Unleash the Power of the Nap

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 7, 2011 · 75 comments

in Health & Sports, Wellness

I’ve detailed elsewhere how hard I worked in law school. But there was another secret to my success that I haven’t mentioned yet: the nap.

In law school, I rented a carrel where I kept my books and studied in-between classes. I started learning about the benefits of napping and wanted to incorporate the nap into my routine. But alas, the law school didn’t really have any good couches to sprawl out on. So I improvised. I brought a pillow and blanket from home and put them under my carrel desk. When I was ready for a nap, I simply put my iPod headphones on, put on some nice relaxing music, and slipped under my carrel for a quick nap.

It was awesome. It was nice and dark underneath my desk and because it was in the library, it was quiet. I’m sure some people thought I was a crazy bum or something, but I didn’t care. Those short little naps allowed me to power through hours of classes, reading, and outlining.

Sadly, napping is often frowned upon in our workaholic American culture. When we think of napping men we think of Dagwood passed out on the couch after consuming a giant, delicious sandwich. Naps are for the lazy and unambitious. Or for retirees with plenty of time on their hands. The man who falls asleep at his desk at work is laughed at. And when we doze off, we feel guilty.

But in reality, the nap stigma is incredibly misplaced. Naps can be one of the most powerful tools for self-improvement; they can increase not only our health and well-being but our intelligence and productivity as well. This is something great men have known all along. History is full of famous nappers. Famous thinkers and leaders like Edison, JFK, Churchill, and Napoleon were all ardent nappers. We’ll cover the specific napping habits of famous men in a future post.

Your Cat Knows Something You Don’t

Humans are among the few animals that take their sleep in one shot. The rest of the animal kingdom consists of polyphasic sleepers; they alternate sleep and wake cycles throughout a 24 hour period. Cavemen likely slept in multiple phases too, so someone was always up to keep an eye out for saber tooth tigers. While experimenting with a return to polyphasic sleep has become trendy in recent times, the ideal pattern for human sleep is biphasic–a long stretch at night along with a shorter respite during the day.

The ancient Romans were biphasic sleepers; at sexta (the sixth hour or their noon) everyone would turn in for some midday shut eye. This is where we get the term siesta, a tradition once popular in countries like Spain but which has largely succumbed to the encroaching go-go-go Western business style.

While the pace of modern life may keep us from being the biphasic sleepers we were meant to be, the urge for a daytime snooze is still hardwired into our biology. Studies have shown that when people are put into an environment that lacks any indication of time, they will fall into the long sleep at night/shorter nap during the day pattern. Thus most of us are daily fighting tooth and nail against our body’s natural circadian rhythm, and this is wreaking havoc on our well-being, turning us into a horde of zombies that crave espresso instead of brains.

Many of us find it nearly impossible to get enough z’s at night, and sleep deprivation causes a host of bodily and mental ills, keeping us from performing at our best and enjoying life to the fullest.

While a good night’s sleep is essential, a daily nap can buoy us up when we’re not getting quite enough winks. And for those who already sleep well at night, a nap can take take the performance of your body and mind to the next level.

The Benefits of Napping

Increases alertness. When your eyelids are almost too heavy to keep open, you’re not doing your best work. Make time for a nap and then go back at it. A NASA study found that a 40 minute nap increases alertness by 100%. Other studies have found that a 20 minute nap is more effective than either 200 mg of caffeine or a bout of exercise. Yet another study showed that pilots who were allowed to take a 25 minute nap (while the co-pilot manned the controls!) nodded off fives times less than their nap-deprived peers. They also made less errors during take-offs and landings.

Studies have shown that if you break up your day with a nap, you will be as alert and energetic for the second part of your day as you were for the first. So if you’ve got an event planned for after work, take a nap before going out on the town.

Improves learning and working memory. Naps improve your working memory. This type of memory is involved in working on complex tasks where you have to pay attention to one thing while holding a bunch of other things in your memory. Napping also improves your memory retention; during sleep, recent memories are transferred to the neocortex, where long-term memories are solidified and stored.

Prevents burnout and reverses information overload. While we often refuse to take a nap because we feel like we have too much to do, studies have shown that putting in extra hours without rest dramatically reduces your productivity. It would be better to take a 30 minute nap and return to your work refreshed. This was demonstrated in a study in which subjects performed a visual task over the course of four days. With each successive session, the subjects’ performance on the task deteriorated. But when the subjects were allowed to take a 30 minute nap after the second session, the decline in performance was halted. And after a one hour nap, their performance actually improved in the third and fourth sessions.

