March 10 is National Nap Day and I almost missed posting this today because I was busy taking a nap. There’s been a renaissance lately on the benefits of short periods of rest, they’re recommended in scientific reviews, TED talks, books, the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, and last year Slate featured a piece on artists who napped. But I don’t need any convincing. I love naps, they benefit my mental health, my energy levels, my work concentration, and my mood. But they didn’t start out that way, it required a few years of experimenting to find the sweet spots.
What I learned on my own and what most of the studies I linked to tell you is DON’T NAP TOO LONG. That is a critical error in most beginning nappers. Unless you’re sick or recovering from an illness, sleeping during the day works best for most people if you keep it at 30 minutes or less. I learned in my anatomy and physiology class in school that our kidneys filtrate 180 liters of fluid plasma per day. We have 3 liters of plasma in our body. That means approximately ever 24 minutes, our kidneys have gone through a full filtration cycle. Most acupuncturists leave you on the table for 25 minutes. My shiatsu sessions for clients are generally at least 50 minutes, so two 25 minute cycles (with 5 minutes at beginning for diagnoses and 5 minutes at the end to close out). And my perfect naps are usually about 25 minutes long.
But every body can be a little different and the way you find your own perfect time slot is to start training. Yes, it takes some effort to properly nap. I recommend setting an alarm for just under 30 minutes every time you nap. If the alarm goes off and you are in a deep, heavy sleep that is painful to wake up from, it’s possible you’re either a) sleep-deprived or b) your body needs less time. Next time set the alarm for 20 minutes. Sometimes my favorite naps are 13 minutes long. Some studies say 6 minutes is enough to benefit our brains.
The other key to nap training is to not stress if you don’t fully fall all the way asleep. Lying down in a cool dark room, getting yourself comfy and swaddled, closing your eyes and focus on relaxing all your body parts, starting from your toes up to your head. Let you mind wander – don’t let it get fixated on things like to-do lists, but do let yourself daydream. These types of relaxation naps are especially great if you’re feeling taxed out by people contact, I call them brain-reboots because I feel my moods get reset after having that inward alone time.
Naps after 5 pm can also be tricky and have the potential to upset nighttime sleep, though occasionally 10 minutes of eyes closed on the couch before dinner is the perfect way to have a refreshing evening with family and friends and transition out of the stresses of the day.