A good nap in the afternoon can often leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day, but sleeping too long might make things even worse.
Everyone’s been there. You’ve had a long day, or you didn’t sleep much the previous night. So, you lie down for a short nap, and wake up hours later, feeling groggy and more tired than before. Then, that night you have trouble sleeping, too. Other days, though, when you take a nap, you have no problem having a shorter nap, and wake up feeling great. If not planned and executed just right, it seems that laying down for a nap for an indeterminate length of time can be quite a gamble.
In this article, we will dive into everything about napping: we’ll explain what it is, the benefits and drawbacks of napping, when the best time to take a nap is, and of course, how long you should be napping.
What is Napping?
Napping is when you fall asleep for a significantly shorter period of time than you typically do at night. Napping is mostly done in the daytime; commonly in the late morning or early afternoon, although it can be done at any time. A nap can last for as long as a few minutes up to hours, and usually, the duration of the nap determines how you feel afterward, i.e., whether you feel tired, alert, refreshed, groggy, etc.
What’s the Difference Between Napping and Sleeping?
The biggest difference between napping and sleeping is the duration of the sleep. This is because napping is too short for your body to complete true sleep. True sleep is accomplished when your body can go through all five stages of the sleep cycle, which repeats every 90 to 110 minutes for most adults. Therefore, when you nap, you only enter into the first or second stage of the sleep cycle, making it different from true sleep where you cycle through all five.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Napping
Benefits of Napping
There are several great benefits to napping, and realizing these benefits depends on your individual circumstances, and choosing the best nap length for yourself and your situation. Below are some of the benefits of napping:
- Improved mood . Napping during the day can improve your mood. Short naps boost your energy levels, and can help you feel like you got a good night’s sleep. Sometimes the right amount of sleep is all you need to feel better. Studies have also shown that naps can increase positivity, and boost tolerance for frustration. If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep the previous night, a short nap may make you feel less tired and irritable, and improve your mood overall.
- Improved performance. Studies have shown that short, 10 to 30-minute naps during the day can boost performance and productivity. Naps can improve your alertness, reaction time, memory, and psychomotor speed, all of which help improve overall performance while reducing fatigue.
- Enhanced learning. Napping can enhance learning by improving your memory and focus, which makes retaining information easier. In addition, studies have also shown that it is easier to learn new information immediately after a nap.
- Health benefits . A recent study conducted in 2019 shows that taking a midday nap can significantly lower blood pressure. The study found that taking an afternoon nap can reduce blood pressure just as well as making lifestyle changes like cutting salt and alcohol out of your diet. On average the study showed that midday naps reduced blood pressure by about 5mm Hg, which is similar to the range of 5-7 mm Hg that low dose blood pressure medication causes. This shows that naps can radically reduce the risk of heart disease. Lowering your blood pressure by just 2 mm Hg can reduce your risk of a heart attack by 10%.
Drawbacks of Napping
After reading the significant benefits to napping, you may be wondering what possible drawbacks there could be to napping that wouldn’t make it worthwhile; but, of course, if you’ve ever taken a bad nap, or napped too long, you know the drawbacks.
- Sleep Inertia . After waking from a nap, you might feel groggy and tired. Longer naps where you wake from a deep sleep usually make sleep inertia worse.
- Nighttime sleep problems. Another drawback to taking longer naps or later naps, like ones in the late afternoon or early evening, is that you could have trouble sleeping at night. If you slept too much during the day, you could alter your sleep cycle, and although you may feel tired, your brain may not be ready to fall back asleep.
- Health problems . Yes, although short, daytime naps can improve your health. A 2015 study shows that taking daytime naps longer than 60 minutes can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. So if you’re looking to take a nap to improve your health, make sure it’s short!
When is the Best Time to Take a Nap?
For the majority of people, napping in the afternoon is the ideal time to nap. However, the best time for any individual to nap depends greatly on their age and their schedule. Making sure you’re not napping too late is important, as it can interfere with your nighttime sleep. 3 pm is a common cutoff point for people to use when considering a nap.
When Should I Consider Napping?
While most healthy adults don’t require naps to lead a healthy life, there are certain times when it may benefit you more:
- When you experience unexpected sleepiness or new fatigue
- When you are about to go through sleep loss — like before a long work shift
- When you are already sleep-deprived
- When you want to incorporate planned naps into your daily life
How Long Should a Nap Be?
