Do you often struggle to focus or pay attention throughout your day? Are you quickly overwhelmed and stressed, even by seemingly straightforward tasks? Has a state of slow reactions and brain fog become the norm for you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, a short daytime snooze may be just what you need to get your mind and body back in check.
With mounting scientific evidence on the benefits of a midday doze for enhancing mental performance, boosting mood and preserving overall health, there’s no reason to feel any shame or guilt about taking a daily catnap. In fact, almost one-third of Americans take regular naps to combat tiredness .
In this article, we explore the wide-ranging benefits of a daily nap, as well as the ideal nap length and the best time for a nap to help you get the most out of your day.
But before we get into it, let us first introduce you to Pzizz-a revolutionary app that uses science-backed techniques to help you fall asleep faster. Pzizz has a dedicated mode for napping, which uses customized soundscapes to help you fall asleep quickly and naturally at the push of a button. Download Pzizz today and get a free trial!
The inherent difference between napping and sleeping lies in their respective durations. While sleep is designed to reset the entire mind and body, a nap is intended to provide a temporary boost in energy and alertness.
In a full sleep lasting between seven and nine hours, the brain goes through various sleep stages and becomes less responsive to external stimuli. During this time, the body sequentially enters a state of deep sleep designed to restore and repair various bodily processes.
Naps, however, are much shorter than full sleep, so you remain in the lighter stages of the sleep cycle. Accordingly, it is much easier to wake up feeling refreshed and re-energized.
To gain a better understanding of optimal nap times and reap the associated benefits, it’s best first to learn what constitutes a sleep cycle.
Research has identified four different stages to a complete sleep cycle, with each stage producing distinct brain wavelengths and releasing different hormones into the body. During a full sleep, a person will go through the following stages multiple times throughout the night :
Timing is key in getting the most out of a nap. While both short and long naps have proven benefits in increasing alertness, the best amount of time to nap all depends on your unique circumstances based on your age, lifestyle and health needs.
If you have a relatively consistent sleep schedule in which you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, then a short nap of 10 to 20 minutes will suffice without disturbing your nighttime sleep.
Within this time, you’ll only enter the first and second sleep stages, helping you feel refreshed and more alert. Napping for any longer than this time will cause you to enter deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy and disorientated upon waking.
In other cases, a longer sleep of around 90 to 110 minutes may prove beneficial, particularly for those who are sleep-deprived or whose jobs involve shift work consisting of irregular sleep patterns. This period is long enough to complete a full sleep cycle allowing you to wake up during a light sleep stage and avoid feeling worse for wear.
The best time to nap depends on your individual sleep-wake schedule, all of which is influenced by your chronotype; in other words, your innate biological urge for sleep and wakefulness.
Research has identified two peak periods of sleepiness based on natural dips in your circadian rhythm; the body’s internal 24-hour body clock. While the greatest peak is between 2 am and 5 am, the second falls in the afternoon . Napping during the afternoon when energy levels are at their lowest helps to restore alertness and mental acuity without interfering with your ability to fall asleep at night .
When you experience this midday dip in energy will depend on your natural inclination to fall asleep and wake up. If you’re a ‘morning person’ who’s used to waking up earlier, say around 6 am, you’ll likely feel the urge to nap from noon or early afternoon. On the other hand, ‘night owls’ who wake up later in the morning will probably feel a more pronounced dip from 2 pm onwards.
There is too much of a good thing when it comes to napping. The longer you nap, the more likely your chances of entering a deep sleep, which is fine if you consistently lack a full night’s sleep. However, a long nap of 90 minutes or more can be problematic if you have a regular sleep schedule, reducing your chances of falling asleep quickly and staying asleep throughout the night.
Additionally, the body’s drive toward deep sleep increases steadily as the day goes on, thus disrupting your natural sleep cycle and making it difficult to fall asleep at night. A study of nine adults found that a 90-minute nap during the afternoon dip reduced nighttime sleep efficiency by 2.4% .
The important takeaway here is not to nap for too long, too late in the day, or too close to bedtime to avoid disrupting your body’s circadian rhythm and natural sleep drive.
Whether it’s 10 minutes or 90 minutes, the many perks of a power nap have long been scientifically-proven. Here are some of the extensive health benefits a midday snooze can offer:
You’ll likely notice a significant boost in alertness after taking an afternoon nap. In fact, one 2008 study found that napping provided an energy boost similar to that of caffeinated drinks. It also enhanced performance in memory, motor skills, and learning, as compared to caffeine, which provided no benefits .
Furthermore, naps improve your ability to function intelligently through better focus, logical reasoning, problem-solving, and reaction times, as demonstrated in a study by NASA. The space agency found that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes exhibited improvements in alertness and job performance by 54%and 34%, respectively, compared to pilots who didn’t nap .
More importantly, napping can act as a potential lifesaver by increasing alertness. A 2004 study found that drivers who took a nap before a night shift reduced the risk of car accidents by as much as 48%.
