person napping on couch during afternoon

How Long Should I Nap? Here's What Science Says

/ December 1, 2020

It's hard to get my mind to stop racing at night, so to make sure I'm tired enough to fall asleep at bedtime, I've always avoided daytime naps at all costs. But it turns out napping does have some pretty sweet benefits that could actually help me—and you—sleep better.

Here, learn all about the benefits of napping, the best amount of time to nap, and how to take a daytime nap without ruining your sleep at night.

Benefits of napping

Top reasons to take a daytime nap include:

  • It energizes you. According to one study published in Frontiers in Psychology, participants who took a nap performed better and faster in a 5-meter shuttle run. For the athletes studied, a 45-minute nap proved to be the most effective, over 25- and 35-minute durations. This may be because athletes need more recovery time than non-athletes.
  • It improves your mood. According to a study that examined 40 participants and categorized them into nappers vs. non-nappers, the participants who napped were able to tolerate frustrating scenarios slightly longer than those who didn't nap. Participants who napped also reported feeling less impulsive.
  • It boosts your memory and cognitive function. After learning both single words and word pairs, one study had half of the participants nap after their lesson, while the other half watched DVDs. While item memory (remembering a single word) decreased for both groups, associative memory (remembering the relationship between unrelated items) ranked higher in participants who had napped.

Related: How to nap when you're not a napper

Best amount of time to nap

A nap of around 20 minutes can be beneficial and restorative, says Daniel A. Monti, MD, founding director and CEO of the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and author of Tapestry of Health.

Sleeping longer than that during the day can "reinforce a negative cycle of improper sleep at night," he says, adding that "the majority of sleep should happen during the night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to circadian rhythms."

In general, shorter naps are more efficient than longer ones. Your circadian rhythm has been carefully calibrated by millions of years of evolution, as well as more recent adaptations to cultural practices.

Therefore, timing your naps is crucial if you want to extract the maximum benefit. Taking a nap under 30 minutes prevents you from entering deep sleep and suffering sleep inertia (a feeling of drowsiness) upon waking.

Guidelines for effective naps

Ready to get napping? Follow this advice to reap the benefits—without ruining your ability to sleep at night.

Keep your nap short

As we've mentioned, shorter naps are better. But what happens if you nap for longer than 30 minutes or even 90 minutes? One study shared by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) looked at just that.

It found—alarmingly—that napping for 40 minutes or longer was "associated with a steep increase in the risk of developing metabolic syndrome—a collection of health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess fat around the waist, and high blood sugar that all increase a person's risk for heart disease."

The ACC also pointed out a study published in the June 2015 issue of Sleep that "tied naps longer than an hour to an 82% increase in cardiovascular disease," furthering the theory that longer naps are not good for your health.

Nap in the early afternoon

Per the Mayo Clinic, taking a nap later than 3 p.m. will interfere with your nighttime sleep. So it's best to nap earlier in the day if you can. With so many of us working from home these days, you might finally have time for that early afternoon nap.

Create a relaxing nap environment

Try to mimic your sleep environment as best you can: make sure the room you're napping in is cool (60-67 degrees is the optimal sleep temperature) and dark.

You may want to wear a sleep mask and put on a white noise machine or app to block out distractions. Listen to your body: When you feel that afternoon slump hit (before 3.p.m.!) try napping during this time since your body is already in drowsy mode.

Why can naps make you more tired?

If you're feeling worse after you napped than before, you probably slept for too long. Not only are longer naps not as good for your long-term health, but they're also not good for how you feel in the moment.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, longer naps can cause you to wake up feeling disoriented, drowsy, and can inhibit your ability to fall asleep at night.

The bottom line: In general, keep your naps short and take them earlier in the day for the best results. Once you learn how to nap the right way, you may start to crave that afternoon refresher.

Bedroom not conducive to an afternoon nap? Check out this list of must-have sleep essentials to get you in the mood for an afternoon siesta.

Brittany Leitner

Brittany Leitner

Brittany Leitner is a freelance writer, editor, and poet based in Brooklyn, NY. She was previously the senior lifestyle editor at Elite Daily and managing editor at The Dr. Oz Show. Her work covers health, wellness, beauty, and travel. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @britariail.

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