How to have the perfect nap.

How I perfected my naps by listening to my body. 🛋

Updated on 06/14/18
8 minute read

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Many will give you a shopping list of how you should nap, claiming that if you follow it, you will have the perfect nap. Now I am not underestimating the power of science nor the power of the many infographics explaining how you should nap, that are all over the internet. 

What I am aiming to do here, is to share my way to a good, restful nap through trial and error. Keep reading to find out how to perfect your nap.

Before we jump to the process, please have in mind that everybody is different. Each person has a different set of preferences when it comes to sleeping and napping. Listening to your body and adjusting gradually is the key to a perfect nap. There is no right or wrong, you can still be a minority with your sleeping habits among other people and still have a perfect nap. 

Another very important point is that sometimes we need to nap before we drive, operate machines, work or take actions that while performing, tiredness potentially is a hazard to yourself or to other people. This article is not talking about those situations. This article is about routine everyday naps. 

As always, if you have another point to mention, other thoughts or you are a pineapple pirate, let me know in the comments below. 

 

My napping story

Once I couldn't nap. EVER. Every time I tried, I woke up groggy, frustrated, felt like my brain was replaced with a cured cement.

My body was heavy, I couldn't think clearly, and I was not a nice person during the period of time it took me to recover from the nap.

I really liked and needed naps. Especially when I know the day is going to be long and I need to be at my best during the evening. So I decided to invest time in learning and understanding my body needs when it comes to naps.

Here are the conclusions of my journey to a perfect nap:

 

Don't nap in the same environment that you have your night sleep.

One of my biggest issues with napping was where I was trying to nap. My first instinct was to go to my bed, nap and hoping to wake up fresh and happy.

That turned out as a big problem for me.

I was able to fall asleep, I did get some rest but I had a lot of problems waking up. I am not used to sleeping for shorter periods of time in my bed, I am used to having a long night sleep in my bed. Better put, my BODY is used to sleep for longer periods in the bed atmosphere.

My body remembered that pattern:

Bed = long night sleep.

Waking up was not easy at all. I needed to drag myself out of bad. I moved to the sofa. That was it for me. 

Napping on the sofa is much better for me than the bed. It is comfortable enough and provides me with the option to lay down or the nap while sitting up with my legs on a table or foot-rest. If your sofa of choice is a recliner, even better. 

Another substitute for your bed can be another bedroom. I think the important thing is that the place you nap in should not be the place you have your night sleep in. 

Take away point:

 try napping in a different room/bed from where you usually have your night sleep. Challenge your body's habits and find out where else you can also nap. 

 

Nap with your clothes on 

I like to sleep with minimal clothing. I don't like pajamas.

The reason is that I feel all the layers of clothing on me and it bothers me and prevents me from sleeping.

As you can guess, I used to try and nap the same. It didn't work. It was too comfortable. My body was sinking into a deep sleep and waking up is a nightmare.

What did I try?

Napping with my clothes on.

When I nap on the sofa, If I am wearing my jeans, I am staying in them. If I have a cardigan on me or a light coat, I keep it on.

I know what you might be thinking - this is not comfortable at all and you will never be able to fall into a sweet nap this way. That may be the case but I encourage you to signal your body that this is not night time yet by keeping some of your clothes on. No need for shoes, I never leave them on, but I stay with my socks for that reason exactly. 

Take away point:

Signaling your body that this is not a long night sleep by leaving some of your clothes on, can help you nap better. 

 

Nap with some noise in the background.

We all sleep at night when it is relatively quiet.

Not many people can sleep in a noisy environment and it is a big factor considering the quality of sleep.

 When I sleep at night, I like the environment to be very quiet since I wake up easily by noises.

I did the same when I was napping. What I found out that I fall into a deep sleep this way, and I find hard to wake up.

A couple of times, there was some noise from the outside, I think it was some people talking out loud. It woke me up but I felt that It woke me up in a perfect time from my nap.

How is that possible? I think that the noise was always there, and it woke me up from a sleep cycle in which my body was ready to wake up nicely. I tried sleeping in a noisy environment a couple more times. Obviously, I didn't hire people to talk while I was sleeping so I tried few things:

  • Napping with music as background noise - didn't work. Couldn't fall asleep. Found my self-singing or thinking about the lyrics instead of sleeping. 
  • Napping with conversing people fro my family around my house as background noise -  The talking caught my attention too much. Couldn't fall asleep.

That I realized - TV! I can't sleep at night with the TV on, it keeps me awake, but can it work for naps?

