There’s a reason the phrase “power nap” exists. Just as your energy starts to fade during the post-lunch slump, a short, well-timed nap can feel like unleashing a super power, boosting your energy and making you feel more alert.
However, there’s more to napping than you may realize. Taking a nap can make you feel less sleepy, but you need the right strategy. We discuss everything you need to know about napping and best practices to help you get the biggest benefit from your daytime snooze.
Benefits of Napping
The longer you stay awake, the more tired you feel, but a daytime nap can revitalize you. This may seem obvious to anyone who’s pulled an all-nighter. But napping can also help reverse the normal decline in mental sharpness that accumulates as the day wears on. In fact, napping offers a wide variety of benefits.
- Reduces sleepiness: Even after a night of plentiful sleep, you naturally feel increasingly tired as the day wears on. A short daytime nap can relieve this sleepiness, making you feel more alert and ready to take on the remaining challenges of the day.
- Boosts memory: Napping helps boost memory consolidation, which is the process of converting short-term memories into long-term memories. Daytime naps also enhance working memory, the ability to retain and easily access small bits of information.
- Improves mood: A daytime nap may have a noticeable effect on your mood. This is especially pronounced in young children who tend to have trouble controlling their emotions after missing a nap. But adults may also have an easier time regulating their emotions after a good midday snooze.
- Increases learning: Napping improves the early stages of memory processing and learning. This phenomenon may help explain why young adults who nap more tend to perform better academically.
Can Napping Count as Sleep?
A daytime nap is not a replacement for a full night’s sleep. Napping can help relieve fatigue, but it can’t reverse the negative effects of chronic sleep loss.
Sleep plays a critical role in your overall health. Nearly every system in your body needs sleep to function well, from your heart to your immune system. Getting adequate, quality sleep each night helps clear out waste from your brain, keeping your mind sharp during the day.
Your body has two systems that control when and how much you sleep: the circadian rhythm and sleep drive. Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that regulates your body temperature, metabolism, and hormone levels, making you feel sleepy when the sun goes down and more alert as the sun rises. Your sleep drive keeps track of how long you’ve been awake, making you more tired the longer you go without sleep.
As you sleep, your brain remains active. There are four stages of sleep: stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The first three stages are often called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Each stage has a unique pattern of brain activity. For example, dreaming typically occurs during REM sleep while stage 3 is responsible for restorative deep sleep.
In adults, a nap typically includes all the stages of sleep but in different proportions than regular nightly sleep. Naps are a useful stopgap for people who struggle to get enough sleep at night. But health experts agree that napping does not provide the same restorative power as a full night’s rest.
Are There Drawbacks to Napping?
Napping is generally a positive habit that can help fight fatigue, but, in some cases, may worsen nighttime sleep issues or signal an underlying sleep disorder.
Health experts recommend avoiding daytime naps if you regularly experience trouble sleeping at night. Too much napping, especially later in the day, reduces sleep drive, which is the need for sleep that grows stronger the longer you stay awake. This can be an issue for people who regularly have trouble falling asleep, like those who experience insomnia.
Excessive daytime napping can also disrupt sleep in children. Children have higher sleep needs than adults, but their nap schedule should take sleep drive into account. Try to schedule your child’s naps four hours apart, especially before their nighttime sleep.
In adults, frequent, unexpected napping during the day may also be a sign of a sleep disorder. Many different sleep disorders can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and lead to napping. It’s important to speak with your doctor about your symptoms so you can receive an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.
Lastly, there’s the nap paradox, the phenomenon that naps are linked to both health benefits as well as negative health outcomes, especially in older adults. However, there is no direct evidence that napping is harmful. Excessive napping may simply be a symptom of other health issues rather than a cause, but more research is needed to untangle this paradox.
Types of Naps
The next time you lie down for a siesta, consider why you decided to take a nap. Different types of naps can help achieve different goals.
- Enjoyment: While naps carry many benefits, some people simply enjoy the pleasure and relaxation of a good nap.
- Essential: These are naps that you take to help you recover from an illness or injury.
- Fulfillment: Infants and young children need much more sleep than adults. Fulfillment naps help young ones hit their sleep goals during their most important developmental years.
- Recovery: While a nap can’t substitute for a good night’s sleep, a recovery nap can help curb fatigue from sleep loss.
- Proactive: A proactive nap can help you feel more rested when you know your schedule might interfere with getting a full night of sleep.