Heightens your senses and creativity. According to foremost nap scientist (napologist?) Sara C. Mednick, napping can improve your sensory perception as effectively as a night of sleep. This means that steak tastes better, the sunset looks purtier, and Annie’s Song sounds even better after a good nap. Napping also improves your creativity by both loosening up the web of ideas in your head and fusing disparate insights together.

Improves health. Sleep deprivation leads to an excess of the hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, helps us deal with fight or flight responses. But excess cortisol increases glucose intolerance and abdominal fat, weakens the muscular and immune systems, stymies memory and learning, and decreases levels of growth hormone and testosterone in our bodies. These deleterious effects can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

When you sleep, you release growth hormone, the antidote to cortisol which which boosts your immune system, primes your sexual function, reduces stress and anxiety, and aids in muscle repair and weight loss. Napping gives your brain a chance to rest and your body a chance to heal.

The proof’s in the pudding. A study done with Greeks found that those that took a 30 minute nap at least three times a week had 37% less risk of dying from a heart-related condition. Among working men their risk of death was reduced 64%! So not only should you dance like Zorba the Greek, you should nap like him, too.

Improves mood. The neurotransmitter serotonin regulates our mood, sleep, and appetites. It produces feeling of contentment and well-being. But when our bodies are stressed, higher levels of serotonin are used and the production of more is blocked. As a result, we can become anxious, irritable, depressed, overwhelmed, and easily distracted. According to Mednick, “napping bathes your brain in serotonin, reversing those effects and creating a more positive outlook.”

Saves money. Instead spending $30 a week on Five Hour Energy or Starbucks, take a nap and boost your energy the natural and more effective way.

It’s awesome. Seriously, napping. It’s awesome.

Understanding the Stages of Sleep

All napping is good, but you can also tailor your nap to your specific needs. But before we delve into that, we need to talk about what each stage of sleep does for your mind and body.

There are five different stages of sleep, 1,2,3,4, and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). You cycle through them repeatedly as you sleep or nap: 1,2,3,4, 2, REM, 2,3,4,2, REM and so on. Each cycle lasts 90-100 minutes.

Stage 1: Lasting 2-5 minutes, this stage transitions you into sleep. Your thoughts and mental associations loosen up. This state of sort of wakeful dreaming has been used by artists and thinkers to cultivate rich ideas. We’ll cover this in-depth in a future post.

Stage 2: Motor skills and complex tasks you’ve been working on are solidified. Your energy and stamina are strengthened and senses sharpened. You spend about 50% of your sleep time in Stage 2.

Stages 3 and 4: In these stages you slide into Slow Wave Sleep. Your body stops releasing cortisol altogether and extra growth hormone goes to work restoring your body, repairing tissues, lowering stress, metabolizing fats and moving carbs out of your body. And your mind is cleared; memories that aren’t being used are pruned away, strengthening what remains and making room for new information. Information that you’ve recently and consciously learned such as the dates for a history test are solidified. You spend about 30% of your sleep time in Stages 3 and 4.

REM: During REM your brain shuttles your recently-made memories from their short term holding tank in the hippocampus to long term storage. The information is thus made permanent; if you don’t sleep soon after a learning session, you’ll lose much of what you studied. Creativity is given a boost as spatial orientation and perceptual skills are sharpened and the different insights and complex ideas you have swirling around in your nogggin are fused together. You spend about 20% of your sleep time in REM.

Tailoring Your Nap to Your Needs

According to Dr. Mednick, the perfect nap for everyone is 90 minutes long and taken between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. At this time, and at this length, your nap will consist of the optimal balance of all the different sleep stages. The ratio of the sleep stages in this nap exactly mirror that of nocturnal sleep. But of course, not everyone has an hour and a half to saw off during the day. And sometimes you want to tailor your nap to your particular needs on a particular day.

Note: These recommendations are based on an average adult sleep schedule (11-12 am to 6-8 am). If you’re a night owl or have a different sort of schedule, check out Dr. Mednick’s book, Take a Nap! It has a “nap wheel” and formula for calculating your perfect nap based on when you wake up and your particular needs.

You need a boost of creativity. Don’t know how many happy little clouds to add to your painting, and Bob Ross won’t be on until 3? Does writing your essay for English class feel, as Ronald Reagan put it, like crapping a pineapple? Then you need a dose of REM sleep, which increases your creativity. You’ll need a longer nap to get to the REM stage and since potential REM peaks early in the day and declines from there, aim for something like a 90 minute nap before 2 pm.

