How Long Should I Nap? Let’s Ask the Coaches

How Long Should I Nap?

It’s been a long week… or maybe just a long day, and you’re trying to prop open your eyes to get just a little more done. But it’s not working. Maybe you tossed and turned throughout the night, couldn’t get your mind to shut down, or your sleep got interrupted by a kid, partner, or pet that needed your support. Should you give in and get a little midday shuteye? And if so, you may be asking, “How long should I nap?”

Or perhaps you just heard from a co-worker or read an article on productivity and learned that napping can enhance performance and output, and you just want to give it a try. Still begging the question, “How long should I nap?”

Indeed, napping at the wrong time of day or for too long can keep you up all night and lead to a vicious cycle. In short, napping isn’t necessarily good for everyone. Some folks find it impossible to sleep during the day, no matter how tired they are. Others can struggle to find sleep when they’re not in their own bed. Naps can also have negative effects. For example, after waking up after a nap, you could feel groggy or disoriented (otherwise known as “sleep inertia”).

On the other hand, napping can be beneficial for many. Some of the benefits regular nappers enjoy include:

  • Increased relaxation
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Improved focus and alertness
  • Better mood
  • Sharpened cognitive skills
  • Quicker reaction times
  • Improved memory
  • Reduced impulsivity
  • Increased athletic performance
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved productivity

Is Napping Right For You?

Naps are a great way to give the mind and body a chance to rest and recover during a hectic day. But they aren’t for everyone.

How do you know if napping is right for you? If you are able to sleep during the day, then naptime may be in order if you:

  • Are unexpectedly tired and lack focus, feel sluggish, or are irritable
  • Have been dealing with sleep loss (or are expecting it) due to a changing work schedule or travel
  • Find you have increased creativity or productivity after a nap and want to make it part of your daily routine
  • Are dealing with a health problem—if you’ve got a cold, the flu, or other sickness, your body may need extra rest as you recover

If you find that you are suddenly experiencing greater daytime fatigue and you don’t know why, though, it’s worth it to check in with a doctor. Daytime fatigue can be a sign of a medical condition. If you are napping to avoid uncomfortable feelings or to “cope” and it’s interfering with your ability to function in life, then napping could be unhealthy for you. Again, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor or healthcare practitioner to discuss if napping is dragging you down.

How Long Should I Nap?

If you decide that yes, it’s time for a nap, then it’s time to figure out how to best nap. Here are six key tips:

1. Determine Why You’re Napping

A quick 10- to 30-minute nap is enough to help you refresh and recharge—without feeling groggy. Taking a short “power nap” keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep, so you have the energy you need to charge through the rest of your day.

If you sleep longer than 30 minutes, you’ll likely enter deep sleep. These longer sleep sessions may help improve memory, creativity, and even decision making. But the cost, again, may be feeling sluggish, groggy, and having a difficult time waking up. This is especially true if you only have 60 minutes to sleep. If you need a longer nap, see if you can take it through a whole sleep cycle (including REM sleep). This likely means you’ll need around 90 to 110 minutes to wake up feeling rested rather than groggy.

Remember, however, that naps are meant to supplement nighttime sleep—not replace it. So, if your longer naps are interfering with nighttime sleep, it’s time to reassess. Interestingly, some people with insomnia, hypersomnia, or narcolepsy actually find that scheduled naptimes may help with their sleep issues.

You may need to experiment to get the timing right—to discover exactly how long you need to nap to wake up feeling refreshed and awake instead of more fatigued than when you started your nap. And this may change over time—so be willing to adjust if you find your naptime no longer gives you the energy you need.

2. Set an Alarm

Whether you choose a power nap, or a longer nap for improved memory and creativity, set an alarm so you avoid oversleeping (and end up feeling groggy and unmotivated). Too much daytime napping can also make you feel more fatigued. So, you may want to try shortening or deleting your naps altogether if you are waking up more tired.

3. Nap During Mid-Day

Should you take a nap when you get home from work or school? Not if you don’t want your nap to interfere with your nighttime sleep. What about sometime in the morning? Probably not, as you likely won’t be sleepy enough to actually fall asleep.

Instead, shoot to nap before 2 or 3 p.m. Of course, that may differ for those who work unusual hours (e.g., the swing shift) or if you’re napping to recover from illness or during pregnancy. Again, be willing to adjust to find the best time to nap for you.

4. Make It Part of Your Routine

If you’re napping on occasion due to a rough night, then skip this section. But if you’re looking for the benefits of regular napping, make it part of your regular routine by picking the same time every day for your midday snooze. This can work especially well for a power nap after lunch, for example.

Another option is a “caffeine nap.” Start by drinking a cup or two of coffee (quickly), and then immediately lie down for your nap. The caffeine takes around 20 minutes to kick in, so many people find that they’re mentally refreshed, sharp, and ready to go as soon as they wake up.

5. Keep it Restful

If you’re on a long road trip and your eyes start drooping, then pulling over and sleeping in your car is completely acceptable. Otherwise, do your best to find a dark, quiet, comfortable room with minimal distractions for a more restful nap.

6. Don’t Rush It

After you’ve woken up, don’t just rush right back to work. If possible, allow your body and mind some time to wake up before diving back into the day.

Answering “How Long Should I Nap” for Yourself

Choosing to nap, or not to nap, really depends on the person, on why you’re napping, and even if you have the time to nap. When asking yourself “how long should I nap,” first decide why you’re napping. Whether you go with a power nap or a longer nap, regular naps have been shown to have healthful benefits, including reduced stress and potentially decreasing the risk of disease, including heart disease.