Who doesn’t love a nap? There’s nothing like retreating somewhere in the middle of the day, curling up, and taking just a few minutes to yourself.
Even if you don’t love it, science says that napping has benefits like improving your mood and alertness and helping you perform better. Napping also seems to fit the natural, circadian rhythm for most people. We tend to have a lull in energy in the afternoon, indicating that our bodies may be intended to nap during that time.
Napping is good for the body, too. When you nap, you’ll lower your stress level, which also lowers your risk of developing diabetes, gaining weight, having a heart attack, and suffering from a stroke.
There can be a downside to napping, though. Nap for the wrong amount of time and you’re likely to wake up feeling groggy and confused. This is called a sleep hangover or sleep inertia, and it can make you feel more tired, lower your performance, and make it harder for you to get back to doing the things you need to do.
How can you know how long to nap? Science has some things to say about that.
The Power Nap
If you have less than 90 minutes available to rest, aim for a 20-minute power nap. When you limit the length of your nap, you make sure that you don’t get into deeper, REM sleep. Waking up in the middle of this type of sleep is what gives you a sleep hangover.
Instead, a 20-minute nap keeps you in Stage 2 sleep, which is light but still refreshing. It may only feel like a little bit of rest, but you will still wake up in a better mood, with improved motor skills and higher levels of alertness. You will be able to concentrate better and get more done.
The Longer Nap
If you sleep much longer than 20 minutes, you will want to let your body get through an entire sleep cycle before you wake up. Otherwise, you’ll wake in the middle of deep sleep and suffer the sleep hangover, as mentioned above.
Most people cycle through deep sleep and come back to light sleep in about 90 minutes. If you have the time to take this sort of nap, and you’re tired enough to stay asleep that long, this may be the ideal nap length for you.
In addition to the other benefits of napping, this kind of nap also improves your memory and creativity. If you are looking to perform tasks that specifically need those aspects of your mind functioning well, a nice, long nap could help you do your best work.
The length of nap you should take depends on how long you have to sleep and what kinds of tasks you’ll be completing when you’re done. A short, 20-minute nap will benefit just about anyone. If you are tired and have the time to take a longer nap, 90 minutes will help you catch up on missed deep sleep.