How to Take the Perfect Nap
10 science-backed tips for more productive shut-eye
My life to this point is marked off in two epochs: Before Nap and After Nap. From birth until about age 30, I had no patience for napping; naps left me groggy, hungry, cold, and disoriented, or feeling as if I was missing out on something much more interesting in the world. And that’s if I could fall asleep at all, which was almost never.
Seven years ago, that all changed when I moved to Spain on a Fulbright fellowship to research a book on the history of the siesta (yeah, I didn’t know the government gave out money for that either). I would spend my mornings working in the archives and go home around 2 p.m. to cook whatever lunch I could afford on my stipend, then crawl into bed for the next phase of my “research.” For the first few days, I just laid there, eyes wide open and thoughts racing. Day after day, I worked at it, until I finally achieved that first perfect nap.
After the perfect nap, I’m not entirely sure I’ve been asleep at all. I drift off without noticing and wake up fresh, ready to start the second part of my day. Over the years I’ve honed it to a fine art and become attuned to my body’s natural rhythms. Anticipating when the tired feeling will hit, I try to be someplace where taking a break is possible — if not at home, then maybe in my car or at a park. I took my nap habit with me when I left Spain, and it’s been my secret weapon against burnout and exhaustion ever since. Here are a few of the best napping tips I’ve learned along the way.
Timing is everything
The desire to sleep corresponds to changes in body and brain temperature that run on a roughly 24-hour schedule, called a circadian rhythm. Everybody, no matter if they live in a warm or cold climate or if they’ve eaten a big meal, experiences these subtle changes at bedtime and, to a lesser extent, in the afternoon — usually around six to eight hours after waking. For most people, “prime napping time falls between 1 and 3 p.m.,” writes Sara Mednick, a leading voice…