6 Steps to a Great Thanksgiving Nap

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Scientists have debunked the theory that Thanksgiving naps are caused solely by a rush of tryptophan, an amino acid in turkey and other poultry. Most agree that the towering heaps of carbohydrates eaten with the turkey are more likely to induce sleep.

But what if we’ve been looking at the question the wrong way? What if, instead of treating the nap as an unfortunate side effect of the meal, we saw it as a goal we should strive for? If you experience insomnia you should probably avoid napping, but if you don’t, Sara E. Alger, a sleep scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Springs, Md., suggested these ways you can arrange Thanksgiving to ensure a really productive and restorative nap:

1. Eat early.

In our natural circadian rhythms, most of us experience a dip in alertness between 1 and 3 p.m. “If you can time your nap to happen at that time, you’ll get a really great restorative nap,” Dr. Alger said.

2. Eat heartily.

Digesting a big meal takes a lot of energy, which leaves you sleepy.

3. Hold off on caffeine.

Coffee after the turkey may keep you from falling asleep. A cup right after you wake up, though, can help cut through the post-nap fog.

4. Get some privacy.

Rather than falling asleep in front of the television in the busiest room of the house, Dr. Alger recommends retreating to a cool, quiet bedroom. Draw the shades or wear an eye mask. Act as if you mean it.

5. Sleep as long as you like.

Although it’s easier to bounce back from a 20-minute “power nap,” staying under for 60 to 90 minutes can bring you to a deeper, more refreshing stage of sleep. “The longer the nap, the more benefits you’ll get,” Dr. Alger said.

6. Don’t wait too long.

Naps taken late in the day can make it harder to sleep at night.