You need stamina. Running a race that evening? Going from one job to the next? You need Stage 2 sleep which you can get in a 20 minute power nap. Don’t go down for any longer than 20 minutes though. We’ve all experienced naps that leave us groggy when we wake up. This is called sleep inertia and happens when you awaken during Slow Wave Sleep. So you need to wake up before you slip into Stage 3.

Studies have found that a 20 minute nap 8 hours after you wake up will boost your stamina more than sleeping an extra 20 minutes in the morning. So instead of hitting the snooze button, save those minutes for an afternoon siesta.

You need to relax. While REM sleep declines during the day, SWS increases. So if you’re feeling stressed, shoot for a longer nap after 2 pm and ideally in the early evening, so your body can get a cortisol break and repair itself. Naps will not affect your nighttime sleep as long as you wake from your nap three hours before bedtime.

You need to pull an all-nighter. Instead of downing can after can of Red Bull, try what researchers call the “prophylactic nap.” Taking a preventive nap in anticipation of sleep deprivation is more effective in maintaining cognitive performance and alertness than taking no nap at all, taking a nap when your sleep debt has already made you tired, and even taking multiple doses of caffeine. Any length of nap will help, but according to Mednick an hour and a half is the preventive nap sweet spot because “it will take you through a full cycle of sleep and bring you out in REM or Stage 2 Sleep, allowing you to avoid sleep inertia.” Keep in mind that the effects of a prophylactic nap only last 8-10 hours; nothing can keep your brain from starting to unravel if you skip two nights of sleep.

You need to ace a test. After you study and before test time, take a 90 minute nap. Stage 2 will increase your alertness, stages 3 and 4 will clear your mind of unnecessary clutter, solidify the things you just studied, and lower your stress, and REM sleep will move the information into permanent storage and sort through the complex information you just learned.

You need immediate alertness. Try a “caffeine nap.” Researchers at Loughborough University tested several ways to improve the alertness of drivers and found the “caffeine nap” to be the most effective method. You down a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage and then immediately hunker down for a 15-20 minute nap. Again, don’t go any longer than that or you’ll awaken with sleep inertia. The caffeine clears your body of adenosine, a chemical which makes you sleepy. It takes awhile for the caffeine to circulate through your system, so it doesn’t effect the quality of the nap. Instead, it kicks in in tandem with the refreshment you would feel upon awakening from a normal power nap. I’ve personally found the caffeine nap to be effective, especially when you’re crunched for time; it’s easier to get up and keeps you from the temptation of turning a 20 minute nap into an hour and a half session.

Squeezing in Nap Time

It would be awesome if offices took a cue from kindergarten and broke out cookies, milk, and nap mats once a day.

Alas in the real world it can be hard to catch some z’s at work. Getting caught asleep at your desk is not a good way to earn respect at your job. But most people get an hour for lunch, and you can easily eat for half that time and then go take a snooze in your car for the other half. Tell your boss all about the benefits of napping and see if you can get a couch in some rarely-used room.

If you’re a student, do like I did and toss embarrassment to the wind and just curl up somewhere. If you can’t nap during the day, take a short pre-or post-dinner nap.

Remember, all you need to do it carve out 20 minutes somewhere in your day. One study showed that even a 6 minute nap improves memory function. So you can even sneak one in while the guy at the desk next to you runs to the snack machine.

At the very least, learn to embrace the nap and the napping of others. Napping is not a character defect! Many great men have taken advantage of the benefits of napping. It is a wonderful, wonderful way to improve your life.


Take a Nap! Change Your Life by Sarah C. Mednick, Ph.D

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brandon February 7, 2011 at 12:48 am

I get an hour lunch from 12-1pm but unfortunately I get up at 8 am for work. Still, I take a quick 15 min lunch then take a nap in the car for the remainder of that. Sometimes I lay there for 10-15 minutes before I fall asleep for 15-20, but the 10-15 I lay there is still refreshing.
Once in awhile I’ll only sleep for 5-10 but that even works as well. I only sleep about 5-6 hours a night so getting naps in are crucial for me, otherwise I get tired at 8 pm (bedtime at 2 or so).

2 Xavier Francisco February 7, 2011 at 1:01 am

Excellent post.
Just one thing to notice: Everything you write here, expects you to fall asleep in 4/5 minutes, which is sometimes nearly impossible for some of us. Any tips, on music or something?

3 Frank February 7, 2011 at 1:18 am

I’ve had sleep issues for years. A big part of the reason I don’t nap is because it takes me so long to fall asleep. If I could figure out a solution for this problem, I’d be golden.

