During a 2009 Pew Research survey, 34% of participants responded that they’d taken a nap in the last 24 hours1https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2009/07/29/nap-time/. So, naps are pretty common—but is it actually good for us to nap, or is it better to get all our sleep at night? And if we do choose to nap, how long should they be?
Read on to get to the bottom of naps.
How Long Should You Nap For?
An ideal nap length might be 10-20 minutes, depending on your goals. You might be taking naps for different reasons. And each nap warrants its own length. Here are a few common types of naps and the proper length for each.
How long to nap if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before
This study2https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16796222/ measured the effectiveness of different nap lengths on people who only got five hours of sleep the night before. They compared naps lengths of 5, 10, 20, and 30 minutes.
They found that 10 minutes was the ideal nap length. It was the only nap that produced immediate positive results without grogginess. To quote the study: “The 10-minute nap produced immediate improvements in all outcome measures (including sleep latency, subjective sleepiness, fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance), with some of these benefits maintained for as long as 155 minutes.”
If you are underslept, you could also opt for a 90-minute nap. With this length of nap, you are aiming to go through all four stages of sleep, so you’ll circle the cycle and wake up easefully back in Stage 2. This way, you will also get the benefits of going through Stage 3 deep sleep and REM, where you’ll experience body tissue repair and cognitive health.
How long to nap for an energy boost
If you are napping because of an energy dip in the afternoon, go for a 10-20 minute nap.
Those energy dips are natural, and for some people, a short nap is the best way to counteract them.
A few other good moments to use a 10-20 minute nap might be:
- Needing a recharge in the middle of a road trip
- If you feel tired midday after a few hours of work or studying
- If you feel wiped after a lunchtime workout
- If you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and want to reset your mood
- You simply find naps to be pleasurable
How long to nap for night shift workers
If you work as a nurse, at a 24-hour café, or any other job that might spontaneously require you to go nocturnal, naps can help.
If you have an 8-hour night shift3https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/work-hour-training-for-nurses/longhours/mod7/08.html#:~:text=While%20a%2030%2Dminute%20nap,of%2012%20hours%20or%20more., a 20-minute nap beforehand will help you retain your energy.
And if you’re working a 16-hour night shift3https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/work-hour-training-for-nurses/longhours/mod7/08.html#:~:text=While%20a%2030%2Dminute%20nap,of%2012%20hours%20or%20more., try to slip a 90-minute or 3-hour nap in there to reduce your sleepiness and gain some energy.
How long to nap to help with jetlag
If you’ve switched time zones and your sleep schedule feels wonky, you may have to stay awake for long periods to get back on track. If you can’t quite make it until nighttime in your new location without crashing, use a 10-20 minute nap4https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Jet-Lag.pdf to keep your energy afloat, and make sure you don’t nap within 4 hours of your bedtime.
How long to nap to prepare for an all-nighter
If you’re a student or are amidst an aggressive work project, you might have to take on the harrowing all-nighter. If you know it’s coming, your best bet is to get some sleep.
To restore your energy5https://greatist.com/grow/pull-an-all-nighter to make it through an all-nighter, either a 20-minute nap or a 90-minute nap can help. You can take this nap prophylactically as midnight approaches in preparation for the all-nighter. Or you can nap in the wee hours of the morning when you start to hit a wall.
Benefits of Naps
Many researchers have studied naps, and below we’ll break down the science of napping so you can decide if and how you want to nap.
Napping might be in our nature
Most people’s brains drop in alertness between 1 and 4 PM.
And it’s not just our culture that gets tired midday. Hunter-gather tribes tend to operate on a biphasic sleep schedule, which means they reliably have two sleeping slots in their day (as opposed to a monophasic sleep schedule where you only sleep in one long chunk per day).
When researchers studied indigenous tribes, they found the tribespeople take short midday naps in addition to their bulk of sleep at night time. This suggests that it may have been natural to take naps in the human era before screens and the internet.
Health and cognitive benefits of napping
Napping also brings about benefits to your health and mind. Here are some of the positive effects of napping:
- Memory. Napping right after learning6https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26473618/ something helps you code that new knowledge in your long-term memory
Napping right after7https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18275549/ you learn something also helps with your short-term memory retention in recalling that information later that day
- Alertness. Afternoon naps8https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34639511/ can improve your alertness, especially for the two hours after you wake up
- Impulse control. Napping9https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886915003943 can decrease your impulsivity
- Patience. Taking naps9https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886915003943 can increase your tolerance for frustration
- Mental clarity. Naps can also10https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/07-08/naps improve logical reasoning and symbol recognition
- Mood. Taking naps11https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36775965/ has been shown to lead to positive changes in mood
- Athletic abilities. Daily naps are linked to improved jumping12https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34043185/, strength, running speed, cardiovascular endurance, reaction time
Napping also helped elite soccer players13https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36876185/ improve at a “Passing Test,” which suggests that napping helps with visual-spatial processing and quick decision-making
- Cognitive repair. If you’re sleep-deprived14https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11322712/, napping will help you regain your cognitive functions
- Heart health. Taking one or two naps15https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31501230/ a week is linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- Brain health. Researchers found16https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28936194/ napping is correlated with a reduced risk of brain aneurysms
The main downside of napping is that it can impact nighttime sleep for certain people.
