Is there anything more glorious than carving out a few hours in the day to relax and recharge with a nap? Sleep is something too few people get enough of -- even though most of us love a good night's rest as much as a gourmet meal.
Thinking back to grade school, most of us were encouraged to take naps, and then somewhere along the line, napping got a bad rap, especially at school and work environments. However, it's really, seriously good for you, and science proves it.
According to Lifehacker, there is an expanding body of research showing that napping actually bolsters creativity and improves intelligence. In fact, some forward-thinking companies have welcomed snoozing as part of their day-to-day lifestyles, even offering comfortable nap rooms for workers (hint hint, bosses of America).
Also, The National Sleep Foundation says that it's in our DNA to take naps. Seriously. More than 85 percent of mammals (including humans) are "polyphasic" sleepers, which means that they sleep for short spurts throughout the day. You can't argue with evolution.
However, whether or not you have a work-approved nap in your future, there are ways to maximize those lazy weekend afternoon sleep sessions. Here's how:
1. Eat (And Drink) Well
A lot of the reasons people tend to have issues feeling sleepy are related to eating properly. Just like any other human function, sleeping requires nutrients. In fact, your organs are usually hard at work repairing themselves and restoring energy to your system as a whole.
You should eat well throughout the day before your nap. According to the Cleveland Clinic, complex carbohydrates (like whole grain cereals and breads), lean proteins like fish and chicken, healthy fats, certain drinks like chamomile or peppermint tea and fresh herbs like sage and basil all have sleep-inducing effects.
2. Stay True to Your Circadian Rhythm
The length of your nap is important too. If you sleep too little or too much, it can mess with your natural circadian rhythms and leave you feeling groggy (which is what you're trying to avoid in the first place). Most people enter the REM stage of sleep at around 45 minutes into their sleep cycle.
That means that even though an hour-long nap might seem like a logical choice, you could wake up right in the middle of REM sleep. Shoot for a cat nap (20 to 30 minutes) or a nice long nap (90 minutes) to avoid doing this.
3. Don't Stress
It's OK if you don't fall asleep immediately-- after all, everyone has things on their mind and it can take a few minutes to relax and lull off into slumber. Just close your eyes and think of something relaxing: the beach, a string quartet, a big bowl of ice cream ... whatever eases your stress, take your mind there and start to relax.
Chances are, you'll be asleep in no time. Some expert nappers also swear by meditation as a way to wind down for sleep, so try some breathing exercises if you are having trouble settling your mind.
4. The Afternoon is the Best Time for Your Nap
You know that feeling you get around 2:30pm? It's usually an hour or so after lunch. Your eyes start to feel heavy and you start dreaming of a soft pillow to lay your head down.
There's a reason why we all tend to get more done in the morning-- we are biologically programmed to work in the morning and then start to wind down in the afternoon, making it the perfect time for an afternoon nap.
5. Set an Alarm!
You can't nap all day -- after all, there are things that need to be done and schedules that need to be fulfilled. Plus, there is such a thing as too much sleep.
Be sure to set an alarm in in concordance with your REM sleep so that nothing is thrown off and you can still enjoy the remainder of your day relaxed and refreshed.
6. Make Your Bedroom a Great Place for a Nap
Your bedroom should be a welcoming, warm and comfortable place that's quiet and peaceful so that you can ease your mind and doze off. That means that you should leave your screens (TVs, laptops and tablets) at the door, invest in some excellent bedding and pull those curtains and drapes shut.
Napping is one of life's great joys. Be sure to follow these excellent tips for a great nap!