping. Unless unusual circumstances have caused you to miss out on sleep for several nights in a row, a multi-hour nap isn’t usually recommended. Chances are it’ll confuse your body and lead to more nighttime sleep problems.

When

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Do it around 2 PM, which is when most people’s afternoon slump hits. Your circadian rhythm takes a natural dip at this time—well-rested folks are less affected by it, but if you’re already sleep deprived, it can push your sleepiness over the edge. Grabbing a nap between 1 and 3 PM can help boost productivity later in the day. Nap any later, though, and your nighttime sleep pattern could get interrupted.

Where

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Do it in a quiet, cool, dark place. Pack a sleep mask and ear plugs to use in a pinch. Or try out one of these wearable “ostrich pillows”—they have all-around padding that makes it more comfortable to snooze in awkward places.

If you’re at work during the day, most offices have a communal couch you can use. For more privacy and space, snooze in your car or at a nearby green space. (Car snoozers, check out this clever inflatable car mattress designed to fit the backseat. No match for your at-home mattress, but a lot better than a partially-reclined car seat.)

How

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Quantity is not on your side when it comes to napping, so you’ve really got to focus on quality. Ideally you’ll be able to fully lie down and shift into your normal sleep position. You’ll fall asleep quickest this way and maximize your snooze time.

Most experts recommend limiting a nap to 20 minutes to avoid entering the deeper phases of sleep, which can be difficult and disorienting to wake from. However, if you have 90 minutes to spare, aim for your nap to last about that long. You’ll be able to complete a full sleep cycle and wake up feeling refreshed rather than groggy.

Always set an alarm so you can feel confident about waking up—it’ll help you fully relax and get to sleep faster.

The sip and snooze: If you really want to maximize your nap time, try this tip: Quickly drink a small cup of coffee right before you drift off. Since caffeine takes about 30 minutes to metabolize, it’ll start to kick in right about the time you’re waking up, giving you twice the sleep-fighting power. Plus the warmth of the drink will help lull you to sleep. Talk about leveraging the little things!

Why

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The human body is programmed to feel particularly sleepy twice a day—once between 2 and 4 AM and again between 1 and 3 PM—and planned napping can help combat those drowsy dips. Napping as an adult packs all the same benefits as it did when you were a kid… It’s just a lot easier to say yes to now. After a nap, you’re more focused, relaxed and happy. Your decision making skills and creativity are also improved. Even a 2-5 minute nap when you’re really exhausted can give you just enough of a boost to get through the rest of the day. This is an especially good trick to keep in mind when driving. If you feel yourself nodding off but you’re on a tight schedule, pull over and allow yourself to snooze for just a few minutes to restore alertness.

While napping can be a great band-aid for sleepiness during the day, it’s not a substitute for the full 7-8 hours most adults require. Even with nap hacks, the best sleep is the kind you get all at once overnight. Use these tips in a pinch, but keep your eye on the goal of sustained nighttime sleep.