What is the Best Nap Length?

Key Takeaways

  • Nap Length and Timing: Napping can be beneficial for managing daytime fatigue, but the length and timing of your nap can significantly impact its effectiveness. Short power naps, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes, are ideal for providing a quick energy boost without causing sleep inertia. Longer naps, such as hour-long or “perfect” naps that complete one full sleep cycle, can lead to sleep inertia, making you feel groggy.
  • Types of Naps: Napping can be categorized into emergency, planned, and habitual naps, each serving a different purpose based on specific situations and needs. While emergency naps are taken to combat sudden drowsiness, planned naps are scheduled when regular sleep is compromised, and habitual naps are part of a daily routine, often utilized to alleviate afternoon fatigue.
  • Benefits and Cautions: Napping has several advantages, such as improving immune function, reducing stress hormones, and enhancing memory and mood. However, excessive or improperly timed napping can lead to sleep disturbances, such as sleep inertia and disruption of circadian rhythms. It is essential to strike a balance between napping and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule to ensure overall sleep quality.

Napping is a universal practice for humans. While children usually dread naptime, many adults seek comfort in their five minutes of post-lunch shut-eye.

“Naps are most frequent in infancy, decreasing into adulthood and increasing again in later life,” notes Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “Their benefits are moderated by nap habits, timing, and duration. Naps later in the day have mostly NREM stages, while rapid eye movement (REM) is more likely in morning naps, and both can occur in post-lunch naps.”

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Although naps can be beneficial when you’re struggling with a bout of daytime fatigue, they’re not a replacement for good sleep at night. So, to make the most of your time spent napping, it’s pertinent to consider the duration and timing of your nap.

In our post, we talk about the best nap lengths and offer tips on sneaking in some mid-day Zzz’s without harming your nightly sleep.

What are the Different Nap Lengths?

There are five different nap lengths to consider, from short power naps to the longer “perfect” nap.

The Power Nap

The Power Nap is a 10 to 20-minute snooze to give you a quick jolt of energy and increase alertness. The power nap keeps you in the first two stages of sleep. Keeping your body in lighter sleep stages allows you to get some rest but still wake up easily.

Falling into the deeper sleep stages makes it harder to wake up when nap time is over. When naps extend past light sleep and dip into a deep sleep, we call them “Lethargic Naps” because you often wake feeling more tired than you were before.

The Lethargic Nap

Sleeping longer than 30 minutes can cause sleep inertia, the grogginess you feel after waking up from a too-long nap. (No, that’s not just you, it’s a real physiological phenomenon!)

When you sleep for a half-hour, your body enters the third stage of sleep and relaxes more deeply. So when you wake up in the middle of this stage without fully completing them, you’re more likely to feel disoriented and drowsy.

Sleep inertia can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes after waking; however, some can experience its effects for up to two hours. The best way to avoid sleep inertia is to time your naps right and keep them out of the 30 to 50-minute range.

The Hour-Long Nap

The Hour-Long Nap is, as you might guess, an hour-long nap.

Sleeping for a full hour allows you to experience the deepest stage of NREM sleep (short for non-rapid eye movement), Stage 3. This stage plays a role in learning and memory.

Despite all of the benefits of a 60-minute nap, there will be sleep inertia. You need to allow 90 to 110 minutes for a “perfect nap.”

The Perfect Nap

The “Perfect Nap” is one that allows you to complete one full sleep cycle, though it will come with sleep inertia upon awakening. These naps allow you to go through the deeper sleep stages and wake up feeling noticeably more refreshed.

These slumbers are great for improving creativity, emotional memory, procedural memory, and mood, but taking these naps five to seven hours before your scheduled eight-hour sleep can disrupt your sleep pattern.

Three Types of Naps

Our reasons for napping aren’t all the same. Children take naps because they need more sleep than adults do. Students might need some daytime rest because they were up late the night before studying. Some adults might be working more than one job and come home exhausted from a long day.

The reasons for our naps can be broken down into three broad categories.

Emergency Napping

People take emergency naps when they feel a sudden wave of drowsiness and fatigue that affects their activity, whether it’d be work, driving, or studying. If you’ve ever dozed off in your desk at school or work, chances are you could’ve used an emergency nap.

Planned Napping

Planned naps should only be used if you absolutely have to skip out on your regularly scheduled sleep, whether you’re traveling overnight, finishing up important work, or have newly switched to a night shift at your job.

Habitual Napping

These are your ‘naptime’ naps. The routine, same time everyday naps that are a necessity to make it through the day. While these naps are used by children, many adults engage in habitual naps after lunch to fight off their afternoon slump.

The Benefits of Napping

Sleep is a necessary tool for people of all ages. Napping has been shown to improve our immune system by keeping our inflammatory molecules (known as cytokines) normal. Daytime rest can also keep our stress hormones down, specifically cortisol and norepinephrine.

Napping is good for our memory. We produce sleep spindles when we are asleep and electroencephalogram (EEG) results show that the more sleep spindles that occur in our sleep, the stronger our memories are.

Sleep deprivation can be one of the first signs of depression. Poor night time sleep can make us irritable, tired, stressed, and leave us feeling sad. Daytime naps can elevate your mood, refresh your thinking, and sharpen your decision making.