Who should avoid naps?
Sleep researcher Matthew Walker describes it as a pressure cooker. Imagine that every day, each minute you spend awake contributes pressure to a pressure cooker. It’s as if you are accumulating tiredness. And when you have enough tiredness, you go to sleep at night, and throughout the night, the pressure releases from the cooker, and you start the next day fresh.
Using this metaphor, naps can release some of the pressure from the cooker. For many of us, that’s totally fine.
But if you have insomnia, or struggle to fall asleep17https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/sleep-and-wakefulness-disorders/insomnia-and-excessive-daytime-sleepiness-eds or stay asleep throughout the night, then it’s best to avoid naps because they may contribute to further sleep struggles.
When are bad times to nap?
Another metaphor Walker uses is that napping during the day is like snacking before a meal. Napping too late in the day can spoil your “appetite” for your big sleep at night.
For most people, this means finishing their naps before 1 PM. But if you have an early or late bedtime, a good rule of thumb is to keep at least 8 hours of space between the end of your nap and the beginning of your night’s sleep.
Who benefits from naps?
Research suggests that people who regularly take naps18https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0301051106000299 benefit more from naps than those who don’t often nap.
Additional research suggests that people who identify as “night owls” tend to benefit more from naps10https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/07-08/naps than “early birds.”
The bottom line is that some people may benefit more from naps than others. And the best way to determine if naps are good for you is simply to try out being a napper.
Use tips from the rest of this article to give naps a fair shake, and if they tend to make you feel rested, alert, and energized, then keep at it. But if you try out naps with great technique, and they continually leave you groggy and disoriented, you might be inclined towards a monophasic cycle (just sleeping at nighttime).
If you have other goals in addition to improving your sleep, you might benefit from this goodie:
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How a Nap Works
To understand how to optimize your napping technique, first, we should go over the basics of how sleep works.
The stages of sleep
In both naps and night-time sleep, when we drift off, we go through four stages of sleep. When you sleep, these stages arise in order and cycle repeatedly throughout the night.
- Lightest Sleep (Stage 1): This stage happens right as you fall asleep. It lasts 1-7 minutes and is the lightest stage of sleep. The body starts to relax, and the brain slows down. You can easily rouse someone from stage 1 sleep.
- Light Sleep (Stage 2): This next stage lasts between 10 and 25 minutes. In this stage, your body temperature drops, muscles relax, and breathing and heart rate slow. This stage is critical for solidifying memories19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526132/.
- Deep Sleep (Stage 3): This stage lasts 20-40 minutes. Your pulse slows, and your body relaxes even more. Your brain goes into delta waves, and your body goes into a deeper20https://www.sleepfoundation.org/stages-of-sleep/deep-sleep state of sleep where your body repairs19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526132/ its tissue, bone, muscle, and immune system. It can be difficult to wake up while in this stage.
- Rapid eye movement (REM): The first REM stage is fairly short19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526132/, just a few minutes. But over the course of a night, REM stages get longer and longer, approaching an hour towards the end of the night. In REM sleep, your brain activity speeds up, and your body undergoes temporary paralysis. However, your eyes are still active and dart around under your eyelids (hence the name “rapid eye movement”). Most of your dreams (especially the most vivid ones) occur during the REM stage. This sleep stage is crucial for cognitive health and creativity.
Each night a person typically goes through four to six sleep cycles19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526132/. Usually, Stage 1 only happens in the first cycle. Stage 2 and REM lengthen throughout the night, while the deep sleep stage 3 shortens with each cycle. Here’s a chart where each color’s thickness represents the stage’s time length.
