Ah yes, napping. Do you know how long to nap? There is both an art and a science to the perfect nap. Naps are the perfect way to unplug, even if it’s just for a brief period.

Napping is a global phenomenon that begins when we are infants and continues through adulthood. It’s one thing parents and teachers look forward to, while kids dread it. But did you know that having the right sleep pattern can provide you with a lot of health benefits? Yup.

Sleep experts say naps make for a better, more functional worker.

Sleep studies provide copious evidence that napping reduces sleepiness while improving cognitive functioning, psychomotor performance, short-term memory and mood. Wow! This sounds like something we all should be doing, right? Well, one survey found that only one-third of respondents actually took naps. So today, I am here to help you uncover what scientists have discovered in their laboratories. But before we go into those studies, keep in mind, how much we gain from napping is determined by how long we nap.

The Science of a Perfect Nap:

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Power Nap: 10 to 20 minutes

Most sleep experts agree that if you want to have a quick jolt of alertness and vigor and/or decrease fatigue, take a 10- to 20-minute nap. So, for example, if you are taking a road trip and begin feeling drowsy, with no Red Bull in sight, pull over to the side of the road and take a quick nap–it packs a big punch!

Grogginess Nap: 30 minutes

Some studies have shown that when you take a longer nap, the effects of sleep inertia begin settling in after you wake up. This is the brief period of grogginess you feel when you first wake up in the morning. Your body is still in a state of rest and parts of your brain are not fully awake yet. 

Short-term Nap: 60 minutes

We all know that somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes is when we start to graze the surface of our deep sleep cycle. This is when our brain waves begin slowing down and we will experience benefits such as:

  • Remembering facts
  • Remembering places you’ve been
  • Remembering names and faces

In one study, a group of researchers asked one set of participants to memorize a set of cards and then told them to take a 40-minute nap, while the other group had to stay awake. After the 40 minutes, the groups were tested on the memory cards. Who do you think rated the highest? Yup, you guessed it. The group who took a nap recalled 85 percent of the patterns on the cards, while the non-napping group recalled just a little over 60 percent.

It seems that napping pushes our memories to our neocortex (our brain’s permanent storage facility) while we sleep, preventing us from losing any data. The downside to a short-term nap is that the moment you begin waking up, you will feel minor effects of grogginess (sleep inertia).

REM Nap: 90 minutes

And finally, we have REM (rapid eye movement) napping. This when you have reached your full sleeping cycle and dream. A 90-minute nap has been said to improve:

  • Creativity
  • Emotional and procedural memory, such as learning a new skill

A nap this long helps you avoid sleep inertia and makes it much easier for you to wake up. Now, sleeping for 90 minutes may not fly with your boss, but it sure does have its perks when you need some rejuvenation. You probably should save this one for the weekends.

Experts say the ideal time for a person to take a nap is generally between one p.m. and four p.m. Napping later than that could interfere with your night schedule. And, if you find yourself dreaming while you are napping during the day, this may mean you are sleep-deprived and will need to re-adjust your sleep schedule so you can get adequate rest at night.

Happy napping!


About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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