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Master the art of a perfect nap with these expert tips for avoiding sleep hangovers.

How To Nap Like A Pro (No More “Sleep Hangovers”!)

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How To Be An Expert Nap-Artist

There’s a lot of science to say that napping can bring us health benefits—but mistiming it can just make us more tired. So, how to get some refreshing shut-eye, without ending up with a case of the midday melatonin blues?

First, why do we want to nap?

Well, maybe we’re just tired, but there are specific benefits even if we’re not. For example:

What can go wrong?

There are two main things that can go wrong, physiologically speaking:

  1. We can overdo it, and not sleep well at night
  2. We can awake groggy and confused and tired

The first is self-explanatory—it messes with the circadian rhythm. For this reason, we should not sleep more than 90 minutes during the day. If that seems like a lot, and maybe you’ve heard that we shouldn’t sleep more than half an hour, there is science here, so read on…

The second is a matter of sleep cycles. Our brain naturally organizes our sleep into multiples of 20-minute segments, with a slight break of a few minutes between each. Consequently, naps should be:

  • 25ish minutes
  • 40–45 minutes
  • 90ish minutes

If you wake up mid-cycle—for example, because your alarm went off, or someone disturbed you, or even because you needed to pee, you will be groggy, disoriented, and exhausted.

For this reason, a nap of one hour (a common choice, since people like “round” numbers) is a recipe for disaster, and will only work if you take 15 minutes to fall asleep. In which case, it’d really be a nap of 45 minutes, made up of two 20-minute sleep cycles.

Some interruptions are better/worse than others

If you’re in light or REM sleep, a disruption will leave you not very refreshed, but not wiped out either. And as a bonus, if you’re interrupted during a REM cycle, you’re more likely to remember your dreams.

If you’re in deep sleep, a disruption will leave you with what feels like an incredible hangover, minus the headache, and you’ll be far more tired than you were before you started the nap.

The best way to nap

Taking these factors into account, one of the “safest” ways to nap is to set your alarm for the top end of the time-bracket above the one you actually want to nap for (e.g., if you want to nap for 25ish minutes, set your alarm for 45).

Unless you’re very sleep-deprived, you’ll probably wake up briefly after 20–25 minutes of sleep. This may seem like nearer 30 minutes, if it took you some minutes to fall asleep!

If you don’t wake up then, or otherwise fail to get up, your alarm will catch you later at what will hopefully be between your next sleep cycles, or at the very least not right in the middle of one.

When you wake up from a nap before your alarm, get up. This is not the time for “5 more minutes” because “5 more minutes” will never, ever, be refreshing.

Rest well!

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