Taking a nap is one of life’s great joys. It’s pure, it’s comforting, it’s refreshing. It’s like being wrapped in a hug from the heavens. Okay, so maybe we’re being a little hyperbolic. But if you love sleep as much as we do, you can’t really oversell the glory of nap time — which is to say we take it pretty seriously. And, accordingly, we wanted to know what the best nap length is in order to enjoy the maximum benefits of nap time. For new moms — and not so new moms — everywhere, quick naps while the baby is sleeping are essential to maintain energy for whatever the rest of the day and night may bring. And if your little one has the sniffles or teething or is going through yet another sleep regression, it may be the only rest we get that day.
For the rest of us, there’s really no such thing as a bad nap. However, we can probably all agree that some are more satisfying than others. For example, no one wants to wake up from a power nap still feeling groggy or, worse, even sleepier than before the nap started. By the same token, napping so long that you ruin your sleep during the night also lands on the napping no-no list.
Where does that leave us? What is the best amount of time to nap? Well, let’s take a look at what the experts have to say. We all deserve to find napping nirvana so here’s hoping this helps you even a little bit. Sweet dreams.
Should You Nap?
In a word, yes! Nodding off boasts myriad health benefits. According to the National Sleep Foundation, reasons you may want to nap include improved motor performance, decreased risk of heart disease, stress relief, increased cognitive performance, enhanced short-term memory, and improved mood. In layman’s terms, naps just sort of make you feel better. And, really, who wouldn’t want that?
What’s the Ideal Nap Length?
When it comes to precisely how long you should nap, NASA’s research suggests shorter is sweeter. In 2019, the space agency released research showing that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes exhibited up to 54 percent more alertness than pilots who didn’t nap. Having said that, NASA says 26 minutes may be a little too long to eke out the maximum napping benefits. Rather, they recommend taking power naps between 10 and 20 minutes long. This will get you through enough sleep stages to feel refreshed without the undesired effect of lingering fatigue.
The National Sleep Association agrees, suggesting 20-minute naps to avoid feeling groggy after the fact.
No Longer Naps Then?
Some days it just doesn’t seem like a 10- to 20-minute nap would do the trick. Doesn’t closing your eyes for, like, an hour or so sound better? Well, there’s actually some science behind why experts don’t recommend daytime snoozes more than 30 minutes long.
As you sleep, your brain moves through different stages of sleep. How you feel when you wake up will largely depend on which stage you wake up during. For context, the average person goes through the entire sleep cycle several times each night — that cycle lasts somewhere between 90 to 110 minutes long. Once you reach the deeper stages of sleep, your brain releases compounds that help you stay asleep through the night. So, you can imagine how waking up in these deeper stages means you’ll wake up groggy.
This doesn’t mean that you should never take a longer nap, though. A 2019 study published in the scientific journal Physiology & Behavior found that naps of 25, 35, and even 45 minutes in length dramatically reduced signs of stress and fatigue in participants.
The National Sleep Foundation also agrees that long napping can be beneficial. “If you’re lucky enough to be able to lie down for 90 minutes, your body should have time to make it through one complete sleep cycle where you go from the lightest stage through the deepest stage of sleep and back again, so you’ll wake feeling refreshed,” the organization states on its blog, Sleep.org. “Bonus: Sleeping for this long has been shown to boost memory and creativity.”
How Can You Improve Nap Quality?
On her website, Dr. Sara Mednick — psychology professor, nap researcher, and author of Take a Nap! — notes that the best time to nap will be contingent on when you wake up. To help you pinpoint your “Ultimate Nap Time,” her website includes an interactive Nap Wheel so you can nail down your own number.
Need a few more generic ideas? The Mayo Clinic says optimal napping is achieved when you take naps in the early afternoon (prior to 3 p.m.) and create a restful environment. So, what are you waiting for? Get some room-darkening shades, wrap up in a cozy blanket, and “research” your ideal nap time number.