Illustration: George Greaves

The Elemental Guide to Napping

How to Take the Perfect Nap

10 science-backed tips for more productive shut-eye

Elemental
Published in
6 min readAug 19, 2019

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The Elemental Guide to Napping is a three-part special report. Read about the science of napping and why napping should be more egalitarian.

MyMy 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…

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Maya Kroth
Elemental

Itinerant journo, ex @fulbrightprgrm Spain & @sipiapa_oficial in Mex, interested in siesta, travel, food, journalism, bicycles & bourbon.