In a perfect world, we'd all be able to take a break from our busy days and recharge with a much-needed nap. But since it's virtually impossible to carve out time for a daily daytime snooze, what we really need are sleep strategies to make the most out of the few times we are able to catch a few zzzs.
The magic nap number: 90 minutes.
According to Mednick, a 90-minute nap gives you the same benefits as a full night of sleep, as long as you're not skimping our your nighttime rest. So if you can spare the time, don't hesitate to crawl into bed. "The reason for this is because in a 90-minute nap, you go through all the major sleep stages: stage two sleep, slow-wave sleep and REM sleep," she explains. "You're going to get the benefits of increased attention, memory consolidation, cardiovascular improvements, decreased depression and also better metabolism."
If naps typically make you feel more tired, try this trick.
Not everyone wakes from a nap feeling refreshed. If this is you, Mednick suggests shortening your naps so that you don't reach the slow-wave sleep stage. "Slow-wave sleep... is very difficult to wake up out of," she says. "For those people, I recommend they take 10- to 15-minute naps. That will allow you to have a lot of stage two sleep, which is really important for memory and health."
Even if you don't think you're tired, lie down.
Sometimes it can be tough to fall asleep, especially if you're trying to squeeze a nap into a tight schedule. Don't worry -- simply lying down can make a big difference. "Even if we're lying there for about 20 minutes and we think that we haven't been sleeping, it's quite likely you actually have gotten some sleep -- it happens all the time in [our] lab," Mednick says. "Because you're not so good at detecting it, just lying down and taking a break is going to be really great to recover from some of the mental and physical exertion that we have during the day."
Try to take your nap six hours after you get up in the morning.
"This is the time when you're going to a decrease in your circadian drive and an increase in sleepiness," Mednick says. "So it's this... mid-day slump where you're going to have a decrease in your core body temperature, in your cognitive processing and you're just going to get a little sleepy. That's a perfect time to take a break."
Ultimately, Mednick says, these four strategies can help you make the most of your naps -- even if it's not possible to take a snooze every single day.
"The most important thing is that you nap where it suits your schedule," she says. "So, what I recommend is three naps a week of 20 minutes each. That's going to give you all the benefits to health and cognition. And then every now and again, you throw in this 'perfect nap,' which is the 90-minute nap where you go through all the different sleep stages. That's really going to outfit you with everything you need from napping."