While beneficial, napping is not a permanent solution. The best way to avoid sleep deprivation symptoms is to develop a consistent, healthy sleep schedule.

Cons to Napping

Everyone has a chance of experiencing sleep inertia when they take a nap, especially if your nap lasts between 30 to 60 minutes.

The best practice is to take a short power nap, as any nap beyond 30 minutes will come with sleep inertia. However, it’s good to keep in mind that some research data has shown that longer naps can increase the chance of heart disease for those who suffer from metabolic syndrome.

Napping five to seven hours before your scheduled bedtime can disturb those important circadian rhythms that keep us functioning. While napping is not the sole cause of insomnia, it can increase its effects on people. Those who never had trouble sleeping at night may experience restlessness when it’s bedtime if they overindulge in napping.

Alternatives to Napping

If you find yourself tired during the day but can’t afford to take a nap, there are plenty of ways to help yourself fight the urge to sleep.

  • Moving around is a great way to get your blood flowing. Don’t be afraid to work standing up if your job allows you to do so. Take a 10-minute walk if you’re able to, it can improve cognitive function for up to two hours.
  • Healthy snacks are an excellent way to get rid of grogginess. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are filled with essential carbs, proteins, sugars, and calories that give you an advantage. It’s recommended to choose healthy snacks for natural energy before grabbing a cup of coffee because although caffeine gives you a big jolt of energy, it wears off sooner than fueling foods.
  • The easiest way to give yourself the edge you need is by drinking water. A cup of water before lunch helps your organs digest your food better, reducing any bloated and tired feelings after eating. If you’re extra drowsy, add some ice to your water to stimulate your body with a cold shock.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should your children nap?

Newborns sleep around 17 hours a day because their development requires a lot of energy. The time sleeping is split between eight to nine hours in the day and eight hours at night. Newborns don’t sleep through the night for more than six to eight hours until they reach about 13 pounds because of their frequent eating schedule.

Babies between three months and two years old normally sleep 12 to 15 hours, with the younger of the bunch sleeping four to five hours during the day. Babies will start easing toward less sleep between one to two years old. Toddlers should follow a regular nap schedule to ensure they’re getting enough sleep—as adults adhere to a set bedtime and wake-up time, babies and toddlers who need daytime naps should keep those times consistent, too.  

It’s best for young children to develop a loose-to-structured sleeping schedule by age three. Children between three and six years old can benefit from an afternoon nap since they require 10 to 12 hours of sleep, just be careful that you’re not scheduling your little one’s nap too close to bedtime. Kids between ages nine and 12 need 8-10 hours of sleep for regular function.

Preteens and teenagers go through several developmental changes, all of which can impact their night’s sleep. Teenagers don’t need as much sleep because they start producing more melatonin at night. They should strive to achieve eight to nine hours of sleep per day, but many teens get five to six hours after making time for homework and other after-school activities. Given their risk of sleep deprivation, teenagers can benefit from habitual power naps.

What’s the best time of day to nap?

There are two important factors to consider when planning your nap— the time you wake up to start your day and when you go to sleep. Generally, a nap five to seven hours after you wake up is useful; however, napping three to six hours before your bedtime can disturb your sleeping schedule.

How can I fall asleep faster at night?

Many sleep experts recommend a cold, comfortable environment to promote faster sleep. It’s important to turn off your phone an hour before you go to bed, too, since blue light sends a signal to our brain that it’s time to be awake and makes it harder to fall asleep.

Lastly, breathing is everything. It helps control the autonomic nervous system that affects our sleep. Try the 4-7-8 technique by breathing in for four seconds, holding it in for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds.

How can I avoid the post-lunch crash?

It’s important not to overeat at lunch. Eating too much increases your blood sugar and can cause a depletion in your energy.

Steer clear of foods rich in carbohydrates and protein, as they are notorious for making you feel drowsy. Some of these foods include pasta, salmon, rice, cheese, chicken, sugar, and eggs. Be sure to eat plenty of healthy snacks during the day to keep yourself fueled and avoid eating a too-big lunch.

What are some ways I can nap better?

If you’re like the rest of us, you probably don’t have nap pods or beds at your workplace. Don’t worry—there are ways around this! To improve naptime, find the best place to avoid interruptions, such as a quiet place at work or your car.

If you’re napping at home, get comfortable in a reclined chair, and close your eyes. Making your nap environment more comfortable will help you rest better.

Nothing Beats a Good Night of Sleep

A consistent sleep schedule will help fight your daytime sleepiness. If you need a nap in the day, it’s best to take a 20-minute power nap or a 90-minute nap. Anything in between can cause sleep inertia and leave you feeling more tired than you were before.

If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, or notice any changes in daytime fatigue, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor can work with you to develop a plan to get better sleep and, as a result, improve your overall health.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

James Nguyen, Sleep Expert James Nguyen

James Nguyen is Zoma's resident sleep expert and staff writer. James enjoys learning about the newest technologies in the mattress industry and doing deep dives into the science of sleep. He's tried nearly every gadget and gizmo in an effort to determine which sleep-promoting accessories can truly enhance your shut-eye. Outside of work, James takes his dedication to get healthy sleep seriously, and has even declared himself an "expert napper." James' research has been featured on Thrive Global and other media.

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