You’ve hit a wall, you’re losing energy, and caffeine is not helping. It’s typical, and natural, to experience a “dip” in energy in the middle of the day. It’s actually part of your circadian rhythm to feel drowsy around mid-afternoon.
While you typically start to feel your energy pick up in the early evening, sometimes a nap is calling your name. There are many benefits to taking a nap. However, napping at the wrong time and for too long may not cure your sleepiness.
A daytime snooze can help maintain alertness or overcome fatigue. The other benefits of napping include:
- Improve cognitive function and physical performance
- Lower the risk of cardiovascular problems
- Relieve stress
- Increase your sense of well-being
Naps can be an essential tool for people who can’t get enough sleep at night due to their schedule or who are caring for children throughout the night.
Kelly Baron, PhD, DBSM, a sleep specialist at University of Utah Health’s Sleep | Wake Services, provides tips on napping.
Time your nap
The term power nap really applies here. Research has shown that a 20- to 30- minute nap boosts performance. Sleeping longer could put you at risk for getting into a deep sleep.
“People can experience sleep inertia, also referred to as sleep drunkenness, where you just feel really disoriented and not refreshed,” Baron says. “If you wake up feeling groggy, you may have taken too long of a nap.” She advises to give your brain some time to boot up before you get on with your daily activities.
While some people may need more than 30 minutes, keep in mind that sleeping too long can ruin your sleep at night.
Plan your nap
For most people, there is a right time to take a nap. In fact, sleeping at the wrong time can negatively impact your night sleep. Aim your nap for mid-day, around 1:00 to 3:00 pm. According to the Sleep Foundation, you should take a nap eight hours or more before bedtime.
Sometimes taking a nap isn’t always possible. Instead, find a quiet place where you can relax and close your eyes. Chances are you may be sleeping and not know it. This is called stage 1 of sleep—the lightest and briefest stage that lasts one to seven minutes.
“Sometimes that’s all you need, just 10 minutes of closing your eyes,” Baron says. “This is why we tell drowsy drivers to pull over and rest, even if it’s briefly.”
Give yourself a boost
If you’re feeling the mid-day lag and aren’t able to take a nap, try these things to give yourself a boost:
- Get up from your desk and move around
- Take a walk
- Go outside
- Take deep breaths or practice meditation
- Engage in social activity
For those who work at a desk or in front of a computer, Baron suggests moving “heavy brain power work” to the time you feel most alert. And during the time of day when you feel groggy, rearrange your schedule to include fewer demanding tasks.
Power through a food coma
Be mindful of when you eat, too. The food coma phenomenon is a real thing. Depending on when it hits, it can impact your sleep. Here’s how it works: As your stomach empties into your small intestine, it can affect the production of serotonin—a hormone linked to sleep— and ultimately make you drowsy. Some research has shown food high in protein and carbohydrates may contribute to this.
If you can’t get through the day without a nap, or if napping isn’t helping you feel less drowsy, it may be time to see a sleep specialist. A sleep specialist can help determine whether your symptoms are a sign of sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.