Napping during the day has long been given the side-eye. When caught snoozing on the train, in the car passenger seat, or at your desk (although there are very good reasons for work-related napping), you are hit with judgments ranging from low-key disapproval to outright scorn. After all, you must be lazy if you’re napping during the day instead of doing something “productive.”
But the thing is, napping is a great way to chip away at sleep debt (the amount of sleep your body missed out on in the past 14 days). And, it may be the secret weapon that gives you the edge over others. From supercharging your cognitive performance to boosting your confidence levels, the benefits of napping are far and wide. How long you nap during the day powerfully impacts how well you feel and function. Ahead, we show you how to find your best nap length and why timing is actually more important than how long you spend snoozing.
Unlike our American culture that views naps as a lazy man’s act, certain countries are religiously dedicated to the art of napping. Take Spain, for example. They hold daytime naps in such great esteem they even created a word for it: siesta. The same goes with the Italians, who refer to napping as “riposo.”
No matter which name naps go by, the fact remains there are numerous benefits associated with it. First, napping is a viable way to pay down sleep debt during the day, if going to bed early or sleeping in isn’t in the cards. After all, you don’t want to face the consequences of sleep deprivation, such as poor mood or trouble focusing the next day and an increased risk of heart disease in the long run.
Well-timed afternoon naps also help counter fatigue at work, in school, and everything else you do. Feeling more energetic means you are a few steps closer to becoming your best self. On a more important note, naps boost alertness, potentially acting as a lifesaver — one study discovered that napping before a night shift could reduce car accidents by as much as 48%.
Last but not least, napping provides several mental and emotional boosts in the form of:
Given the ample benefits of daytime snoozing, it would be remiss not to take advantage of afternoon naps to better your life in all the ways that matter. But you should know there is a right way to nap. You need to identify your nap goals to determine the best nap length for you. Length isn’t the only thing to keep in mind, though. Timing matters just as much, if not more.
When deciding the ideal nap length for you, pause and reflect on your goals. Perhaps you’re interested in a “replacement” nap because you didn't get enough sleep last night. Or maybe you anticipate a later sleep schedule that day and want to nap and preempt sleep debt — sleep scientists call it prophylactic napping. It could also be that you aren’t sleep-deprived (and won’t be for the foreseeable future) and simply want to refresh yourself with an “appetitive” nap.
Here’s what science has to say about the effectiveness of these three nap types:
On the whole, naps reduce drowsiness and increase alertness. Different nap lengths have varying benefits in terms of mood, alertness, and performance. If you need to stay sharp, feel confident, or internalize new information, try a power nap of 10-20 minutes. Meanwhile, more sophisticated thinking skills (like planning, organizing, and analyzing) will need a longer snooze of 40-90 minutes. Similarly, creative-thinking and emotion-processing skills rely on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which typically appears in long naps of at least 60 minutes.
The longer you snooze, the more lasting the nap benefits are. According to the Journal of Progress in Brain Research, the advantages of short naps usually peter out after one to three hours, while those of longer naps can last up to several hours.
That being said, because catnaps are less likely to set off slow-wave sleep (deep sleep), the trade-off is little to no sleep inertia. You probably won't feel groggy upon awakening. Short naps may be more ideal if you have to hit the ground running the moment you wake up. Meanwhile, the odds of deep sleep are higher with longer naps — a 30-minute nap has 7.5 times more slow-wave activity than a 10-minute nap. This makes grogginess a likely side effect of extended shut-eye.
Ever envy someone for nodding off the moment they close their eyes? It could be a sign of high sleep debt or an indication of their sleepability — how good a napper they are. The scientific literature highlights some people have "high sleepability without sleepiness," meaning that they are very good at napping even when they aren't sleep-deprived. More research among elite athletes further supports the concept of sleeping on demand, in which case, the ease of napping is not necessarily a sign of high sleep debt.
Before your next nap, think about where you rank on the sleepability scale. If you can't nap as and when you like, add some buffer time to account for sleep latency (how long you take to fall asleep). For example, if you want to take a 20-minute nap but know that you roughly need 15-30 minutes to doze off, free up 35-50 minutes in your schedule to make time for your siesta.
As we’ve mentioned, the benefits of naps can include better memory, mood, and performance. But you may be surprised to learn there is a wrong way to nap. Nap timing is even more crucial than the length of your nap — you don’t want to nap too late in the day and have trouble falling asleep at night. To understand the risk, we need to look at sleep homeostasis, a process that balances your biological urges for sleep and wakefulness.
