How to Power Nap
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.
Feeling sluggish and groggy in the middle of the afternoon is perfectly normal. In fact, sleep experts say your body is ready for a break about eight hours after you wake up. This need for an early afternoon nap is caused by a dip in your circadian rhythm, which is what regulates your sleep schedule based on the light and dark of the day.
A power nap is a great way to restore some of your energy to get through the rest of your day. We’ve assembled a short guide to help you figure out if intermittent daytime naps are right for you. In our guide, we’ll also discuss how to properly take a power nap and the benefits you can reap from taking an afternoon nap the right way.
What is a Power Nap?
While you rest, your brain goes through four stages of sleep—two lighter stages and two deeper stages. A power nap lasts around 20 minutes long because it allows you to sleep through the first two stages of sleep. Typically you wake before slipping to the later sleep stages, though it is possible to experience deep sleep in a power nap.
During light sleep, your body relaxes and your breathing and heart rate slow. While it’s easy to be woken up in Stages 1 and 2 of sleep, your body and brain are still at rest, which allows you to wake with a bit more energy.
To avoid sleep inertia and the post-nap groggy feeling, avoid sleeping through to stage 3 and REM. Usually, you reach Stage 3 of sleep around 30 minutes after dozing off—which is why power naps are around 20 minutes.
Waking up in a deep sleep stage can leave you more tired than you felt pre-nap, as sleep inertia can cause you to feel disoriented, lethargic, and most of all, fatigued. That’s why timing your power nap right is crucial for success.
But remember, habitual napping is not a solution for poor sleeping habits. A power nap cannot replace the health benefits of a good night’s sleep. Daytime naps should only be used as supplemental rest, as excessive napping and oversleeping can lead to a disrupted sleep cycle, insomnia, and overall health issues like obesity, anxiety, and heart disease.
“Sleep is not just something we do every night,” notes Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “In fact, sleep serves a vital physiological function and is probably the single most important factor in exercise recovery.”
“Besides helping the body to recover from fatigue by repairing processes, sleep also plays a vital role in regulating physiology, cognitive function, and mood. And it is worth noting that a nap can help if we have not got a good night’s sleep.”
Is a Power Nap Good for Everyone?
Power naps are a great way to recharge your body and mind when you’re feeling sluggish and needing a mid-day break. However, it’s not a good idea for everyone to take a post-lunchtime snooze.
If you struggle with insomnia or regularly have trouble falling asleep at night, a power nap may exacerbate your sleep problems. In these cases, it’s best to push through tired afternoons in an effort to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
How Long Should I Power Nap For?
The sweet spot for a power nap is around 20 minutes because you begin to fall into deeper sleep stages around 30 minutes after falling asleep. If you set a timer for 25 minutes, you should have enough time to relax, fall asleep, then get the full 20 minutes of sleep you need to feel refreshed.
See our guide on the best nap length for more information.
When is the Best Time for a Power Nap?
It’s best to time your power nap around 7 to 8 hours before bed to avoid affecting your night’s sleep. Napping in the middle of the day gives you enough time to expend the energy gained before your regular bedtime. Typically, we begin to feel sluggish 7 hours after waking because of the dip in our sleep-wake cycle—a nap 7 hours waking and 7 hours before bed cuts your day exactly in half.
What’s the Best Way to Power Nap?
Any break you can take in your day can afford you some extra energy—it can be helpful to simply close your eyes and rest for about 20 minutes. However, if you want to reap the full benefits of power napping, it’s best to find a quiet, dark place to kick back and do some planning beforehand.
Decide Your Time
We suggest scheduling time in your day for a nap so it doesn’t get shoved to the wayside for other things. This also can help you feel less guilty about taking a quick break.
When it’s already scheduled in your calendar, you know you have some time to allot. Before your day gets busy, carve out a small window when you won’t be interrupted so you can enjoy your power nap in peace.
Create Your Space
Make your napping space comfortable. Working from home makes for ideal conditions as you can lie down on your bed for maximum relaxation. If you’re worried about getting too cozy and oversleeping, you can use a couch or recliner, instead.
It’s best to make the bedroom set-up as dark as possible and free of any distractions. Close the drapes, turn off the TV, and silence your phone before tucking in for a brief snooze—you only have a short time to fall asleep, distractions and excess lighting can make drifting off more difficult.
If you work in an office, there’s nothing wrong with taking refuge in your car away from the hustle and bustle of your workspace. Some employers have taken notice of the benefits of power naps and the ties between sleep and success and started providing nap rooms or pods. Take advantage of a nap room or nap pod if it’s available.