4 John February 7, 2011 at 1:36 am

This is an interesting article. So let’s say I could take a 40-90 minute nap in the middle of the day. Would I then expect to need 40-90 minutes less sleep at night?

5 Hal Hockersmith February 7, 2011 at 2:09 am

I dont mean this to sound like and advertisement but I have loved my Pzizz software. The desktop software runs $40 for the “energizer nap” module. I got it back when I was a student for $10 when they had student discounts. Was awesome for the mid evening homework pick me up. If you have an Iphone or and Ipod Touch they have an app in the store for just $5 bucks. (i wont link to it since I dont want to seem like I am selling it but that name is really unique in a search engine)

Otherwise you might try a white noise generator (http://simplynoise.com/) or a nature sounds site (http://naturesoundsfor.me/) to help out. They are free but need flash player on a modern browser.

6 Martin February 7, 2011 at 2:13 am

I have to agree, it does take me a while to finally be able to go to sleep, even for a nap. If you could make some suggestions to how to fall asleep quicker that would be great.

7 Brett McKay February 7, 2011 at 2:15 am


Here are some things to try: noise canceling headphones, tensing every part of your body and then relaxing those parts-going from head to toe, deep breathing exercises, avoid caffeine for four hours before your nap (remember with the caffeine nap you take it immediately before), avoid sugar and refined carbs before your nap and instead eat a protein, particularly something with calcium like milk or yogurt, and make sure the temperature is comfortable. And obviously the darker and quieter your nap abode, the better,

8 Brett McKay February 7, 2011 at 2:19 am


Some studies have shown that sleep is cumulative, that is, what really matters is the total number of hours you sleep in a 24 hour period. So if you took a long nap during the day you could sleep a little less at night. But don’t shave too much off nocturnal sleep; it has special properties that are dependent on its long length.

9 Mike February 7, 2011 at 3:47 am

Read this on my phone on the bus on the way to college (UK) and decided to nap the last half hour of the trip. Some very noisy girls got on and talked for the entire time about their boyfriends about 2 feet behind me. No nap today.

10 Michael February 7, 2011 at 4:08 am

Good timing on this – I’ve just been reading the chapter of Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body dealing with sleep, and am intrigued by the purported ability of a 20-minute nap to shave 2 hours off the required nightly sleep.

However, I have the same problem a couple of the other commenters do: an inability to “go down” rapidly at nap-time. (I even got the cat trained to not disturb me, but no dice.) I’m out like a light at my normal bedtime (even after caffeine), but I just can’t get my body down any deeper than “Stage 1″ for a nap. Right now I need the full 8 again (growing muscles) but I may try again later with any tips you and others might have.

11 Chris February 7, 2011 at 5:41 am

There is no University of Britain at Loughborough. Only Loughborough University (at Britain).

12 lee February 7, 2011 at 6:24 am

Thank you, Brett and Kate. I cannot help but think of George Costanza when he had a similar idea of napping under his desk.


13 darrin February 7, 2011 at 9:16 am

Thank you for vindicating us nappers! I have been a big fan of the 20 minute power nap since I was in college. It’s amazing how much better I feel when I can nip off for 20 minutes.

14 Davis February 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

I can attest to the power of the nap.

I studied very hard in engineering school, staying up late working on lab experiments and design projects. I stashed a foam pad (like a hiker/backpacker would carry), packable pillow and light blanket in a corner of one of my labs. The lab required a keycard and only a dozen students or so had access so I knew my belongings were safe. After my daily routine of classes were complete I would sneak a nap in the corner before starting my evening work that would often extend into the early-morning hours.

I am convinced that napping is what helped me survive engineering school.

15 Nathan Wheeler February 7, 2011 at 9:46 am

I had done some research on biphasic sleep lately and this article has brought a lot more perspective to the over-the-top articles I’ve read on many of the homeopathic medicine sites. I don’t get a lot of chance to sleep with my busy schedule, and I end up spending half the weekend just getting rid of my sleep debt by going to bed extremely early, which in turn limits social engagements and such. I guess I really should consider napping in the afternoon again…

16 Josh Knowles February 7, 2011 at 9:55 am

My dad is an avid napper, but is the farthest thing from lazy. And I know my great grandfather used to have a nap every day after lunch for 20 minutes or so. Perhaps I will have to continue in their footsteps. I’ve never been much of a napper (except as a last resort) but I think I might give it a try on a more regular basis.

It’s interesting how easily we can get our priorities so mixed up in our fast paced schitzophrenic culture. We know we’re tired, but we ignore what our bodies tell us because we’ve “got work to do.” And so the vicious cycle begins.