One thing that many elite and Olympic-level athletes have in common is incorporating naps into their daily lives to achieve maximum performance results. A review of the effects of napping on physical performance found that a 90-minute afternoon nap enhanced the recovery process in athletes as well as endurance and specific skills performance such as long jumping, sprinting, and strength activities .
A poor night’s sleep can cause stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to spike the next day. In fact, 1 in 3 Americans fails to get sufficient regular sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
Consequently, chronic stress has become prevalent in society, causing the immune system to go into overdrive and leading to numerous short-term and long-term health complications-including diabetes, heart disease, mental health problems, and more.
Compensating for lack of sleep through regular naps can help to reduce cortisol production and encourage faster immune system recovery, as concluded in a 2014 study by Faraut et al. . Thus, napping is a viable option to countermeasure the detrimental health effects of sleep deprivation.
As little as a 20-minute nap has shown promise in elevating energy levels to boost positive feelings of satisfaction, pleasantness and relaxation, according to a 2007 study .
Another study found that emotional control can become impaired from long periods of wakefulness or insufficient sleep, with naps being an effective countermeasure by improving confidence, increasing tolerance for frustration, and reducing impulsivity and irritability .
Napping can effectively combat fatigue and daytime drowsiness associated with insufficient sleep, particularly for night shift workers or those experiencing jet lag.
Replacement napping can relieve sleep pressure by helping you pay back some of your sleep debt, the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep over the course of days and weeks. A study by the Sleep Journal found that a 15-minute post-lunch nap reduced sleepiness and increased logical reasoning in participants who had only slept for four hours the night before .
A 2009 study suggests that napping as little as once or twice a week lowered the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack, stroke, and heart disease .
According to the American College of Cardiology, this reduced risk may be due to decreased blood pressure resulting from daytime napping. In fact, an afternoon catnap can be just as effective in lowering blood pressure as other lifestyle changes, such as eliminating salt and alcohol .
On average, a nap can lower blood pressure by as much as 5 mm Hg, comparable to the effects of taking a low-dose blood pressure medication. Moreover, a 2 mm Hg drop in blood pressure can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 10%.
If you’re not one of those people who can simply fall asleep on demand, Pzizz makes the prospect of a quick, refreshing nap that much easier. Regardless of your sleep ability, the app’s specific nap module allows users to customize their naps with specially-designed nap narrations to help them fall asleep quickly, get rid of the groggy feeling, and improve energy levels upon waking.
A 2018 study found that relaxation techniques involving hypnosis improved sleep quality and quantity during naps . Through engaging hypnotic visuals and soothing psycho-acoustic music, the Mesmerize app can help ease your mind and body into a meditative state of rest and relaxation, preparing you to doze off quickly for a quality nap and boost your level of alertness when you wake.
Take advantage of the nap-inducing benefits of Mesmerize by downloading it on your Android or iOS device today.
Creating an optimal environment for rest is key to achieving a good nap. Choose a quiet, dark place with a cool room temperature that’s free from noise or other distractions. For people who work from home, the bedroom is the ideal place to take your afternoon nap. For those who work in an office, try and locate an empty space where interruptions are unlikely to occur. You could even use an eye mask and earplugs to make napping easier. But best to check with your boss first! You don’t want to be caught sleeping on the job.
As mentioned earlier, napping too late in the day can do more harm than good to your natural sleep cycle. Try to nap as early in the afternoon as possible, especially if you intend to take a longer nap. Experts typically recommend taking a nap eight or more hours before bedtime; any later than 3 pm is considered too late.
Setting an alarm is essential to ensure you’re keeping within the limits of your ideal nap length. Be sure to factor in the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep when setting the alarm. Resist the urge to carry on sleeping after the alarm has sounded to avoid entering deep sleep. Try to get up straight away and do something to help you wake up, such as stretching, washing your face, exposing yourself to bright light, or drinking water.
Though it may sound counterintuitive, drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated drink right before your nap can help boost alertness levels upon waking. The effects of caffeine typically kick in after 20 to 30 minutes, which is the ideal time for you to wake up from a short nap.
A 10 to 20-minute nap is all you need to enjoy the restorative benefits of napping. Anything longer can cause you to enter a deep sleep state, leaving you groggy and more tired than before you took your nap. However, if you do want to nap for longer, at least 90 minutes is recommended to allow your brain to go through all stages of the sleep cycle and avoid grogginess upon waking.
Despite napping long being considered a sign of laziness, the practice is far from a lazy-people trait. In fact, setting aside time in your afternoon for a quick snooze has been proven to enhance performance, increase alertness, learning, and memory, and boost mood, making you a more productive person than someone who doesn’t take regular naps.
The feeling of grogginess, disorientation and heavy-headedness that often follows waking up from a nap is known as ‘sleep inertia’. This phenomenon occurs when you awake abruptly whilst the brain is still in the deeper stages of a sleep cycle. To avoid sleep inertia, limiting your naps to 20 minutes is best to remain within lighter sleep stages, making it easier to wake up feeling refreshed.