Napping could help you stay mentally agile

We all have nights when we fall seriously short of the recommended eight hours of shut-eye, and the following day can feel like you’re fighting your way through brain fog and struggling to concentrate, particularly by the afternoon.

It was apparently Winston Churchill who first coined the term ‘power nap’, saying that a daily two-hour sleep top-up gave him the ability to think more clearly. In fact, many high achievers through history are said to have sworn by the benefits of a daily afternoon snooze, including Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and John F. Kennedy.

Now, a study published in the journal General Psychiatry has found that regular afternoon naps are associated with better locational awareness, verbal fluency and working memory.

The study looked at the sleep patterns of 2214 healthy people aged 60 and over in China, of which 1534 took regular afternoon naps of between five minutes and two hours, while 680 did not.

Read more: Daytime napping an early sign of Alzheimer’s: research

Anyone who’s taken a ‘quick’ afternoon nap and awoken several hours later feeling groggy, disorientated and confused will tell you there’s an art to the sleep skill though. We asked sleep experts to give us their top tips for mastering the perfect power nap.

1. Set an alarm

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When it comes to an afternoon snooze, the key is keeping it short and sweet. “Don’t nap for more than 30 minutes, as this can leave you feeling groggy and irritable when you wake up,” warns Rob Hobson, author of The Art of Sleeping.

Mr Hobson says the reason you can feel worse after a nap, is often a result of you drifting into a deep, slow-wave sleep that can be harder to jolt yourself out of. “Sleeping for too long during the day can also make it more difficult for you to nod off at night, which can have a knock-on effect on your sleep time and quality overall.”

2. Time it right
Certain times of the day are better for naps than others. “The best time to nap is between 1pm and 3pm,” says Mr Hobson, “as this follows the natural flow of your circadian rhythm. At these times, the body is [thought to be] naturally a little more relaxed as it releases the sleep hormone melatonin.”

He also adds that some people find it helpful to drink a cup of coffee just before taking a nap, as they naturally wake when the caffeine starts to kick in.

Read more: We asked five experts: should we nap during the day?

3. Power down tech
Whether you choose to nap in bed or curl up on the sofa, you’ll want to keep distractions to a minimum to maximise your sleep gains.

“Rest and recovery is the aim of a nap, so keep noise, such as beeping phones and tech, to a minimum,” says health and sleep coach Joanna Shurety.

“The same goes for light,” she adds. “If you struggle to find peace and quiet, invest in an eye mask and ear plugs to block out any environmental stimulants.”

4. Be consistent

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Napping at the same time each day can be helpful for keeping your body in a routine. If you find you’re regularly feeling tired and it’s affecting your day-to-day work and performance, taking an emergency nap could help replenish your energy levels.

Read more: What is deep sleep and how can we get more of it?

“If young children are the cause of your need for nap, then a good tip is to use the time they sleep to get your recovery too,” says Ms Shurety. That being said, if your afternoon naps are then keeping you awake at night, it might be best to power through the afternoon and get to bed early to get yourself back on track.

How often do you nap? Do you wake up feeling refreshed or groggy?

– With PA

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