Whether you call it a catnap, power nap, or siesta, a short period of sleep during the day can refresh and recharge you, sharpen your memory, and improve your thinking and focus.
If, like many people, you feel drowsy during the day, a quick nap may be the solution to a midafternoon slump. But there can also be drawbacks to daytime naps if you don’t time them properly.
Let’s look at the best way to take a catnap during the day, plus what to avoid if you want to wake up feeling rejuvenated and refreshed after your daytime siesta.
There’s no medical definition of a catnap, and there’s no strict limit on how long they last. Adults may power down for 10 minutes or so at work, and preschoolers may rest for a longer period.
Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital Sleep Center say most toddlers and preschoolers take 1 to 2 naps a day until they’re roughly 5 years old.
Daytime drowsiness and naps may reappear during the teenage years, when the adolescent body’s circadian rhythms start shifting.
Catnaps, or naps that last 20 to 30 minutes, are fairly well studied, and researchers have discovered a number of benefits to a short daytime snooze. Here are a few of them.
Consolidates memories and learning
If you need to retain information you’ve learned, it’s a good idea to take a short nap after studying.
Both strategies were effective for short-term memory consolidation. However, the students who napped immediately after learning the material still retained the information a week later, whereas those who crammed had lost it.
Increases alertness and attentiveness
If you find yourself drifting into a mental fog after lunch, a short nap could perk you up and sharpen your mind.
Boosts your athletic performance
Fatigue can slow even the best athletes, but, according to research, a short nap may help athletes enhance their performance.
In a recent study, researchers tested 17 male runners on a high-intensity, short-duration shuttle run task and found that runners who had taken a nap of either 25, 35, or 45 minutes outperformed those who hadn’t napped.
The overall winner in this study: The 45-minute nap allowed for the best performance overall.
Improves your mood
Daytime napping may help you recover from negative emotions.
In a 2015 study of 40 participants, the researchers found that those who had taken an afternoon nap were more tolerant of frustration and less impulsive than those who hadn’t napped.
Yes. One drawback is that napping — especially late in the afternoon — may disrupt good rest at night. This may be especially true for young children and people with insomnia.
Another concern is the possibility of sleep inertia, a period of grogginess between sleep and waking that can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. This can occur when naps extend past the 20- to 30-minute mark.
While short naps aren’t generally associated with poor health outcomes, it’s important to note that regularly taking long naps has been associated with several conditions that may negatively affect your health, including:
- high blood pressure in women
- increased risk of
- higher risk of
- depression and cognitive decline in older adults
Napping and heart health
Here’s a brief how-to guide for getting the most out of your catnap:
- Limit the length of your nap. Longer naps may disrupt your overnight slumber and cause other health problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, naps should be kept to 20 minutes or less.
- Target the early afternoon hours. If you doze off too close to bedtime, you could be staring at the ceiling in the wee hours. As a general rule, try to avoid napping after 2 or 3 p.m.
- Schedule naps regularly. If you’re a shift worker, taking a brief nap before you clock in every day could keep you alert throughout your work hours.
- Keep your room dark, cool, and quiet. Dark napping rooms may help you fall asleep faster. Eye masks can help block out light, too. Use a white noise app to drown out sounds that may disturb you.
- Don’t sleep too long. Long naps can interfere with a good night’s rest.
- Don’t nap excessively if you’re older.
Studieshave linked excessive napping with a higher risk of mortality from all causes among older adults.
- Don’t let naps interfere with nighttime sleep for preschoolers. Research from 2011 has found that young children need a good night’s sleep in order to function well during the day. Daytime naps that lead to later bedtimes can disrupt sleep schedules and negatively affect cognitive performance.
You can’t always curl up and take a catnap during the day, especially if you’re at work or school.
When a nap isn’t possible and you’re nodding off at your desk, try these re-energizing tactics:
- Hydrate. Studies show that staying well hydrated helps reduce fatigue, improves short-term memory, attention, and reaction times.
- Brighten your lighting. According to a
2015 study, working in bright light improves cognitive flexibility as much as a brief nap in the post-lunch slump.
- Eat plenty of protein. In a
2019 study, researchers found that switching saturated fats and carbs for protein resulted in less daytime sleepiness.
- Take brief, frequent activity breaks. Stepping out into sunshine and fresh air for a brisk walk, or walking up and down a flight of stairs can break the afternoon monotony and revive some of your dwindling energy.
- Try caffeine.
Research from 2011suggests that caffeine is a tried-and-true stand-in when you need to be alert and a catnap isn’t possible.
Short daytime naps — sometimes referred to as catnaps — are a powerful countermeasure against afternoon sleepiness. Naps can improve your memory, keep you alert and attentive, help you perform better physically and mentally, and elevate your mood.
Although short naps can be beneficial, it’s important to take them early in the afternoon so they don’t interfere with your nighttime sleep routine. It’s also a good idea to keep them short — ideally 30 minutes or less. Longer naps can lead to sleep inertia and a higher risk of some health conditions.
If you find that you’re often sleepy during the day and naps don’t seem to help, it’s a good idea to follow up with your healthcare provider. They can help determine if your daytime sleepiness is due to an underlying condition.