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Naps 101

Martha Stewart Living, June 2007

Who hasn't felt the sweet relief of surrendering to the heavy-lidded pull of sleep in the early afternoon and then awakened with a refreshed outlook and restored concentration?

Nap to the Fullest
Naps are most helpful when they are taken during what' s called the circadian trough, the period of drowsiness that most of us experience in the early afternoon. Early evening, on the other hand, tends to be a time of alertness, when many people find it difficult to sleep, no matter how tired they are.

Beds are Better
Naturally, a comfortable bed or cot that lets you fully recline is a better napping spot than an armchair or a folding chair in which you sit slumped with your head flopping forward or back.

Make it a Habit
To help yourself nod off, Todd Dawson of Circadian Technologies, a research and consulting firm near Boston, recommends a prenap routine. If every time you prepare to nap, you rinse your face and remove your shoes, or have a few sips of chamomile tea and listen to relaxing music, these activities will come to signal drowsiness. The routine might also include stretching the neck, back, shoulders, and legs.

How to Wake Up
Set an alarm, and keep the nap short (10 to 30 minutes). Some experts advise drinking coffee before a 30-minute nap. The caffeine, which needs time to kick in, takes effect just as you wake up.