Nodding off halfway through a lecture, falling asleep during a meeting, snoring during a movie, getting drowsy while riding the bus -- sound familiar? You're not alone; many Americans don't get enough nighttime sleep, which makes them grumpy and tired during the day.
[See: 10 Ways to Break a Bad Mood.]
But if you're used to reaching for a grande coffee or an energy drink to recharge your daytime batteries, try catching some zzz's mid-day instead. Why? Because power naps can boost your mood, memory, alertness and energy. And best of all, napping is free. It doesn't have to be a huge commitment, either: A mid-afternoon nap of just 10 minutes can help you stay alert for more than two hours when you're sleep-deprived, according to research from the journal Sleep. To reap these and other benefits, follow these five simple tips:
1. Get a wake-up call.
A short power nap between 10 and 30 minutes is best for your health and will help you wake up easily and feel recharged and refreshed as you face the rest of your day. Longer naps, on the other hand, can make you less productive and cause sleep inertia, or a period of grogginess and reduced performance caused by waking in the middle of deep sleep. In fact, naps longer than 40 minutes are associated with an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. So unless you want to risk these conditions and waking up even more tired than before, set your alarm before dozing off.
2. Try the pencil trick.
Try holding a pencil while you drift off. When the pencil drops, it's time to wake up. This trick, which Albert Einstein supposedly used when he power napped, helps you not over-nap by alerting you right before you fall into too deep of a sleep.
3. Be calm, cool, covered and collected.
For the perfect nap, find a dark, cool, quiet place to lie down. Just how cool? Lower your thermostat to between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, cover up with a blanket to get cozy. If necessary, use an eye mask, ear plugs or white noise to help tune out disruptions.
[See: 8 Steps to Fall Asleep Fast.]
4. Drink a nappuccino.
If you are a regular coffee drinker, having a cup right before you nod off will not keep you up. In fact, sipping a cup of joe right before your turbo nap will maximize your alertness shortly after you wake up. Why? Because the caffeine will start working just as you wake up, leaving you feeling even more refreshed and alert.
5. Time it right.
Early afternoon is the best time to nap. If you snooze later in the day, it's possible for your body to confuse nap time with bedtime. You should leave at least four hours between the two in order to keep nighttime sleep disruptions to a minimum. And, if possible, make an afternoon nap part of your routine: People who regularly nap seem to show greater benefits than those who rarely nap.
Keep in mind that getting enough sleep on a regular basis is the best way to stay alert and feel -- and even look -- your best. For adults, enough nighttime sleep is somewhere between seven to nine hours. But if that's not possible, the National Sleep Foundation recommends napping for less than 30 minutes in order to improve your focus and performance -- without leaving your groggy or interfering with your nighttime sleep. Plus, napping enhances creative thinking, improves memory and aids with learning -- so perhaps it's time we take a cue from kindergartners and embrace naps. Just remember to keep them short, sweet and early.
Heather A. Hausenblas, PhD, is a faculty member in the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences at Jacksonville University. She is an internationally renowned physical activity and healthy aging expert, researcher and author. She is an award-winning researcher, an author and a regular contributor to both local and national media outlets. Her research focuses on the psychological effects of health behaviors across the lifespan. Dr. Hausenblas is the co-author of five scientific books, and she has published more than 90 scientific journal articles. Her most recent book is titled "The Truth about Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark side of Thinsperation." She is a mom to three young boys, and she enjoys exercising outdoors, spending time with family and friends, and coaching and watching her sons play sports. She resides in Jacksonville, Florida, with her husband and boys.