Another practical way to categorize your naps is by length. Long and short naps can each serve a useful purpose depending on your circumstances.
- Short naps (15 to 30 minutes): Short naps during the day can help increase alertness without making you feel groggy afterward.
- Long naps (more than 30 minutes): Naps longer than 30 minutes can be useful in certain situations. Babies and toddlers usually need longer naps to reach their sleep goals for proper development. Longer naps can also be helpful for adults recovering from an illness or working long hours.
Napping by Age
The need for napping evolves throughout a person’s lifetime. Naps help young children get the huge amount of sleep they need for healthy development. As people age, napping remains a common habit and can improve mental performance.
Newborns and infants need an enormous amount of sleep to support their rapid growth. However, it takes them a while to develop the structures in the brain that allow older kids and adults to sleep peacefully through the night. Babies — especially newborns — also have to feed regularly, even through the night. As many new parents know, all of this means babies tend to fall asleep and wake up many times during the day and night.
As children mature, so do their sleep patterns. Older children tend to need less sleep overall and can sleep through the night. Children also spend less time napping during the day as they grow.
Napping habits continue to change into adulthood. Napping is more common in older adults than younger adults. However, in young adults, napping may help contribute to better academic performance. And while many adults prefer napping in the afternoon, older adults are more likely to nap at random during the day due to changes in their circadian rhythms.
Age in years
Recommended hours of sleep per 24 hours
0 to 3 months
14 to 17 hours
4 to 11 months
12 to 15 hours
1 to 2 years
11 to 14 hours
3 to 5 years
10 to 13 hours
6 to 12 years
9 to 11 hours
13 to 18 years
8 to 10 hours
18 to 25 years
7 to 9 hours
26 to 64 years
7 to 9 hours
Over 65 years
7 to 8 hours
How Napping During the Day Affects Sleep at Night
If you don’t plan your naps carefully, your daytime slumber could make it harder to fall asleep at night. Napping can help you feel more energized, but carefully schedule when and how long you nap to avoid nighttime sleep issues.
When Should I Nap?
Experts generally recommend napping before 3 p.m. Napping in the early to mid afternoon allows you to get the energy-boosting benefits of a quick snooze without disrupting your nighttime sleep.
Many adults experience an obvious drop in energy in the afternoon called the afternoon slump. Eating lunch can contribute to feeling sluggish. But there’s also evidence that the body’s circadian rhythm causes energy levels to naturally decline in the afternoon.
A midday nap can help you fight the post-lunch dip and give you a much-needed energy boost. A quick nap relieves fatigue, makes you feel more alert, and improves your mood and performance at work.
However, napping later in the day may be counterproductive. Naps in the late afternoon or evening may make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. And if you regularly experience difficulties sleeping, it’s best to avoid daytime napping altogether.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
How Long Should I Nap?
Most adults should try to limit their daytime naps to 30 minutes or shorter. A short midday sleep between 15 and 30 minutes can deliver the benefits of napping with minimal grogginess after waking. Naps longer than 30 minutes can also make it harder to fall asleep at night.
While shorter daytime naps are ideal for most situations, nap length can vary by need. Longer naps are appropriate for infants and children under 5 years old who need more sleep than adults. Longer naps may also be useful if you work long hours or are recovering from being sick.
Just remember, it can be harder to wake up from a longer nap. Make sure to give yourself extra time to fully awaken before getting back to work on important tasks.
Tips to Take the Best Nap
With just 15 to 30 minutes to spare, it’s important to get the most out of your midday nap.
- Optimize your nap environment: It’s easier to fall asleep when you’re in a comfortable, cool, quiet room that’s not too bright. But because naps happen in the middle of day, you might need to be a bit more resourceful. Lay down in bed if you can or find a comfortable chair. Use an eye mask and ear plugs to block out surrounding light and noise.
- Schedule your naps: Part of good sleep hygiene is having a predictable sleep schedule. If you find yourself napping regularly, try to nap around the same time each day.
- Keep it short and sweet: Naps lasting around 20 minutes are enough to boost your energy and cognitive performance. Longer naps can make you feel groggy and tired after waking up. Try to limit your naps to no more than 30 minutes. Use an alarm if you’re worried you might oversleep.
- Get a boost from caffeine: Avoid any post-nap grogginess with a small cup of coffee or about 100 milligrams of caffeine right before or after your nap. If you have some caffeine right before a short nap, the effects can begin to kick in just as you’re waking up.