You often hear that naps can be beneficial to your health. But you’ve had times when you napped and woke up feeling worse – groggier, more tired, and like you’ve lost precious time. And so, you are still undecided on whether or not to nap. And if you do decide to nap, you are left wondering how long to nap and how best to nap.
You should know that like any other factor that influences health (exercising or dieting), napping helps only when done right. To nap better you should learn – how long should you nap, when is the best time to nap, what is the best way to nap, among other things.
Done right, napping provides several benefits, such as:
- Mood enhancement
- Better alertness
- Increased cognitive performance
Through this guide, you will learn more about:
- The factors determining the ideal nap duration
- How long should you nap
- The duration for which not to nap
- The problems with napping for too long
- How to nap just right
A Primer to How Long Should You Nap
Before you find out how long should you nap, it is important to understand the science behind it:
- We sleep in two basic stages between which we alternate –non-REM and REM
- Non-REM is a lighter stage of sleep. The early stages variant of which begins when we fall asleep and is marked by a decrease in muscle tension, body temperature, brain activity, and heart rate. The slow-wave variant follows at about 30 minutes and is marked by the lowest breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- REM follows non-REM and is marked by shallow breathing, deep sleep, and dreaming.
- The alternating non-REM and REM stages of sleep (sleep cycles) last about 90-120 minutes for adults
Considering this, it is best to nap for only so long as you are in the early stages of non-REM sleep and wake before the onset of the slow-wave non-REM sleep. If that isn’t possible, the next best option is to let your body complete one sleep cycle (non-REM and REM sleep). Doing so ensures you wake up feeling rested and refreshed and not interrupted and groggy.
How Long Should You Nap – Ideal Duration
Between 10-20 minutes (up to a maximum of 30 minutes) – This is the ideal duration for which to nap. If you keep your naps at this length, you will wake up feeling rested, more alert, and happier. This is because, when you limit your nap to this time, you stay in non-REM sleep (lightest stage). So, you don’t wake up feeling interrupted, groggy, and tired.
A study published by the Sleep Research Society noted these results post:
A 10-Minute Nap – Immediate improvement in fatigue, vigor, cognitive performance, sleepiness level, and sleep latency
A 20-Minute Nap – Delayed improvements in the same areas (35 minutes later)
A 30-Minute Nap – Sleep inertia symptoms followed by improvements in same areas
A 90 Minutes Nap– If you can wake up after 90 minutes, nothing like it. This is because your body has then been able to make it from light sleep to deep sleep and back. So, when you wake up, you awake feeling rested and refreshed. There is also some research suggesting that a 90-minute nap helps boost both creativity and memory.
What Happens When Your Naps Are Shorter Or Longer
Less Than 10 Minutes – This is just not enough time to serve the purpose of a nap – rejuvenation (also noted in the abovementioned study).
Between 30-60 Minutes – You wake up feeling groggy, sluggish and don’t sleep well at night. This is because, during this time, your body enters a deeper stage of sleep in which your brain functioning slows down. So, when you wake up, you feel interrupted and hence groggy (called sleep inertia).
Longer Than 90 Minutes – In addition to sleep inertia, you are likely to wake up and feel like you got up on the wrong side of the bed. You will, most likely, also struggle to fall asleep at night and sleep well.
It is better not to nap than to nap for these amounts of time. This is because you will wake up feeling groggy, fatigued, less alert, even irritable.
How To Nap Ideally – Our Pro Tips
- Keep it short
- Plan your nap in advance
- Make yourself as comfortable as you can
- If sleep eludes you during the 10-20 minutes you’ve dedicated to your nap – you can always add an extra 5-10 minutes of time for falling asleep
- Nap in your bed – to nap effectively (since body accustomed to sleeping in bed)
- Have a cup of coffee just before you nap – This way, when you wake from your nap post 20 minutes, the coffee will kick in at 30 minutes, and you will feel twice as refreshed (Don’t make this a habit though.)
- Invest in sleep products if you have trouble falling asleep – earplugs, eye masks, blackout curtains, a white-noise machine, heater/air-conditioner
- Set your alarm, so you don’t oversleep
- Nap between 2-4 pm – when the body naturally tends to feel sleepy
- Don’t use your naps to make up for night-time sleep deficit – use them, if you must, to help you get through the day and still sleep well at night
- Don’t extend your naps too often – when you do, keep them under 30 minutes or go for a 90-minute nap
- Try not to force sleep or get frustrated – if you fail to fall asleep at your scheduled time
- If your bedtime is 11 pm, don’t nap beyond 2 pm – i.e., keep a gap of about 9 hours, so as not to throw off your bedtime schedule
FAQs Relating How Long Should You Nap
Q. How Long Should I Nap To Wake Up Refreshed?
The entire purpose of a nap is to beat the afternoon slump and wake up refreshed. Hence, you would do well to keep it short, between 10-20 minutes, ideally. This is because when you take a power nap, your body stays in a lighter stage of sleep. When you wake from this stage, you wake feeling rested and refreshed. However, if you nap longer, your body then awakes from a deeper slumber, feeling interrupted and hence still sleepy and tired.
Q. Is A 2-Hour Nap Too Long?
Yes. You should, ideally, take a power nap lasting between 10 to 20 minutes. If you must nap longer, then make sure you sleep for 90 minutes (120 minutes max). If you sleep longer, your body enters a deeper stage of sleep. When you awake in the middle of this stage, you don’t wake feeling like you’ve slept, rather like you’ve been roused mid-sleep and need to sleep some more (sleep inertia). So, instead of feeling light and refreshed, you wake feeling groggy and tired. Additionally, a longer nap means you’ve reduced your ‘sleep debt’, which you’ve been building since you woke up. Having done this, you will find it harder to fall and stay asleep at night (longer sleep latency). Doing so frequently can affect your wake and sleep times and even lead to chronic sleep issues.
If you absolutely must nap longer (for some reason on a one-off day), make sure that you nap earlier in the day (say before 2-3 PM).
Q. Is It Normal To Take A Nap Every Day?
Some experts feel that you ideally shouldn’t be needing a nap every day. If you do, it could be a sign that you aren’t getting enough sleep at night. If you need to nap more than once a day, they suggest that you get yourself checked for ‘excessive daytime sleepiness’ (a condition that is currently experienced by about 20% Americans as per the National Sleep Foundation).