Maybe we should all just cut ourselves and one another some slack and allow for basic human needs like rest.

17 Ray February 7, 2011 at 10:02 am

I love laying down after getting home from work, but have found that due to the short winter days it throws me completely off. If I nap at 4:30 and sleep until 6:00, it’s dark when I get up. I wake up and think it’s the middle of the night. Then I’m wide awake for the rest of the night and get to bed later than I should. It starts a terrible cycle of not enough sleep at night and relying on an afternoon nap everyday to catch up. It’s a tough cycle to break.

My favorite nap time is a lazy Sunday when football is on (not when the Giants are on, though). Lay on the couch and catch a couple z’s!

18 Tom February 7, 2011 at 10:17 am

The nap is huge. Productivity shoots up and everything just seems better. I can only ever get about 15 minutes, but it makes all the difference.

19 JonathanL February 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

I usually take a 15-45 minute nap at the same time as my toddler on the weekends. I’m still plenty tired at bedtime, but it gives me extra motivation and energy to get things done afterwards. It’s amazing what just a little extra sleep in the middle of your day can do for you.

20 Cameron T. February 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

I’ve found that if I take a nap (usually Sunday afternoon) then I have difficulty getting to sleep at night.

21 Griff February 7, 2011 at 11:54 am

What helps me fall asleep quickly is to focus on my breathing. I try to focus my mind only on breathing in and then breathing out. It really helps me. I normally fall asleep in 5 min or so.

22 Owen Marcus February 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I still have a little shame admitting I take naps.

They reboot my mind so I actually can get something done.

23 Scott February 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Thanks Brett. As a university student I found this article really helpful.

24 Kevin February 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm

As a former overworked engineering student, I’ve plumbed the depths of sleep experimentation first hand. My most radical experiment was the 3 months I went on 4 one hour naps a day (Dymaxion sleep), which was all in all, crazy intense, but not too bad once you get into the groove. In other cases, I was just really sleep deprived. Not just feeling tired, but the floor itself looked like it was weaving in and out. And not managing your sleep correctly definitely leads to bad moods, bad work, and bad relationships.

Sleep is important. Naps are important. My biggest complaint about my current situation is that I can’t nap during the day. All around good adivce!

25 Andrew Thornquist February 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm

This was very helpful. Thanks for the post! I’ve never really been a napper but I’ve noticed that I can feel very drained at around 1-4 pm, depending on the day. I think I’ll try napping on a regular basis to see how my productivity is affected.

26 Jeff! February 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Like the last poster, I’ve never been a napper. At least not once I was old enough to have any sort of sleep schedule.
Funny seeing all the other engineering students talking about their napping habits. Could just be the sample set, but most of the students in the engineering program I went through burned through in a mix of caffeine and sugar rushes.

27 Ryan February 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I’m an engineering student at school, a Resident Advisor and I hold a part-time job. I’ve become inspired to find somewhere on campus where I can nap. My classes are all strung together a long walk from my dorm. There’s no time to go back and nap. I think I’ll explore the library tomorrow and see if I can’t find/make a cubby hole to crawl into and catch some z’s. Fighting sleep in class is the worst, you may as well not even go if you’re going to continually nod off. My name is Ryan, and I am a born-again napper!

28 Nick P. February 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm

A tip for those who want to power-nap: take a strong coffee, drink it while it’s hot and the close your eyes for a short nap. The cafeine in the coffee takes about 15-20 minutes to give you that boost, so when you wake up after 20 minutes, you are all powered up!

29 Mark February 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Fantastic article Brett!

Amazingly well researched – I am consistently blown-away by the quality of this blog. Keep up the good work my man!

30 Tryclyde February 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Those of us with young children seldom know what a nap feels like. A 90 minute nap on most days is a fantasy.

31 Frank February 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Took a nap for the first time in a year or two this afternoon around 1 o’clock. Unfortunately never dropped below stage one, but still felt refreshed and more alert when I got up. Definitely going to make this a habit.

32 Scott McClare February 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm

At every job I’ve had, I’ve been entitled to two 15-minute coffee breaks,one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. No boss has ever been against my joining them together with my lunch hour, but I do have to wonder how they would react if I jammed them together into a siesta around 3 pm. I’m tempted to try . . .

33 Claude February 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm

For those who have trouble falling to sleep…..

start at 300 and count backwards by 3s. You have to focus on the numbers to do it so your brain doesn’t have a chance to worry or plan for tomorrow or relive today. You’ll be out before you get to 0.

