What is the Best Nap Length?
Dr. Nayantara Santhi, PhD
Dr. Nayantara Santhi is an associate professor of psychology at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Santhi’s body of work includes numerous articles on how circadian rhythms regulate an individual’s sleep-wake cycle. Santhi’s articles have also focused on related elements such as bright light exposure and melatonin production.
If you’re like most, you enjoy the peace of a nice, restful nap. There are many benefits to a good rest. For example, research shows a midday nap can significantly decrease blood pressure. However, did you know the length of your nap can significantly alter its benefits?
Even just the difference between a 20-minute and a 45-minute nap can create a considerable change in how you feel upon waking—one former causes you to feel refreshed and alert afterward, while the latter leaves you temporarily groggy and confused.
Longer naps come with extra physical and mental benefits and are excellent for those who are sleep deprived, but you can still enjoy the benefits of napping even if you only have time for a 10- or 15-minute snooze. In our post, we review the three most common nap lengths, their benefits, and what the “best” nap may be for you.
Types of Nap Lengths
The best type of nap for you will depend on a few factors, including how fatigued you feel, for one. However, for a quick increase in energy and mental clarity, most scientists suggest taking a short nap for about 10 to 20 minutes. These “power naps” will give you a quick burst of energy without leaving you feeling even more tired when you wake.
In this section, we take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of different types of naps and reveal the best nap length for a mid-day pick-me-up.
A power nap, sometimes called a “stage two nap,” lasts 10 to 20 minutes. Due to its short length, you remain in the lighter NREM sleep stages during a power nap. Staying in the earlier sleep stages means you can enjoy all the benefits of a nap, but it makes waking up much more effortless.
Although you will not reach “deep sleep,” power naps can still be useful for those suffering from exhaustion. A nap of just 10 minutes can help you stay alert for over 2 hours when you’re sleep-deprived.
Out of the three types of naps, a power nap will leave you feeling the most refreshed, making them fantastic for a quick burst of energy. However, increased energy isn’t the only benefit; power naps can also up your production and creativity, leaving you ready to work on your next project.
A short-term nap, 30 to 60 minutes, is much more likely to leave you with sleep inertia because naps of this length leave you waking up in deeper stages of sleep. After a 30-minute nap, you may feel tired and confused upon waking because your body is still in a state of rest and your mind is not yet fully alert.
With your mind not completely active, you may feel even more tired than before your nap. However, this groggy feeling should dissipate and ultimately leave you feeling more refreshed.
Why does waking during deep sleep cause extra drowsiness? Deep sleep is the most therapeutic part of the sleeping process and the most difficult to wake up from; since you are sleeping between 30 to 60 minutes, you will not complete your full sleep cycle. There are no known benefits to a short-term nap, and those looking for the restorative aspects of deep sleep should take a full 90-minute REM nap.
REM naps are named because they allow you to complete the full sleep cycle of both (non-rapid eye movement) NREM and (rapid eye movement) REM sleep. Your REM sleep stage will begin approximately 90 minutes into sleep, after which your sleep cycle will be complete.
For an effective REM nap, sleep for about 90 to 110 minutes (or an hour and a half to two hours). REM sleep is also influenced by circadian rhythms, so you’re more likely to experience REM sleep in a morning nap than in an afternoon one.
There are many ways REM sleep helps your body; restoring muscle, tissue, and increasing blood flow are a few. REM sleep can also improve memory and creativity because it revitalizes both the brain and body.
However, those who are sleep deprived are likely suffering a lack of deep sleep and will likely slip into it during a longer nap. A nap this long may also come with sleep inertia, while a shorter nap under 30 minutes is more likely to avoid it.
When To Nap
The time of day you take a nap will affect the benefits you receive and whether you’ll be able to fall asleep later. It is generally best to take a midday nap, depending on the time you wake up.
For example, someone who wakes up around 7 a.m. should try to nap around 2 p.m. Napping in the middle of the day will help keep you from being unable to fall asleep at night because it evenly spaces out nap time and bedtime.
If you’re not sure when to take a nap, try using a sleep calculator to pinpoint the middle ground between your wake-up time and desired bedtime.
Benefits of Napping
While many believe naps are only beneficial for children, it’s true that adults can benefit from napping, as well. A study conducted by Harvard showed increased REM sleep and improved cognitive function when participants took short naps every day for two weeks. In particular, power naps boost energy and increase productivity. Napping may also:
- Reduce fatigue
- Increase alertness
- Boost your immune system
- Improve memory
- Help you learn new skills
- Quicken your reaction time
- Enhance your mood
- Improve your physical stamina
“A nap is as good as a night of sleep if timed correctly,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “The mid-afternoon dip in alertness and build-up of sleep pressure makes this time conducive for napping.”
“Of course, how long you nap is also important. A very long nap can leave you with sleep inertia upon awakening. Your body and brain take a while to reach a full state of alertness after waking up. This is called sleep inertia.”
I’m an adult, do I need to nap?
While adults don’t need to nap, naps come with many benefits, such as restored energy and productivity. Also, if you are suffering from a lack of sleep, napping for 90 minutes during the day can increase the overall amount of deep sleep you clock in a 24-hour period. Naps can also help improve your overall health and ability to concentrate on work during the day.
How often should you nap?
The need for daytime napping varies with age, with babies requiring the most additional sleep during the day. The need for naps gradually decreases with age, and especially dwindles after the age of 5. Curious exactly how much your child needs to nap? The recommended nap times for children and adults are as follows:
- 0 to 6 months: Two or three naps during the day, lasting from about 30 minutes to 2 hours.
- 6 to 12 months: Two naps during the day, lasting from 20 minutes to a few hours.
- 1 to 3 years: One nap in the afternoon, lasting 1 to 3 hours.
- 3 to 5 years: One nap in the afternoon, lasting 1 or 2 hours.
- 5+: There is no need to nap if getting the recommended amount of sleep per night, but may still benefit from napping.
Why do children nap more than adults?
Additional sleep is necessary for children to support their rapid mental and physical growth—both requiring the restorative aspects of sleep. Children also require more REM sleep than adults to help them sift through the day’s events and to facilitate healthy development. As a result, children spend much more time in the REM sleep stage than adults, so it is important for kids to achieve deeper, more rejuvenating rest.
What happens if I nap too late in the day?
For those with a regular 9 to 5 work schedule, experts recommend napping no later than 4 p.m., as a late nap can interfere with your sleep cycle. Napping late in the day means you might not be able to fall asleep at your regular bedtime, causing exhaustion the next day. The point of a nap is to make sure you are well-rested, so taking a nap too close to bedtime could defeat the overall purpose.
Will napping help me work more efficiently?
Absolutely! A power nap is an excellent way to improve productivity and creativity when you’re struggling to keep your eyes open. A power nap can help you work more efficiently and increase your problem-solving skills and artistic abilities.
Additionally, if you have difficulty staying asleep throughout the night, regularly taking naps can help combat sleep deprivation by providing you with little pockets of rest. Some people even pair their nap with a cup of coffee for a ‘coffee nap‘ that helps them feel a boost of alertness.
Naps are not only necessary for childhood development, but they offer many benefits to adults, as well, including increased alertness, creativity, and productivity. The length of your nap is vital to feeling refreshed; however, since your body progresses through various sleep stages while at rest, you want to time your nap right so you’re waking up during light sleep.
Short 20-minute power naps are the best for a quickly burst of energy and creativity in the middle of your day, while a REM nap is better for those who need to catch up on a deeper sleep. Choose the best nap length based on your needs, and afterward, enjoy the benefits of the perfect nap.