Who doesn’t love a good catnap, afternoon siesta, or midday doze? Sometimes daytime sleep is in order to recharge the batteries.
However, one thing to keep in mind is whether your napping habits are making you sleepier.
To make napping work, it’s important to understand the effects napping can have on your sleep patterns and your mental health.
That way you can be sure you’re reaping the benefits of your extra shut-eye, not just making yourself more tired.
A nap is a short or light sleep, taken during the daytime hours, usually between 12 and 2 p.m. and not close to your bedtime.
According to the Pew Research Center, around a third of adults in the United States regularly take a nap on a typical day.
- reaction time
- logical reasoning
The primary incentive for many people to take a nap is to feel less tired or regain energy and restoration.
There are many benefits to napping other than feeling refreshed and restored, including:
Though naps have a range of benefits, they can be too long. This can contribute to sleep problems and a disruption in sleep patterns.
Naps can also end up making you feel more tired, groggy, and sleep deprived.
“Longer naps, more than 45 minutes, can disrupt the natural sleep drive and make it harder to fall asleep at night,” says Abhinav Singh, MD, the medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center.
Singh says this can perpetuate a harmful cycle of being sleep deprived and taking long naps in the day to counter it. This can contribute to long-term problems.
The bottom line
In order to get the positive effects of a nap, you should only nap for around 20 to 25 minutes in most cases. Naps longer than 45 minutes can disrupt the natural sleep drive and make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Nap duration plays an important role in how you feel when you wake up.
Shorter naps can leave you feeling refreshed, while longer ones can contribute to feeling even sleepier or groggier.
Harrington says short naps, also known as “power naps,” around 20 to 25 minutes, are ideal for feeling rested and re-energized.
Power naps may help improve:
“While you’re only in that 20 to 25 minutes, you’re remaining in light sleep”, says Carmel Harrington, PhD, a sleep expert at Sleep Health Foundation. “Light sleep is good to wake up from as you feel quite alert.”
She says it’s important to set an alarm to make sure you don’t sleep longer.
Harrington also notes that, when you go to lie down, you might not fall into that light sleep for the entire 20 to 25 minutes. That’s OK! Any amount is still effective, she says.
“If you don’t fall asleep, it actually means that you’re not tired enough to fall asleep,” says Harrington. “So just be aware, you don’t have to be asleep for 20 minutes to get the effect.”
This is a nap that starts with drinking a cup of coffee, tea, or espresso.
The next step is to immediately go into napping mode for 20 to 25 minutes. Ideally, when you wake up from your brief slumber, the caffeine will have kicked in, and you’ll be raring to go with that boost of energy levels and alertness.
Harrington says that, with naps, you don’t want to go into a deep sleep, which happens after about 25 minutes.
“If you’ve ever woken up from deep sleep… that’s the toughest [to] wake up from, and you’re fairly disoriented,” she says. “You sort of don’t know what time of day it is or where you’re meant to be.”
This heavy, groggy feeling is due to sleep inertia, a transitional state between sleep and wakefulness that
- impair performance
- reduce vigilance
- make you feel more tired and less rested
Harrington says sleep inertia can last for hours after your long nap, so it’s vital to remain in light sleep and set that alarm.
Furthermore, a 2014 study on the relationship between nighttime sleep and napping in college students found that those who reported frequent, long, and late nap habits had a higher risk for poor sleep quality at night and more severe sleep deprivation.
If you’re feeling sleepier after a nap, there’s a good chance you slept for too long.
According to Harrington, the ideal time for a nap is the “afternoon lull” from 12 to 2 p.m.
However, this is true for those on a regular 9 to 5 schedule. This may be different for shift or night workers.
“Something I recommend a lot to senior high school students [who are tired] when they come home from school… is to power nap for 20 to 25 minutes,” Harrington says. This assumes that the students don’t have insomnia, and it’s not too late in the day when they get home. “Get up, and then you’re ready to go for the next four hours, and your learning and memory is very good at that point.”
Furthermore, Singh comments that wanting to take a nap in the morning may indicate sleep deprivation. The desire for midday naps longer than 60 minutes may suggest “quantitative or qualitative sleep deprivation,” he says.
If you’re wanting to take long naps earlier in the day on a regular basis, talk with your doctor about potential underlying sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, that can affect your quality and quantity of sleep.
The bottom line
According to Harrington, the ideal time for a nap is the “afternoon lull” from 12 to 2 p.m. This may be different for night or shift workers.
“Depression has an association with sleep,” Harrington says. “If you have sleep issues, then you’re more likely to develop depression, and if you have depression, you’re more likely to have sleep issues.”
Harrington suggests that people with depression and other mental health concerns stick to a strict sleep routine.
“I don’t want people with depression [to nap] here, there, and everywhere, because that’s going to be very disruptive,” she says.
Getting quality, consolidated sleep is imperative to people with depression. Trying to play catch up with naps during the day can do more harm than good.
The interrelationship between sleep and depression is highly individual. If you’re concerned about whether napping is affecting your mental health, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional.
Naps can have positive impacts on energy, mood, focus, and cognitive function, and they can leave you feeling revitalized and refreshed.
However, the ideal nap should be kept between 20 and 25 minutes. The time of day is also important for napping. Most sleep experts recommend napping no later than 2 p.m.
Following a regular sleep routine is important for your mental health and getting the quality rest you need.
Marnie Vinall is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s written extensively for a range of publications, covering everything from politics and mental health to nostalgic sandwiches and the state of her own vagina. You can reach Marnie via Twitter, Instagram, or her website.