Every moment that you are awake, a drowsiness-inducing compound known as adenosine builds up in your brain. Rising levels of adenosine positively correlate to increasing sleep pressure, which helps you fall asleep at night (or during a daytime nap). During sleep, your brain purges adenosine, relieving sleep pressure.
As you can imagine, a nap releases some of the sleep pressure you’ve accumulated since waking up in the morning. When you nap too close to your target bedtime, you are more likely to enter deep sleep and diminish too much sleep pressure. Afterward, your body doesn’t have enough time to build up sufficient sleep pressure again. Naturally, you find it much harder to drift off during your Melatonin Window at night (the window of time in which your body produces peak levels of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone).
You end up tossing and turning in bed due to increased sleep latency (you take longer to fall asleep). To worsen the issue, you’re also facing greater sleep fragmentation as you’re waking up more often in the middle of the night. Consequently, you rack up even more sleep debt than the previous day. Feeling exceptionally tired, you’re more likely to succumb to a daytime nap (or two), triggering a vicious cycle of napping too late and incurring more sleep debt.
To avoid this undesirable scenario, research advocates for napping during the afternoon dip of your circadian rhythm (your internal body clock), which usually occurs between early to late afternoon. This is the window of time when sleep latency is at its lowest and daytime sleepiness is at its highest, making it that much easier to nod off.
The exact timing of your afternoon dip is highly dependent on individual characteristics, like the amount of sleep debt you're carrying and the chronotype you belong to (your biological inclinations for sleeping and waking).
A high sleep debt will undoubtedly deepen your energy dip, making you drowsier than usual, and encourage an earlier nap time. Your chronotype influences when your afternoon slump happens. Morning people, whose body clocks run shorter than 24 hours, usually experience a more pronounced energy dip from noon to early afternoon. Night owls, on the other hand, may only feel the lull from mid-afternoon onward.
The bottom line is, avoid napping too late in the day or too close to your bedtime so you don’t delay nighttime sleep. The RISE app can help you decide the best time for a nap. It shows the timing of your afternoon dip, based on your unique chronobiology, on the Energy screen.
When it comes to napping, you can get too much of a good thing. Relating back to our earlier point of napping and sleep pressure, a long nap increases your odds of entering deep sleep, subsequently lessening some of the much-needed sleep pressure for nighttime sleep. This is backed up by a small study involving nine healthy adults. Its findings show that a 90-minute nap (akin to a full sleep cycle) reduced nighttime sleep efficiency (how much time you are asleep while in bed) by 2.4%.
As such, we recommend not going over a 90-minute nap during your afternoon dip. It will give you the best chance of cycling through all stages of sleep (non-REM and REM sleep) to get the most out of your siesta without disrupting your natural sleep patterns too much.
Yes, naps can help pay down sleep debt, amp up alertness and focus, or refresh yourself during a particularly long day. But that’s not to say you should ditch nighttime sleep in favor of afternoon naps. Naps may help relieve some sleep pressure, but they won’t relieve all of it due to the relatively shorter time frame compared to a full night’s sleep. In fact, research shows napping may not help you recover much if you’re already massively sleep-deprived. And to reiterate our earlier point on diminishing sleep pressure, you don’t want to nap too late or too long at the risk of sabotaging your nighttime sleep.
Instead, look to napping as the sidekick to sleeping at night in order to meet your sleep need (the genetically determined amount of sleep your body needs). Where naturalistic, healthy sleep is necessary for the bulk of your sleep need, your daytime nap acts as a safety net for catching up on sleep debt.
Now that you know how to choose the best nap length for you, it's time to create the best nap environment to doze off effortlessly. A dark, cave-like space at a temperature between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (the exact same conditions for optimal nighttime sleep) is most ideal for an afternoon snooze. Just as you would at nighttime, keep out noise and distractions with noise-blocking earplugs and a light-blocking eye mask.
Contrary to what most of society thinks, napping is generally beneficial, from productivity and performance to health and wellness. Most importantly, its benefits are visible in the immediate term — better energy levels to be your best self at work and at home. Napping the wrong way, though, can be a double-edged sword.
When it comes to the best nap length, start with your objectives — are you trying to catch up on sleep or planning to stay up tonight? Also, keep your “sleepability” skills in mind to decide how much buffer time you need when dozing off. Last but not least, be cautious about when you nap. If you nap too late in the day, you may have trouble falling and staying asleep that night, which can undo the benefits you gained from the nap. For best results, nod off during your afternoon dip (the RISE app will tell you when it is).
If you’re new to the napping game or want to finesse your napping skills, we recommend starting with a 15-minute nap today. Gradually up your nap duration in similar increments and gauge how you feel. Log your daily nap time in the RISE app to pinpoint the best nap length that gives you better energy all day.
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