- Healthy adults who sleep well at night don’t need to nap, but can still benefit from the occasional power nap of 15-20 minutes
- Seniors may benefit from an hour-long nap in the afternoon
- 0 - 6 months: two or three daytime naps lasting from 30 minutes to 2 hours each
- 6 - 12 months: two naps a day, lasting from 20 minutes to a few hours
- 1 - 3 years: one afternoon nap lasting 1 to 3 hours
- 3 - 5 years: one afternoon nap lasting 1 or 2 hours
- 5 - 12 years: none required if they’re getting the recommended 10 or 11 hours of sleep each night
When Sleep Deprived/Fatigued
If you’re sleep deprived, or overly tired, and want to nap, you may benefit from a longer nap of up to 90 to 120 minutes long.
We hear the term “power nap” a lot, but what really is it? A power nap is a short nap, usually 15 to 20 minutes, that allows the “napper” to wake up refreshed and alert. Due to the short duration of a power nap, it’s usually easier to wake up faster than if you were to take a longer nap. The length of the power nap is short enough that it shouldn’t affect your nighttime sleep, while still improving your energy, concentration, and alertness during the day.
2 and 3 Hour Naps
2 and 3 hour naps are when we start to get into naps that can leave us feeling tired for hours afterward, along with giving us sleep problems. While sometimes you may feel like you need a 2 or 3 hour nap, it’s important to keep in mind how you will feel afterward. For instance, you may fall into a deep sleep, and have trouble waking up, and the nap is long enough where you may have problems falling asleep later that night, and suffer insomnia.
While taking longer naps is generally not a good idea for getting the best sleep, there are some situations where it is appropriate. For example, if you are recovering from an illness, operation, or are resting from an injury, taking a longer nap may help your body heal and recover faster.
Napping Do’s and Don'ts
- Planning your naps will make it easier to work them into your daily routine, if that’s your goal while keeping healthy sleeping habits. Your body will get more used to napping during the day, and you will have an easier time falling asleep at night. Plus, you may have an easier time waking from your nap at the appropriate time if you plan and get used to the routine.
- Keep them short. Unless you are experiencing one of the exceptions we mentioned above (recovery, sleep deprivation, about to experience sleep loss), you should keep your naps short. Keeping your naps under an hour, ideally, 20-30 minutes is the best nap length for most adults. Keeping them short will ensure you get quality sleep, and don’t overdo it and wake up more tired than before, and unable to sleep at night.
- Set an alarm. If you have trouble waking from naps, set an alarm (or several), so you never oversleep. If alarms don’t work, ask your partner, roommate, or family to wake you up, or give you a call on your phone.
- Nap in the daytime. If you are going to take a nap, make sure it is not a few hours before you usually go to bed for the night. Instead, if you have a regular schedule, nap in the early afternoon, and avoid doing it after 3 pm.
- Create a good napping environment. Setting up a cool, dark, quiet, and relaxing area to nap in will improve your sleep, as will sleeping on a comfortable mattress. (Check out the advantages of sleeping on a latex mattress).
- Give yourself time. After waking up, give yourself some time before you resume any activities.
- Oversleep: Oversleeping during the day can potentially cause health problems, leave you feeling poorly, and will likely negatively affect your nighttime sleep. So, if you’re going to nap, don’t sleep more than an hour!
- Do it late: As we mentioned above, never take a nap at night if you are just planning on going to bed for the night soon anyways. Try and stay awake for a little bit longer, and then go to bed early.
- Drive drowsy: If you’re driving, and feel yourself getting drowsy and in need of some rest: pull over! Driving drowsy is very dangerous, and you will be happy you pulled over, and took some time to rest afterward.
What is the Best Nap Length?
The best nap length varies depending on your age and situation. A good rule of thumb is no more than an hour, unless you are experiencing sleep deprivation.
How Long is a Power Nap?
Can Napping Improve Intelligence?
While it is not clear whether napping improves intelligence, getting enough sleep is necessary to keep a healthy brain and mind. Also, studies show that napping does improve focus and memory, and helps you retain information. Plus, one study even shows that taking a moderate nap (about 1 hour) may improve cognitive function, even when compared to non-nappers, short nappers, and long nappers.
Why do Some Cultures Encourage Naps in the Early Afternoon?
Some cultures are known for taking early afternoon or post-lunch naps. This is generally because resting around midday allows people who live in tropical or hot climates to stay cool, and avoid the scorching heat of the mid-afternoon.
Should I Start Napping, Even if I Don’t Usually Feel the Need To?
No, healthy adults do not require naps to remain healthy.
Could a Sudden Increased Need for Naps Indicate a Health Problem?
If you are feeling an increased need for naps, and there is no clear reason for your new fatigue, talk to your doctor. You could have a sleep (or other) disorder, or your medication could be affecting your energy and sleep.