Set Your Timer
Setting a timer is crucial. Once you’re asleep, it’s easy to let your body fully relax and doze off to a deep sleep. Make sure that your timer is set for 25 minutes and the volume is loud enough to wake you. This amount of time should be plenty of time to relax and enjoy a light sleep.
Drink Some Caffeine
If you’re looking for an extra boost after your nap, you can quickly drink some caffeine in the form of a cup of coffee, soda, or an energy drink. Depending on how caffeine affects you, it’s best to take your “coffee nap” earlier in the day so it doesn’t keep you up too late at night.
See our guide on how caffeine affect your sleep for more information.
Resist Hitting Snooze
When you’re coming out of a power nap, it’s important to get right back to work. Don’t let yourself nod back off to sleep or hit the snooze button.
If you’re having a hard time coming out of nap mode, get up and get some sunshine, go for a short walk, or even splash a bit of water on your face. Do whatever you need to do to let your body know that it’s time to get moving again.
What Are Some Benefits to Power Napping?
While some extra energy is great to get you through the rest of your day, there are other benefits to power napping. Studies have shown that power napping is not only a great way for your mind and body to make it through the day, but improved cognition, memory, and mood are just a few results of intermittent dozing.
Boosted Learning and Memory
Sleep is a time for your brain to organize and save important information. A power nap allows your brain time to process and retain the information you learned in the morning while building strong connections between neurons.
Enhanced Mood and Reduced Stress
Lack of sleep can cause stress, irritability, and more severe disorders like anxiety and depression. A power nap is a great way to reset your mood for the rest of the day. Feeling rested can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations and prevent impulsivity.
Reduced Fatigue, Improved Accuracy in the Workplace
A workday will take its toll on your overall energy level. Feeling tired and sluggish makes it difficult to focus and remain productive. After a short rest, it’s easier to concentrate and you’ll likely notice improved reading ability and creativity.
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
One or two power naps each week have been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Although, you shouldn’t take this to mean more napping is better. There has been no such connection made with more naps for longer periods of time.
What if I Don’t Sleep During My Power Nap?
There’s nothing wrong with simply taking a quick rest. Even if you don’t fall asleep, you can come back from your short break and enjoy more energy than you would have had without any downtime at all. Giving your mind and body a chance to relax and recuperate for even a short time can help you to feel re-energized and ready to tackle the midday slump.
What is the shortest nap you should take?
Short naps don’t provide a lot of benefits because your body doesn’t have much time to rest, but if you’re struggling to stay awake, a 5-minute nap may be what you need to feel more energized. Power naps are thought of as the best “short nap” because they’re quick and provide several health benefits. However, any chance you have to grab a quick break can’t hurt when you’re feeling exhausted.
How can I nap without oversleeping?
Hitting snooze and oversleeping is tempting when you’re feeling especially tired, but the best way to avoid oversleeping is to set a timer and stay strong when it’s time to get up. Set your timer for 25 minutes and ensure it’s loud enough to wake you. Then, when you hear the timer buzzing, get up right away and avoid hitting snooze.
Is a two-hour nap too long?
If you nap for more than 90 minutes, you may fall back into deep sleep stages. A two-hour nap may cause you to feel fatigued because it has you waking up in a deep stage of sleep. Plus, two-hour naps can hurt your sleep schedule and make it difficult to fall asleep at night. If you want to take a “long nap,” we suggest snoozing for 90 minutes at most. At the 90-minute mark, you will have completed a full sleep cycle and should wake feeling rested.
Is a 45-minute nap good?
We suggest avoiding 45-minute naps because letting your body sleep past 20 to 25 minutes allows you to enter deeper stages of sleep, and waking up from deep sleep is harder than waking up from light sleep. Once you’re deeply snoozing, you’re more likely to wake up feeling groggy and tired. Even if you have the time for a 45-minute nap, we suggest waking up after 20 minutes to avoid feeling sluggish.
Should I take a nap or go to bed early?
When choosing whether or not to nap, think about your sleeping habits at night. Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep? Are you prone to staying up late and feeling tired in the morning? If so, we wouldn’t suggest napping.
Instead, you’re best to push through the day and go to bed early so you can keep your sleep schedule on track. Naps are best for those who can fall asleep easily at night and have overall good sleeping habits because they’re less likely to negatively impact those sleeper’s sleep-wake cycles.
You can quickly score a boost of energy with a properly executed power nap. However, make sure that you’re getting a full seven to nine hours of sleep each night, which is how much sleep the average adult needs.
Healthy sleeping habits allow you to gain the most from a power nap because extra sleep only serves as a midday “boost” when you’re getting the necessary amount of shut-eye at night. Power naps can be good, but they aren’t the solution to bad sleep habits.
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