Debunking Sleep Myths: Does Napping During the Day Affect Your Sleep at Night?

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Despite the fact that napping is commonplace in other cultures around the world, the activity in the U.S. is slightly less popular. Nevertheless, a national survey finds that one in three Americans takes a nap regularly.  If you feel a bit run down or unfocused in the afternoon, you may also have considered taking a nap, but worried that the extra daytime shut-eye could impact your ability to sleep at night. The truth is, humans are hardwired to feel a little tired in the middle of the afternoon—most people’s natural circadian rhythm dips between 1 P.M. and 3 P.M. resulting in that sleepy feeling —and most likely, adding a short afternoon siesta will not disrupt your normal seven to nine hours  of sleep a night. Follow these steps to get the most out of your nap, without interfering with your nighttime sleep. 

Step 1: Watch the Clock 

Taking a nap at the wrong time of day can be counterproductive.  For instance, napping near dinnertime throws off your regular bedtime schedule, since it’s tough to relax when you’re not fatigued.  Luckily, there’s a sweet spot on the clock: The best time to take a nap is after lunch, between 2 P.M. and 3 P.M., when the body’s energy naturally starts to flag.

Step 2: Keep It Short 

If a little napping is good for you, more must be better, right? Not necessarily. Sleeping for an hour or more is too much during the day and will likely set you up for nighttime troubles. The right amount of time for a refreshing nap is about 20 minutes.  This short window of zzz’s will put you in the non-REM or lightest stage of sleep. If you snooze for longer, you’ll enter a deep sleep stage  and may wake up feeling less alert than when you started.

Step 3: Set the Scene 

When you’re ready to take a quick nap, be sure the spot you pick is conducive to good sleep. The ideal environment for a snooze is one with a comfortable temperature, limited light, and minimal noise.  If you are traveling, consider packing noise-canceling headphones and an eye mask to help you relax no matter where you are. 

Step 4: Limit Caffeine 

It’s tempting to grab a big latte when you’re feeling tired in the afternoon, but too much caffeine later in the day can leave you wired and unable to fall asleep at night.  A cup or two of coffee is fine in the morning, but once the P.M. rolls around, you’re better served with a 20-minute nap to get your engine humming again.