I put something not so interesting (i.e. not one of my favorite shows) on the TV, set the volume to 'low' but high enough that I can understand what is going on. I realized that the background TV noise kept me from falling too deep into my sleep and that is perfect for me. I wake up much better with the TV as a background noise. 

Take away point:

Try to have some background noise. Give it a couple of tries. It is a matter of habit and you can find out that your body actually like to nap like that.

 

Do you like to sleep at night in complete darkness? Nap with ambient light on.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive.

For me, it works great. I like to sleep in complete darkness. Light keeps me from falling asleep.

So why nap with light?

This connects to the other examples I previously pointed out. Don't signal your body it is night time. Make your body understand that it is needed back in a couple of hours. Light is a great way of doing so.

I always darken my nap environment, that is for sure, but I never dark it as if I am going to sleep for the night. When I wake up, I am not blinded by the light as happens after a night sleep. I feel like a napped by my senses are still sharp and ready for the rest of the day. 

Take away point:

 Signal you body it is not a night sleep. Leave some light on, even natural light. 

 

Nap regularly and never if you are seriously lacking sleep hours.

Let's face it, It is hard to have a short nap if what you really need is a long, sweet night sleep.

If your body really needs to rest, waking up from a nap will probably be difficult and the tiredness will remain.

If I miss some night sleep, I try not to nap during the day. Those naps never end well for me. This is how my body works, not saying this is true to everyone. 

The best naps I usually have is when I do not need to catch up on some serious night sleeping and when I nap regularly. The habit of napping regularly is something your body needs to adjust to, so moving between extremes of no-sleep to short sleep (nap) is bad for you as far as my experience is going. The body like routines. 

Pointing out again that it may change from one person to the other. I am sharing my experience in that scenario. 

Take away point:

Napping regularly will improve the quality of your naps. Try to sleep well at night, regardless of napping.

 

I never nap directly after I eat.

I feel like I need a nap the most after lunch when my belly is full, I feel good so naturally, a nap is in place.

Paradoxically, this is the worst time for me. I never sleep well even if I try to have a night sleep after really late dinner. I stopped sleeping directly after lunch. I always give a couple of hours for the food to be digested and then I nap.

Napping with my belly full make me wake up with a bad feeling in my stomach.

Try that yourself, see when do you nap, what is the quality of the nap and if it has anything to do with eating before you nap. 

Take away point:

Trying not to nap on a full stomach or directly after you eat. 

 

Find the ideal time of day for a nap

Each one of us prefers napping in a different time of the day. There is no perfect time but there is a more common time.

Personally, I can't nap before 13:00 / 1 PM. I am very alert in those times and rarely can sleep. My perfect time is between 14:00 - 16:00 or 2 PM - 4 PM. Trying to nap in time outside of this "Goldilocks zone"  cause bad naps for me.

Don't get me wrong, I did try in the past, this is purely by trial and error. Most of my good naps where between those times.

Take away point:

Explore and find your "Goldilocks zone". Nap only in times that are good for you body. 

 

Get in the mood for napping

Not once I tried to force my self into napping.

This usually happened when I know I needed to nap because I have extra work or activity during the evening.

Forcing myself almost never succeeded. my mind was bothered by the things I have to do, sometimes I wasn't even bothered, I was excited about what is coming later on that day so I couldn't really get into the zone and have a relaxed nap. So what I am doing today, if I experience the same situation:

  • Skip napping. That is also an option.
  • Arranging my schedule so I can relax my self into a nap.
  • Try to do something else not work related (watch a YouTube video, read something new) so I can make my brain a little less alert.
  • Breathe slowly for a couple of minutes. It really relaxes me. There are many breathing exercises online. Find one that works for you. 

At that point, assuming I was successful in getting my mind to relax, I try to nap. It usually works. 

Take away point:

Napping is greatly affected by your state of mind. Make sure you are in the mood for napping and you are not forcing yourself into a nap.

To Conclude

My key point for a good nap is keeping a slightly less ideal environment than the environment in which you sleep at night.

I know it sounds weird, but for me, it works perfectly.

It prevents me from falling into a really deep sleep. It makes waking up very easy and I feel very good afterward.

If you really like to nap or you need it but find it hard to nap without annoying side effects, do as did.

Explore what is good for you, even in matters that are beyond this article. Don't just accept the fact that you are not a napping capable person. Your body has its napping needs and preferred environment. Find out what is that and nap properly.

Hope it helps you find your way to the perfect nap!