34 tutto February 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm

This is a very interesting post, Brett. I can imagine how proper application of napping in the workplace may lead to more productive–not to mention happy–employees. For me, the bit about boosting creativity is particularly intriguing. On a couple of occasions, I’ve had ‘eureka moments’ occurring in my dreams that visually provide me with a solution to whatever problem I was struggling with earlier in the day. I’ve found no proper explanation to date. Care to shed any light on this?

35 jay sauser February 7, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Naps got me through college.

36 Erick R February 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Ya know, I wasn’t quite sold with your many reasons why I should nap. Then when mentioned its awesome, seriously awesome, I knew I had to just join the AOM Napper’s Club. :)

But seriously a very interesting article. I plan to try and incorporate napping into my schedule in the near future.

37 Rich February 7, 2011 at 11:53 pm

I’m a college student and have been an avid napper for about 2-3 years now. However, after reading this article, I just cannot fathom how it is possible to “power nap” for 45-90 minutes. The majority of my naps are 3-4 hours, usually after classes in the evening, around 4PM. And then after those naps, I would feed even more deprived of energy and in a very irritable mood. So obviously I’m doing everything wrong here. Which is why, this semester, I’ll just stick to a strict regimen of not napping at all in order to avoid falling back into that bad habit.

38 big time napper February 7, 2011 at 11:59 pm

the siesta?

i guess that’s why spain and mexico are world leaders in any field you care to name.

39 Sidney February 8, 2011 at 12:21 am

Marry me. No really. Not spam. Marry me. I nap every day that I can.

40 Paul Kyriazi February 8, 2011 at 12:31 am

When new director Clint Eastwood asked veteran directory Don Segiel advise about directing ‘Play Misty for Me’. Segiel replied only, “Get a lot of sleep.”

41 Alejandro February 8, 2011 at 12:36 am

I often would take 10 – 15 minutes to sit in the break room, or even at my desk, and nap – but only when I felt really tired. That short bit of sleep always rejuvenated me, if only for a few hours, but enough to get me through the rest of the day.

42 LMP February 8, 2011 at 2:45 am

I just read your napping article. I have a question that I’ve been meaning to ask, so I’ll do it now before I forget.

For my entire life nobody in my immediate family has been able to simply drift to sleep, so until I started university and lived with roommates I didn’t know that lying with my eyes closed for hours was unusual (making quick naps impossible). Probably the only time that I’m able to fall asleep quickly is when I’m hammered, but there are obvious problems to that solution.

I have tried many of the solutions that you replied to earlier in the thread, and I will try a few of the others, but since I don’t have medical insurance and this isn’t a problem I can really take to the free clinic, is there anything else that I can do to possibly ease my (self diagnosed) chronic insomnia?

43 CosmoPol February 8, 2011 at 4:36 am

Thanks for the great article!

However, what if you don’t have your own car or office but you usually snore?

44 Jim February 8, 2011 at 5:45 am


Have you tried taking melatonin. It can be very helpful. Also certain herbal teas. Use a face mask and earplugs. Make the bedroom as dark as possible. Don’t watch TV or use the computer 30 min. before sleeping. Read something relaxing. Don’t drink coffee 5-6 hours before bedtime. Try to walk or exercise in the morning. Nothing intense,just move for 30 minutes. Lose weight, if you need to–kill the carbs. Dr Mercola’s website has these and a lot more tips. Best of luck to you!

45 Paul February 8, 2011 at 10:03 am

Glad to see the nap validated here.

I took 45-minute naps two or three times daily instead of sleeping at night during busy periods in my undergrad. I’m now a paramedic student and I find that a 20-30 minute nap during the day allows me to get away as little five hours a night, consistently.

Even putting your head down for five minutes when you are head-bobbing allows you to get through the next several hours until you can get some definitive refreshment!

46 crazylikeknoxes February 8, 2011 at 11:06 am

Couldn’t help but notice that the source was a woman. Not surprised. In our family, the ladies are the serious nappers.

47 Jonathan February 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Great post! I’ve been taking naps in my car during lunch for about a year. My co-workers think I’m crazy, but when I come back my mind is clear and I’m more productive. They, on the other hand, are starting to doze off after their lunch at Five Guys.

48 Rusty February 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm

This reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer stopped sleeping at night and just took periodic naps throughout the day.

49 mike February 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm

That’s how Edgar Cayce got his start. Napping!~ He couldn’t remember anything until he started napping after his studies.

50 Chris February 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm

I find that if I take a nap during the afternoon for an hour or so I’m able to stay up until 1 am at night which is three hours more then otherwise. And I feel great afterwards. Though I would start to get tired around 12. I find that time to be my most productive.

