Why You Need a Nap

Naptime is not just for kindergarteners. A whole body of research shows that a midday snooze can increase productivity and alertness in the workplace. Naps can often be the perfect weapons to combat midafternoon sluggishness, which tends to hit between 2 and 5 p.m. NEWSWEEK spoke to Helene Emsellem, author of "Snooze...or Lose! Ten 'No War' Ways to Improve Your Teen's Sleep Habits" about how, when and where to do the best napping:

1. The Odd Couple: Coffee and a Nap Turns out that a cup of joe won't ruin your nap, it will enhance it. A 2003 Japanese study found that you can alleviate sleepiness by combining a short snooze with coffee. Sound counterintuitive? Here's how it works: caffeine takes about 20 minutes to a half-hour to kick in, just enough time for you to nap. That way, if you've had a coffee-primed nap, the benefits are twofold: you've rested and you're ready to go when you wake. The British Transportation Department even provides drivers with the following recommendation to combat driver fatigue: "Stop, drink two cups of coffee or a highly caffeinated drink, then take a short nap." Think of a nap as a free extra shot in your latte.

2. The Nicest Nap: Hour Emsellem says that 2 or 3 p.m. is the ideal nap hour—late enough to fit into your natural siesta zone but early enough that it will not interfere with your night sleep. Also take your afternoon schedule into consideration when making nap plans. If you can, Emsellem recommends taking your midafternoon snooze just prior to a big meeting. Dozing right before the meeting will make sure you're not drifting off during the meeting.

3. Length Does Matter: A good nap length is somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. This will give you the restorative benefits of sleep without the lethargy or grogginess—what Emsellem calls "sleep drunkenness."

4. Making the Bed: Location may be the toughest nap quandary. If your company has a health or nurse's room, that could make a good place for snoozing. If that's not an option, you may have to turn your cubicle into a makeshift nap room—but that means you'll probably have to be all right with curling up under your desk. Heading to your parked car is another option—but of course you should make sure a window is open and the engine is not running.

5. Set an Alarm: Chances are, if you're tired enough to take a nap, you will not magically wake up on your own accord. So set an alarm, both to avoid the grogginess of a long nap and to make sure you don't sleep through anything important.

6. Keep It Consistent: Emsellem suggests working that 20-minute nap into a particular sleep routine to make it part of your body's expected circadian rhythm. The easiest way to do that is by using a sleep log to record your snoozing habits.

7. Be an Alert Napper: If you always feel the need for a nap, think about your nightly sleep schedule. Are you down to only five or six hours? While a 20-minute nap is a good refresher, it will not make up for hours lost at night. Conversely, if you're getting eight hours of sleep each night yet still feel the need to nap, that might be the sign of a sleep disorder, or another health problem, so check with your physician or check out the National Sleep Foundation or the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for more sleep resources.

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