What’s the Best Nap Length?

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Young children might fight nap time, but most adults welcome the chance for a mid-afternoon snooze. “Napping can help people feel refreshed, energized, and increase their focus,” explains Joseph M. Dzierzewski, PhD and Vice President of Research and Scientific Affairs at the National Sleep Foundation

But he says napping also has the potential to disrupt nighttime sleep. To minimize that risk, both the timing and duration of the nap are key. Ahead, find everything to know about the best nap length, plus the best time of day for a bit of shut-eye.

How Long Should You Nap?

The general guidance on nap length is to sleep for either 30 minutes or 90 minutes. A nap of around 30 minutes helps you avoid deeper stages of sleep that could leave you feeling groggy when you wake up. On the other hand, for some people, 90 minutes is an ideal nap duration because it allows the body to move through all the sleep stages without interrupting deep sleep.

Napping 101

The benefits and drawbacks of napping can vary from one person to the next. Here’s what to keep in mind if you’re considering the wisdom of incorporating a nap into your schedule.

Potential benefits

The most obvious benefit of a nap is to help reduce fatigue during the day by combating drowsiness. For shift workers in particular, naps can be a particularly effective method of staying alert. According to one study, scheduled naps in the workplace can help reduce drowsiness in safety-sensitive industries that require around-the-clock work, such as medical care. 

“While there is a stigma about napping as being lazy, it is misplaced,” clinical sleep educator Lauri Leadley says. “Napping actually increases productivity.” 

Some evidence suggests that daytime napping can boost cognitive function, thereby improving workplace performance. It may also improve memory. One interesting, albeit small, 2019 study looked at the effects of taking a short nap following studying. Researchers found that a one-hour afternoon nap between study sessions improved retention rates compared to those who spent that same timeframe studying.

There may be health benefits, too. Some research finds that afternoon naps are associated with reduced blood pressure and can help minimize bodily and mental tension, which could reduce the risk of heart disease. There’s also a psychological component related to taking a break from the stress of the day, which may help reduce anxiety.

Potential drawbacks

For all the benefits that a nap can offer, there are potential drawbacks as well. Napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep at night, especially if you’re napping in the late afternoon or early evening or sleeping for a long time. 

Some people find it difficult to wake up from a nap. They may feel groggy and disoriented, which is the result of sleep inertia. It’s associated with a slower reaction time, reduced short-term memory, and reduced cognitive function. 

How Long Should Your Nap Be?

You’ll typically want to aim for a nap length of either about 30 minutes or around 90 minutes. “Keeping naps to around 30 minutes is a good way to avoid drifting into deeper stages of sleep,” says Dzierzewski. Waking from deep sleep can leave you feeling groggy and exacerbate sleepiness.

“Alternatively, napping for 90 minutes might allow a person to cycle through all the various sleep stages, waking refreshed and ready to tackle the day,” says Dzierzewski. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, both short (15 to 30 minutes) and long (90 minutes) naps can help increase attention.

Napping Tips

Since so much depends on when and how you nap, it’s important to plan your naps with care. That’s the best way to influence how refreshed and energized you feel afterward. 

Time Your Nap Appropriately

“Most people experience a natural afternoon dip in alertness sometime between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.,” says Dzierzewski. “Taking a nap during this timeframe often is the best approach.” 

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of napping in the middle of the afternoon. In that case, Dzierzewski recommends keeping naps to 8 hours or so before a planned bedtime. That way, you benefit from a boost in energy and productivity without potentially disrupting nighttime sleep.

Choose Your Nap Site With Care

Managing light, temperature, and sound are key components of sleep hygiene, regardless of when you’re catching some zzz’s. Finding a dark, cool, quiet place to sleep should be the goal, but be prepared to get creative. If you don’t have access to your bedroom, sleep accessories like an eye mask, earplugs, and a travel pillow can go a long way. Research suggests it can be helpful to make an effort to lie down whenever possible, instead of trying to sleep in a reclined position.

Make Sure To Set An Alarm

Since you want to keep your nap to either 30 minutes (or less) or 90 minutes, make sure to set an alarm. When it’s time to get up, get up promptly—don’t hit that snooze button! Standing, stretching, and moving around will help you feel awake much faster.

Consider Pairing Your Nap With Caffeine

If you drink coffee or other forms of caffeine, you might be able to time your caffeine consumption to benefit from the energy boost after you wake up. To do this, try having caffeine before you nap and set an alarm for 20 minutes. This helps you get some rest, and lets you wake up when the caffeine’s effects are kicking in.

FAQs about Napping

Is it good to take a 45-minute nap?

The general recommendation for a short daytime nap is no longer than 30 minutes. Sleeping longer than that can lead to grogginess because you’re more likely to wake up from deep sleep.

Should I nap for 20 or 90 minutes?

It depends on your time constraints and why you’re napping in the first place. A very short nap is a better option if you need to be alert and energized for a particular errand or activity. If the goal is making up for a compromised night of sleep and you have the time, 90 minutes is likely a better option.

What is the 30-90 rule for the perfect nap?

The 30-90 rule for the perfect nap is a reference to appropriate nap lengths that avoid the groggy feeling upon waking. To reap the benefits of napping, according to the 30-90 rule, naps should either be 30 minutes or less, or they should be at least 90 minutes. Since naps under 30 minutes only cycle through the lightest sleep stages, and naps of 90 minutes or more allow you to cycle through all the sleep stages, you avoid the grogginess associated with waking up from a deep sleep.

What is the best nap length for energy?

To boost your energy, a shorter nap is generally better. Sleeping for 20 to 30 minutes can help you feel refreshed and recharged.

Bottom Line

There can be plenty of benefits to a midday nap, but it’s important to be mindful of how and when you sleep during the day. Naps shouldn’t be a substitute for poor nighttime sleep quality, either. “If someone finds themselves simply unable to keep their eyes open throughout the day, this could be a sign of an underlying health or sleep condition or could be indicative of chronic insufficient sleep,” says Dzierzewski. In that case, it’s important to speak with your doctor.

Jessica Timmons