Want More Energy? Start Napping!

The world is full of huge unknowns: Is there other intelligent life out there? Did the chicken or the egg come first? Why are you so tired all the time? The first two might never be solved, but there’s actually reason for that energy dip that hits so often, especially in the afternoon: Humans didn’t always cram all of their sleep into one long chunk at night.

The History of Sleep

Want More Energy? Start Napping!

Your ancestors used to snooze at night, just like you do, but they would split up their shut-eye into two shorter segments–a few hours of sleep, followed by a period of being awake, then a few more hours of sleep. This pattern is known as segmented sleep and it’s what everyone naturally did. The two sleep segments even have names: first sleep and second sleep.

And people didn’t just spend that time between first and second sleep lying in bed staring at the ceiling (the way you probably do when it’s 3:00am and you’re tossing and turning). They put it to good use! They had sex, they came up with solutions to problems, they wrote (Shakespeare is even rumored to have penned his best lines during the hours between first and second sleep).

A Case for Naps

What does segmented sleep have to do with how tired you feel today? Because you only get one long chunk of sleep per night, you force your body to go longer without rest–16 hours or more at a time. And that’s where naps come in. By catching some Zzz’s in the middle of the day, you can do your body, brain, and mood a load of good. Research shows that napping won’t just energize you, it also helps reduce stress, boost your immune system and improve memory and problem-solving skills.

Make Sure the Time is Right

Want More Energy? Start Napping!

It’s not enough to take a nap, you need to make sure you do it at the right point in the day. Hit the nap at the right time and you’ll feel amazing after 10 to 20 minutes of shut-eye (that’s the optimal length for a nap). Hit it wrong and you’ll wake up groggier than before. That’s because your brain naturally cycles through a circadian rhythm as you go about your day–certain times you’re naturally more alert and other times you naturally feel drowsier. It varies person to person and also depends on when you typically go to bed and wake up, but most people often feel themselves dragging in the early afternoon. And that’s exactly when you should hit the sofa and rest your eyes for a little.

It’s possible to get even more specific. According to Sara Mednick, PhD, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, you should pick a time in the day when your nap will have an equal amount of slow-wave sleep and REM. Work backwards from when you woke up. If you opened your eyes at 7:00am, your ideal nap will happen at 2:00pm. If you woke up at 6:00am, lie down around 1:30pm. Alarm go off at 7:30am? Start your nap around 2:30pm.