51 dango February 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I get an hour break at lunch, so I get in the car, go to different parking lot, and nap for 20 minutes. works wonders.
I also have a blanket in the car for winter snoozes.

52 Ryan February 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I never nap for two reasons, a) I have a hard enough time going to sleep at night (sometimes 2 hours) there is no way I can dose off in time b) anytime I have taken a nap, I wake up feeling terrible and I think it’s morning.

I’m sure it’s great for you, but I just don’t have the time for napping.

53 louise de lima February 9, 2011 at 6:07 am

Oh, I love a 20 minute nap!

54 Peter P. R. IV February 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I’m actually going to take a 10-15 nap now. Maybe after reading this, I’ll remember a few of the key terms! I also told my mom about this article, and she said “good night, Ill read it when I get back.” We both laughed, she needs a nap….she should have said “good bye”

55 CSULB James February 10, 2011 at 2:50 am

I was always wondering if naps do really help keeping individuals alert and effective to work throughout the day. As a college student it is very hard to sleep early with all these midterms, countless readings and extracurricular activates. College students compete against time to give it their best effort to succeed in the classroom but with burden of homework and readings it is difficult to find time to sleep. Education has ruined my sleeping pattern and would always be shutting my eyes in the classroom and shaking myself to not fall asleep. Listening to the lectures and lessons in class became boring and very hard to understand. My attention span became less and less falling behind each topic. To solve this problem I started taking naps to cure this problem of mine. Every day I try to nap after my school day is finish. I sleep every time for forty five minutes and after I feel better and ready to go and finish my homework. Napping helps me function throughout my day especially having eight am class every day. NAP IS GOOD :)

56 Joseph @ Apple Ipod Discount February 10, 2011 at 5:31 am

Very informative blog and I like the idea that taking a
nap saves money.. great blog!

57 Chris February 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

Talking about naps… just had a baby… Oh! I get it! You poor poor (lucky) guy! Enjoy these moments, they grow up fast.

58 Chuck February 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm

@ tutto

To answer your question, I would recommending reading ‘Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less’

Fantastic book that details the conscious mind, the undermind and the subconscious mind. You will find the answer to why many complex problems are better solved through ‘Eureka moments’ as opposed to a brute-force approach of analysis.

The book also talks about how Western society, culture & education has put the slower, yet more pronounced and powerful subconscious mental powers to the backburner while laying more emphasis and importance on the conscious mental prowess (the author calls this the d-mode for deliberate mode) which is actually very ineffective and inefficient in solving complex problems creatively.

I won’t say more to keep the suspense alive. Must read!

59 Jim February 11, 2011 at 6:19 pm

I have to say, I’ve been trying to break my “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality. For a long time, I viewed daytime naps as a sign of weakness & lost productivity.

In my defense, getting into medical school can be pretty cut-throat and is far from guaranteed unless you go above and beyond to make your grades & resume outstanding. Napping also wasn’t encouraged when I went through Officer Development School with the Navy (we would fill our bladders to capacity to help keep us awake).

I now view naps as a tool to reverse the lost productivity that’s inevitable after countless hours of studying, but I still have a hard time parting with more than 20 minutes of my day.

60 Northern February 13, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I’m with Ryan on this one, I even tried having a nap today, was falling asleep on the bus home, got in and I couldn’t switch off. Would love to be the type of person who is out as soon as their head hits the pillow.

61 Sidney February 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm


I have a hard time drifting off as well. My mind races. This may not work for you, but occasionally it does for me: I go through the alphabet and name a vegetable or fruit for each letter (nothing processed!). Or I may try animals. Pretty silly, but it has worked.

Alternately, a mime once taught me (Yes, a MIME.) to tense every muscle in your body, then consciously, from head to toe, relax that muscle group. Do NOT forget the facial muscles. I use the imagery of a hoop, like a hula hoop, passing slowly over my body to release the tension. Actually, I guess my body is passing through the hoop, now that I think about it.

It often takes a combination of tactics to drift. Best of luck, and sweet dreams.

62 Chris C February 17, 2011 at 8:57 am

I have a proponent of naps since high school. Naps are simply awesome.
I take a lot of heat from my college fiends who see napping as a sign of weakness.

I sent this article to them, hopefullt they will now see it as a manly thing to do…..with that, I think I’ll take a litle snooze before my big Latin test today.

