image of woman napping

How to Nap When You're Not a Napper

/ December 25, 2019

Napping is a polarizing subject—some people are nappers and others aren't (which can partly be explained by genetics). But sometimes even non-nappers need to grab extra sleep. Case in point: While I used to fall into the non-napper camp, the ability to take a nap after having my first child became a matter of survival.

It turns out they could be beneficial to your health too. Take a recent study published in The BMJ medical journal: It found that people who took a nap or two a week had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who never napped. Other research finds naps can help battle high blood pressure and that they're good for the brain.

Plus, research finds you only need about 20 minutes to reap the benefit from a nap. So what do you do if you're the I-can-only-sleep-at-night-in-the-pitch-dark type?

Here's how I started working naps into my schedule after having my first baby—and how research suggests you can do the same.

Capitalize on the afternoon lull

There's a reason you get tired around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.—it has to do with your body's internal clock. Body temperature naturally drops between about 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., which can trigger the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, according to The National Sleep Foundation. If you're not trying to sleep, this can manifest as the dreaded afternoon slump (and send you running for the nearest caffeine source). But if you are able to rest at this time, your napping will be more efficient, since your body is already doing some of the drowsy work for you.

Get to know your own sleepy signals

If you're not used to napping during the day, it can be hard to know when you're truly feeling sleepy (which is different from feeling physically and/or emotionally exhausted). After all, since it's not dark out or your typical bedtime, there are fewer cues telling you to sleep. Be mindful of when during the day you exhibit signs of sleepiness (or complete sleep deprivation), such as increased irritability or fighting the urge to nod off during a meeting. That will help you pinpoint a good time to slot in a nap.

Related: 5 reasons to take a nap right now

Re-create your bedroom vibes

Your routine—the pillow you use, the sound machine set to "gentle rain," the side of the bed you sleep on—plays a big role in how easily you're able to drift off. Routines help you to maintain your circadian rhythm. So if you're trying to nap on the couch at noon with the TV on and are only used to snoozing in your bedroom with an eye mask, it's no wonder you don't fall asleep.

The takeaway: No matter when you choose to nap, try to mimic your sleep setting as best you can. That's not always doable, but if you can play a white noise app on your phone or even use a pillowcase you love, you'll be surprised how much more easily your body will take to napping.

Set the goal of simply resting your eyes

Sleep issues such as insomnia can be caused by stress surrounding falling asleep. It's a vicious cycle: When you feel like you can't sleep and you're stressed about not being able to sleep, it's going to be much harder to fall asleep.

The same (sort of) goes for naps: Go in thinking you're not going to be able to nap and you might just create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A better approach if you're not a napper is the idea of quiet wakefulness, or simply resting with your eyes closed. It can give your neurons a break, allow your muscles and organs to relax, reduce stress, and increase energy, according to The National Sleep Foundation.

Sometimes, going into a nap thinking that all I was going to do was rest helped eliminate some stress surrounding whether or not I'd fall asleep. And guess what? In many cases, I did fall asleep.

If you're worried about being able to make the time, try scheduling your nap the same way you would plan a recurring 30-minute meeting. That way, whether or not you actually fall asleep, you'll get some restorative midday rest.

Having trouble falling asleep for a nap or otherwise? Here are 14 things you can do for better sleep.

Cassie Shortsleeve

Cassie Shortsleeve is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor with a decade's worth of experience reporting for the country's top health, travel, and parenting magazines. She's also the founder of Dear Sunday, an online platform for new and soon-to-be moms. She lives in Boston, MA with her husband and their daughter Sunday.

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