Napping and sleep stages
If you nap for 90 minutes or less, you’ll enter each stage either once or not at all. The amount of time you spend in each sleep stage might look something like this:
Here’s how different nap lengths might interact with your sleep cycle:
- If you take a 5-minute nap, you will likely only experience Stage 1 sleep
- If you take a 30-minute nap, you’ll enter Stages 1 and 2
- For a nap in the range of 35-70 minutes, you’ll likely enter Stage 3
- In a nap of 70-80 minutes, you’ll enter REM sleep
- And for a nap of about 90-100 minutes, you’ll likely be back in Stage 2
If you wake up while in Stage 1 or 2, no problem; you’ll likely be able to perk right up. But if you wake up while in Stage 3 deep sleep or REM, you’re in trouble. You’ll wake up with sleep inertia19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526132/, which is when you feel foggy and groggy, and you’ll have impaired mental performance for up to an hour or sometimes longer. If you wake up in REM, you might also feel disoriented if you pop out of a vivid dream.
An ideal nap is when you wake up during Stage 1 or 2.
Now that you know a bit about the sleep stages, how long of a nap should you shoot for in different napping circumstances?
7 Essential Tips to Optimize Your Nap
Now that you know how long to nap, apply these extra tips to optimize your nap quality.
When is the best time of day to nap?
Your first decision is when in the day to nap. Research suggests8https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34639511/ that napping before 1 PM will optimize your cognitive performance.
But if you’re a late riser, and 1 PM is more like morning for you, just make sure to wake up from your nap at least 8 hours before you go back to bed.
Choose the right napping environment
Just like optimal night sleeping conditions, your best naps will take place in dark and cool environments. Eye masks or light-proof curtains are critical for daytime naps.
If you desperately need a nap but are far from home, consider napping in a park (if you feel safe to do so) or purchasing a seat in a movie theater and using it to take a snooze.
And, of course, if you’re lucky enough to work at a company with nap pods/rooms, take advantage!
Sound the alarm
If you are taking a shorter nap (5-20 minutes), then it’s critical to set an alarm.
As we saw earlier, if you drift into Stage 3 or REM and wake up before moving back to Stage 2, it can feel like pumping your brain with a fog machine.
Sometimes when the alarm goes off, you’ll have the impulse to snooze or turn it off. But resist the urge. Unless you can sleep for an entire sleep cycle (90 minutes or so), then it’s best to rise with your alarm.
No pressure to fall asleep
Some people feel averse to naps because they feel pressure to fall asleep in just 10 or 20 minutes. But worry not; even if you don’t fall asleep, there are still cognitive benefits21https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/42/10/zsz138/5575658 to what scientists call “waking rest,” which means just resting in bed and doing nothing.
Take the pressure off of falling asleep—just lying down for 20 minutes can still rejuvenate you.
If you struggle to fall asleep in shorter periods, you can also try listening to a nap meditation. These are similar to normal meditations, where someone (with a soothing voice) will guide you into relaxing your body, possibly introducing calming imagery, and then invite you into a short nap.
Here is one such meditation. Though there are plenty of others on YouTube you can explore.
If you struggle to get out of bed after a nap, it can help to pre-plan your post-nap activity.
If you have your next activity after your nap set, it can make it easier to glide from slumber right into a work session, a hike, or late afternoon tea time.
If you’d like to up your nap game, try out any of the following nap augmentations:
- Earplugs. Earplugs can get surprisingly fancy. Here is a non-expensive earplug made of silicone that can create an airtight seal in your ear to block outside noise significantly.
- Gravity blanket. These weighted blankets (15-35 pounds) put gentle pressure all over your body. This “pressure therapy” simulates a hug and actually activates your parasympathetic nervous system22https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2022/march/weighted-blankets, which lowers your heart rate, reduces anxiety, and helps with sleep.
- Here is the original Gravity Blanket; the company also sells other swanky blankies that use temperature-controlling technology. But there are also cheaper alternatives on Amazon.
- A sleeping mask. Make sure to use an eyemask that blocks light from below your eyes. Here’s one affordable option
- Blackout curtains. When it comes to sleeping, the darker the better. Here is one option for blackout curtains. Below are two pictures from an Amazon reviewer. The picture on the left shows regular curtains, and the right shows blackout curtains.
Do caffeine naps actually work?
You might have heard of the notion of drinking a cup of coffee or tea and then immediately taking a power nap. The idea is that you get both the alertness from the nap and the pep from the caffeine after you wake up.
But does the caffeine nap actually work?
Several studies23https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8026448/ support the efficacy of the caffeine nap. It takes about 15 minutes24https://www.webmd.com/diet/how-long-caffeine-lasts for caffeine to take effect, so you are able to get the benefits of a nap before your caffeine high kicks in.
If you’d like to learn some of the science, here’s why naps and caffeine make a killer tag-team duo:
Adenosine25https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/adenosine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that’s linked to sleepiness. The longer you’re awake, the more adenosine builds up. When adenosine connects to receptors in the brain, you’ll feel tired.
