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Next time you feel your energy flagging partway through the day, instead of grabbing another cup of coffee or a candy bar, consider shutting your eyes.

Naps allow your body and mind to recover from stress and fatigue. They can also boost your productivity, improve your problem-solving abilities, and sharpen your mental focus — even if you don’t fall asleep.

A 20-minute nap or rest is enough to revive you without giving you sleep inertia (that groggy feeling that can result from a longer snooze). While it might seem counterintuitive, sneaking in a break or two during a long, busy workday is a great way to get the relaxation and recovery time you need to stay focused and effective. These tips can help you catch a little midday downtime.

  1. Learn your rhythms. Notice when you start to feel drowsy each day. Our ultradian rhythms — the natural biological cycles of activity and rest — require brief periods of rest every 90 to 120 minutes. When you feel your energy beginning to dip, rather than fighting it, give yourself permission to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and rest for a little while.
  2. Find a dark, quiet space. Exposure to noise, activity, and light can make it difficult to relax. Reduce stimuli by closing the door and window shades, or by using earplugs and an eye mask.
  3. Set an alarm. Using a timer allows you to drift off without worrying that you might doze off for longer than planned.
  4. Lie down. If at all possible, get horizontal. It’s harder to relax and fall asleep when you’re sitting straight up. And a full recline generally produces a better recovery experience.
  5. Go undercover. A cozy blanket or other type of wrap can help regulate your body’s temperature, which tends to drop when you are inactive or sleeping.
  6. Meditate. If you can’t sleep, focusing on slow, deep breaths or a mantra can trigger the parasympathetic (rest-digest-heal) response you’re after and bring a sense of calm. Bonus: Quieting your mind might just help you nod off.

Pinpoint your optimal napping window with the “nap wheel,” developed by Sara Mednick, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

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