63 kingcrowofoctober February 18, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Now this is something I can really get into. Sweet

64 Mike February 21, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I used to skip breakfast or lunch in favor of a nap, then i realized that my body needed food just as much and started breaking up the time with food and nappage. It worked wonders. Unfortunately, where I am working now, we don’t get lunch breaks, we have to bring our food with us and eat on the job. Instead I usually take a nap when I get home from work. I have to be careful though, because I can easily sleep 4 hours when I only meant to for like 45 minutes.

65 Matthew Hayes February 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

A great website I use when taking longer naps is sleepyti.me It’s a bed calculator that tells you 1) If you want to get up at a certain time, when to go to bed and 2) If you were to go to bed then, what time to wake up. I use it every night!

66 David Alexanders September 26, 2012 at 9:24 am

Hello Brett & Kate,
Following two months of adult chickenpox, I’ve re-discovered napping! (I’m from Spanish origin and should know better). I would love to reblog your blog and give you full credit of course. Do I have your permission?
Many thanks,
David Alexanders

67 Felicia January 20, 2013 at 2:40 pm

There are lots of wonderful nature sounds that are perfect for sleeping and napping. I personally find that it is easier to play a 30-minute nature sound to help me unwind. Sometimes I fall asleep and then it becomes a nap. Other times, I simply relax and recharge. Most of my favorite sounds for sleeping can be found at http://naturesoundspa.com/nature-sounds-collections/nature-sounds-for-sleep
It’s not a cheap promotion or anything. I really do use this service :)

68 Kenny March 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Question for you: Do I have to add falling-asleep time to these nap times, and if so how long?

69 Felix March 14, 2013 at 9:25 am

Wow, I almost cannot believe that I read this! For the last6-7 months, I take a nap after a coffee. The nap, in the beginning was limited by a timer alarm, at exactly 22 minutes. After 2 weeks of this program, it is natural for me to fall in the nap in about 4-5 minutes and then wake instantly after 21 minutes. My girlfreind is amazed and she could not believe is real, until she saw. I think everyone can develop this habit if they really want.

70 Full Guide April 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Genuinely no matter if someone doesn’t know then its up to other people that they will help, so here it takes place.

71 Thad April 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm

What about tips for taking the nap? Turning off your phone, ear plugs and making sure I don’t have bright lights on help me. A 20 minute power nap would be great if I could do it in 20 minutes. Usually, it takes me about 5 to fall asleep, and a minute or two to bounce out of it, so that 20 minute nap is about a 30 minute time commitment.

72 Serdar August 10, 2013 at 4:09 am

Sleeping in the afternoon is important for everyone special if you are living in the hot country like Malaysia. Everyday I take just 15 minutes of nap in the afternoon to boost my energy and it also helps me not to have headache, usually if I don’t sleep in the afternoon I would get headache.

73 Kevin Hernández October 9, 2013 at 12:20 am

As a programer I need to be creative and usually when I had no idea how to resolve an issue I take a magic nap and voilà!, I found the answer or get closer!. Thank you Brett and Kate for these useful advices.
Greetings from Venezuela

74 Wes February 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I was in the Army for 5 years with 3 combat tours in the infantry. I’m currently a 2nd year student at an engineering program. Though, I use to take naps on heli rides and during patrol base operations, I have a hard time napping during the day or with any noise as a civilian. I see a lot of advice in the comment section about getting to sleep: deep breathing, complete relaxation, calming background. These are all the basics of Meditation. Most westerns are turned off by the idea of sitting in one place, closing your eyes, and focusing on nothing, but many scientific studies have been done in the east(Russia, China, Japan) that show that, if done correctly, 30 min of meditation is as good for the brain and focus as about an hour of napping. My suggestion is if you can’t get to sleep or your circumstances won’t allow it, give zen meditation a try. It has nothing to do with religion, it’s all about emptying your mind and relieving stress from your body. I used meditation through out my military career and I use it every day in my engineering program. When ever my brain hurts from thinking too much and stress is building from having 5 things due the next morning, I simply meditate for 30 minutes and I feel like I can wrestle an alligator while completing my dynamics homework. I grew up practicing Shoalin and started meditation in my teens, but you could probably learn it in about a month of everyday practice and reading. I also don’t suffer from PTSD, though I have 3 combat tours in the mountains and the desert. I can contribute that to a long meditation session after every mission and a small one before every mission. I have some issues with combat stress and Adrenalin addiction, but meditation and a good wife has helped keep those in check as well. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m a big fan of napping and a Huge fan of meditation and would recommend it to anyone seeking it’s benefits.

75 Wes February 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm

BTW Great article Bret & Kate! Very intelligent and stimulating as always.

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