A Sleep Expert Reveals the Power of Naps, Napping Tips and How to Avoid Needing Naps at All

We don't know about you, but we've definitely grown past feeling like naps are for babies.

We had a few questions about naps and sleeping, so we reached out to The Sleep Ambassador herself, Nancy Rothstein, MBA, to get her opinion on the matter.

She sits on the National Institutes of Health Sleep Disorders Research Advisory Board and consults to corporations about Sleep Wellness, acting as a bridge between sleep experts and regular people, and is passionate about sleep.

"I am on a quest to help people get a good night's sleep," she tells Sweety High.

Why We Need Naps

"Naps are not a substitute for nighttime sleep, period," she says. "However, the secret to efficiency is sleep, and sometimes, that means taking a nap."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of teens don't get enough sleep. Nancy believes if you're missing out on sleep, it can affect every aspect of your life.

"Wellness is a triangle that includes fitness and nutrition, as well as sleep," she explains. "I would even put sleep at the top of the triangle, since lack of sleep is correlated with obesity and weight gain—and who can exercise when they're exhausted?"

Girl Meets World: Lucas picking up Maya, who's falling asleep in class

(Girl Meets World via Michael Jacobs Productions)


School and Sleep

Teenagers should get eight to 10 hours of sleep, and younger kids need up to 11 hours. Sleep timing plays a huge role for many students who are not getting enough sleep.

According to Nancy, school starts earlier than the average high schooler's biological clock can readily accommodate. This is particularly true when they have sports or other extracurriculars before school starts, or have to catch a bus to school.

"For a teenager, getting up at five or six in the morning is like an adult getting up at three or four because their biological clocks operate differently," she says.

This has an impact on the last third of the night, which consists of deep sleep as well as REM sleep, when dreaming takes place. When you wake up too early, that restorative sleep is disrupted.

One organization called Start School Later is calling for schools everywhere to postpone start times to better the education, health and safety of students.

"Some school districts are changing their start times because the research is so clear that when a student gets up even a half an hour later, test scores go up while bullying and depression go down," Nancy says.

Powerpuff Girls falling asleep in class

(The Powerpuff Girls via Hanna-Barbera Cartoons)


What You Can Do

When you're forced to wake up for school just when your body is really starting to get the sleep you need, what can you do?

Nancy says keeping a consistent bedtime routine every night of the week helps immensely. Consistency will result in better nighttime sleep, which will mean you don't need naps in the first place. Still, she says she doesn't fault anyone for breaking their routines on the weekends if exhaustion is making it tough to function well.

"I won't tell anyone that they shouldn't sleep in on the weekends to make up for lost sleep, especially if you have to drive," she says. "There's something called sleep debt, and it's the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the amount you get. If you don't pay it on the weekend, it accumulates. With early school day awakenings, you almost don't have a choice. But, in the best of all worlds, you'd be able to go to sleep and get up at the same time pretty much every day."

And if you're falling asleep in class, Nancy recommends napping at school when you can.

"If you have a free period or an opportunity during your lunch break, go to the library and take a power nap," she suggests. "Even just closing your eyes for 10 minutes can really help boost your alertness."

These short naps can also be great when you get home from school to boost your stamina and alertness before tackling homework.

"Try doing your homework first and making phone time a treat for finishing it—as long as it's not just before bed," she says. "And don't leave the important things for last, so you're not doubly stressed.

And though seemingly impossible, tune out from technology—yes, your cell phone—about an hour before bed to allow your melatonin, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle, to do its work. And give your brain the opportunity to relax and transition to sleep. Try this! Your sleep will likely improve and your craving for a nap may diminish.



Nap Tips

For the best nap results, set your phone to vibrate and set an alarm to go off in 20 minutes. Even if you might feel like you need more sleep, Nancy doesn't recommend that brief naps last more than half an hour.

"If you sleep longer than half an hour, you wind up in a sleep cycle," she explains. "Sometimes, that will leave you feeling worse than when you started."

Whenever possible, find a quiet, cool place to nap and lay your head down. If you have trouble falling asleep during naps, Nancy has some recommendations.

"Focus on your breath," she says. "Do a mindfulness practice so you get that break from your brain so, where you're not engaged in something."

If you crave a nap because you have trouble falling asleep at night, don't take naps in the late afternoon and early evening. Also avoid caffeinated drinks after three or four in the afternoon.

"Instead of having an energy drink or coffee, you're better off taking a half hour nap and seeing how you feel," she says.

And—if you must—longer naps are totally permitted on the weekends.


If you're still having sleep trouble after reading this, click HERE for three sleep remedies we love.