Enter caffeine. Caffeine works in two ways. One, it blocks adenosine from plugging into the receptors26https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20164566/. This means that there are fewer adenosine neurotransmitters connecting with your brain and sending “tired” signals. And two, besides blocking adenosine from causing drowsiness, caffeine also stimulates your nervous system.
When you sleep, your adenosine levels drop27https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769007/. This means caffeine has less competition for the receptors, which is why caffeine is more effective the more awake you are.
So the caffeine nap is effective because your sleep and your tea are working together. Your sleep reduces the adenosine in your system, which opens up more receptors for the caffeine to plug into and do its thing.
If that felt confusing, think about this metaphor:
Imagine your brain is a room with 10 power outlets. Every hour you are awake, someone walks in with a blue cord to plug into one of the stations. When plugged in, those blue cords make you sleepy. So if you’ve been awake for way too long, you’ll have a crowd of folks standing around with blue cords in their hands and every charging station in use with a blue wire coming out of it.
But when you sleep, the blue cord people start to leave. And when you’re fully rested, the room will be emptied.
When you drink a sip of coffee, a different type of person walks in with an orange cord; when they plug their orange cable into a station, it gives you a jolt of energy. Plus, it prevents one of the blue-cord people from plugging their tired-making cord into the station.
This is why drinking coffee when you’re already super tired doesn’t work very well: even though the caffeine people are coming into the room with their orange cables, if you’ve been awake for too long, all of the charging stations will already be occupied by blue cords.
Here’s a helpful video if you’d like to learn more about how caffeine interacts with your brain.
How Long to Nap Frequently Asked Questions
A 45-minute nap is usually too long for most people (unless you can sleep for longer to bypass sleep cycles). Napping at this length means you’ll likely wake up while amidst Stage 3 sleep, which will cause “sleep inertia,” meaning you’ll be groggy and slow to wake up. As a rule of thumb, either nap for 10-20 minutes or, if you can, 90-100 minutes.
If you’d like to feel refreshed, most people should nap for at least 10-20 minutes long but no longer than 30 minutes.
Two hours is too long for a nap for most people and can cause poor sleep at night. If you are severely tired and under slept, you can opt for a long nap, but it should be 90-100 minutes to ensure you wake up at the right part of your sleep cycle.
It’s best not to replace your night sleep with two-hour naps. There is something called “segmented sleep,” where people break their sleep into different periods throughout the day. A biphasic sleep schedule is when someone has two sleep chunks per day. While some folks like to sleep two hours during the day and six or so hours at night, there is a lack of research on whether or not this type of sleep pattern is healthy, so it’s best to approach it cautiously.
90-minute naps are good options for all-nighters. If you’re amidst finals week or have an intense work deadline approaching, you may need to pull an all-nighter. If that’s the case, a 90-minute nap will keep you going through the night.
If you’re looking for an energy boost, take a 10-20 minute nap. That way, you’ll get the benefits of Stage 1 and Stage 2 of sleep, but you won’t feel groggy waking up amidst Stage 3 sleep.
To nap without evoking grogginess, make sure you wake up during the right part of your sleep cycle. That means either taking a 5-20 minute nap where you wake up in Stage 1 or 2 or taking a 90-100 minute nap where you wake up after the REM stage in Stage 2. You’ll feel groggy when you wake up in Stage 3 (which will happen if you take a 30-60 minute nap) or in REM (which will occur with a 60-85 minute nap) and might experience ongoing daytime sleepiness.
If you are behind on sleep, go for a 90-minute nap. This will allow you to sleep through an entire sleep cycle so that you’ll come out with the benefits of brain and body restoration.
Longer naps are not necessarily bad. If you are already caught up on sleep, they can impair your ability to fall asleep at nighttime. But a long nap can be great if you are behind on sleep or are working a night shift.
It is possible to nap for too long. A 10-20 minute nap is advisable unless you are behind on sleep.
If you are already well-rested and you take a 90-minute nap, where you complete an entire sleep cycle, it may make it harder to fall asleep at night time. If you sleep more than 90 minutes, then on most occasions, this will disrupt your night’s sleep.
The Basics of How Long To Nap For
Science tells us that napping can be good for our health. But not everyone should nap, only if you feel an energy dip in the middle of the day and if naps feel good for you. If you feel drawn to napping, then consider these nap lengths for the following situations:
- If you didn’t get enough sleep last night, go for a 90-minute nap
- For a quick energy boost, sleep for 10-20 minutes
- If you’re working a night shift, look for a 90-minute nap
- If you’re pulling an all-nighter, you can do either a 20-minute or a 90-minute nap
Good luck on your napping journey! And if you’d like to learn more about sleep cycles and sleeping positions, check out this article.
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