Taking a nap during the day is a great way to recharge, boost productivity, and improve performance. But napping can backfire if it’s done incorrectly or for the wrong length of time. So how long should you nap for maximum benefit? What is the ideal nap length and duration?
This comprehensive guide examines the latest scientific research to reveal the perfect nap lengths for different benefits as well as practical tips for napping success. Read on to learn how long is best to nap based on your goals.
Key Takeaways on Ideal Nap Lengths
- The best nap length for improved alertness is 10-20 minutes. This short nap provides a quick burst of alertness without leaving you feeling groggy.
- For improved cognitive performance, mood, and motor skills, a 20-30 minute nap is ideal. This allows for deeper restorative sleep.
- For maximum memory retention and learning ability, a 60-90 minute nap lets you reach REM sleep needed to boost memorization.
- To fully cycle through sleep stages, a 90-120 minute nap length is best but can leave lingering drowsiness.
- Naps longer than 30 minutes may cause sleep inertia upon waking where you feel disoriented.
- Limit naps to 30 minutes or less during work to minimize side effects and maximize productivity.
- Take slightly longer naps on weekends or days off when you can fully wake up afterward.
- Experiment to find the ideal nap duration for your body’s needs and schedule. Consistency leads to better nap results.
The Science Behind Ideal Nap Lengths
To understand optimal nap lengths, it’s important to first learn what happens during sleep. There are two major types of sleep – non-REM and REM. Non-REM sleep progresses through three stages:
Stage 1: Light sleep during the transition to deeper sleep. Eye movements slow and muscle activity decreases.
Stage 2: This stage accounts for about half of all sleep. Eye movement stops and brain waves slow.
Stage 3: The deepest stage of non-REM sleep. Muscles relax, breathing slows, blood pressure drops. Waking is more difficult.
After deep non-REM sleep, we enter REM sleep where eyes dart back and forth rapidly. Brain activity increases and dreams occur.
During a full sleep cycle, we progress from stage 1 to 3 non-REM sleep, then enter REM sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep. The cycle then repeats.
- Different nap lengths target different sleep stages for various benefits:
10-20 Minute Power Naps
A short 10-20 minute nap allows you to fall into light non-REM sleep which boosts alertness and performance without leaving residual sleepiness.
One NASA study found a 26 minute nap improved pilots’ performance by 34% and alertness by 54%. 10-20 minutes may not allow deeper sleep but provides quick revitalization.
20-30 Minute Performance Naps
A 20-30 minute nap enables you to reach stage 2 of non-REM sleep which improves cognitive performance, reaction time, short term memory and accuracy.
In one study, participants memorizing card locations had better recall after a 30 minute nap versus matched participants who stayed awake.
60-90 Minute Memory Naps
To get the memory and learning benefits of REM sleep, it takes about 60-90 minutes nap to fully cycle through sleep stages.
90 minutes allows progression through non-REM into REM sleep where dreaming occurs. Naps with REM sleep aid memorization and learning of facts, languages, procedures.
One study showed groups allowed a 60-90 minute nap after memorizing word pairs recalled on average 10% more than non-napping groups.
90-120 Minute Full Cycle Naps
A 90-120 minute nap length allows you to fully cycle through all sleep stages including deep non-REM and REM sleep which provides both mental and physical restoration.
However, longer naps increase the chance of waking up during deep non-REM sleep which can result in sleep inertia – feeling groggy, disoriented and sluggish right after waking up.
Ideal Nap Length Recommendations
Based on the science, here are the recommended ideal nap lengths for different goals:
- For a burst of alertness and energy, 10-20 minute power naps are best.
- To boost mood, cognitive skills and accuracy, aim for a 20-30 minute nap.
- For maximum learning and memory retention, 60-90 minutes allows REM sleep to occur.
- To fully cycle through all sleep stages, 90-120 minutes is ideal but can cause sleep inertia.
During busy work days, limit nap lengths to 20-30 minutes to minimize grogginess upon waking.
On weekends or days off, experiment with slightly longer naps of 60-90 minutes if you have time to fully wake up afterward.
Be consistent with nap times and lengths for maximum performance benefits. Individual needs vary, so find the best routine for your body through trial and error.
Tips for Ideal Napping
Follow these tips to optimize your nap length and quality:
- Try to nap at the same time each day. Consistency helps train your body. The early to mid-afternoon dip in alertness is a good time.
- Use an alarm to avoid over-napping. Apps like Sleep Cycle track sleep stages to wake you at ideal times.
- Nap in a dark, cool, quiet place as comfortable as your bedroom to encourage quality sleep. Use eye masks, ear plugs, cushions.
- Avoid caffeine, large meals, and screens before napping to make falling asleep easier.
- If unable to fall asleep in 20 minutes, wake up and try again later. Forcing sleep leads to restless naps.
- Upon waking, give yourself 5-15 minutes to fully wake up before resuming activities to minimize any grogginess.
- Limit 2-3 naps per week during work to prevent interference with nighttime sleep. Make naps up by going to bed earlier.
- Avoid long naps after 3 p.m. to not disrupt your regular sleep patterns at night.
The Drawbacks of Napping
While napping offers many benefits, longer daytime sleeps can cause some side effects to be aware of:
- Sleep inertia – Feeling sluggish immediately after waking up from a longer, deeper nap.
- Interference with nighttime sleep – Late or long naps make it harder to sleep at night. Limit nap duration and timing.
- Reduced sleep efficiency – Napping during the day lowers the quality and amount of nighttime deep sleep.
- Dependency – Becoming reliant on daily naps to function normally. Use only when really needed.
- Mismatched sleep schedules – Conflicting nap and night sleep patterns that are hard to regulate. Keep nap timing consistent.
To minimize issues, follow ideal nap length recommendations of 10-30 minutes for most days. Do a longer 60-90 minute nap just 1-2 days per week maximum.
Nap Length FAQs
How long should a nap be when studying?
When studying, a 60-90 minute nap is ideal. This allows time to reach REM sleep which boosts learning and memorization. Keep naps short on test days.
Is a 45 minute nap too long?
A 45 minute nap is at the longer end for daytime naps. This allows you to cycle from light to deep sleep which can leave lingering grogginess. 30 minutes or less is best for most day naps.
Is 2 hours too long for a nap?
Yes, a 2 hour nap is excessive for most nap objectives. Anything over 90 minutes will likely lead to sleep inertia upon waking. Stick to power naps of 20 minutes or shorter naps under 1 hour.
What’s the ideal nap length for seniors?
Research shows the ideal nap duration for older adults is between 60-90 minutes. This provides deep restorative sleep. Seniors should avoid frequent long naps which can disrupt nighttime sleep.
How long are baby naps at 6 months?
At 6 months, baby naps should range from 30 minutes – 2 hours per nap session, 2-3 times per day. But nap patterns vary greatly. Watch for tired signs and put babies down when sleepy.
Achieve Optimal Nap Durations
In summary, the ideal nap length ranges from 10-90 minutes depending on your goals. For most quick cognitive boosts, limit naps to 10-30 minutes during busy workdays. Experiment with 60-90 minute naps on occasions when you can fully wake up afterward.
Pay close attention to your own body’s response to different nap durations. Over time, you’ll discover your optimal timing and length for peak performance. Just be sure to balance napping’s benefits with potential disruptions to nighttime sleep.