Sleep is crucial for wellness. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, avoid getting sick, and lower your stress levels. That’s why we’re bringing you this new franchise all about ways to step up your shut-eye game. It’s also part of why we developed Calm Mab Sticks. Packed with CBN, ashwagandha, chamomile, hops, and lemon balm, they’re great nightcaps to support restful sleep. 

In this installment, W Christopher Winter, MD, a sleep specialist and author of The Rested Child, weighs in on napping and how to make up for lost z’s. 

The Background: 

You can think of your sleep debt (the sleep you missed by staying up binging Netflix or caring for a crying baby) as you would your credit card. If you put $3,000 on your card, you’ll need to pay it back in full. Of course, paying $30 or $300 is a start, “but it’s not going to prevent all the terrible things from happening when your credit card bill comes along and you can’t make the payment,” says Winter.  

The same can be said for napping: A nap will help if you’re sleep deprived, but where naps really shine is supplementing a good night’s sleep, pushing you past the mid-afternoon slump.

“In the hierarchy of things, we want people to get enough sleep on a regular schedule,” Winter explains. “But if the schedule doesn’t work, we at least want them to get enough sleep.” 

Keep in mind that what constitutes enough sleep will differ from person to person. For instance, the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults ages 26 to 64. But six or 10 hours might be fine for some people, too. 

The Hack: How to Optimize Your Nap

If you’re supplementing a good night’s sleep….

Cap it at 20 to 30 minutes. 

Beyond that, Winter says, you might feel out of it when you wake up. 

Make it a routine.

Catch some extra shut-eye at the same time every day so your circadian rhythm learns what to expect, he says. 

Commit to the nap.

Find a place in the dark where it’s quiet and comfortable, and make sure you can lie down horizontally. You might even get an eye mask or some earplugs, or use a sound machine or lavender spray to create a different mood.

If you are truly sleep deprived…

Extend your nighttime sleep.

The results of a 2018 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggest that sleeping in on the weekends may make up for “short weekday sleep”. Translation: If you have one rough night, try to fully make up for the sleep loss within the next six or seven days, Winter says. 

Nap if you need to.

Back to the crying baby example: If you can’t extend your nighttime sleep, keep the credit card example in mind. A nap will help you pay back some of your sleep debt so there’s nothing wrong with taking one if that’s your personal best option. Just try to follow the above nap guidelines to optimize the experience. 

The Bottom Line: Short naps (when done right) can supplement a good night’s sleep. But if you’re sleep deprived, you’ll need to make up for the loss completely.