A woman snuggled up in bed with white linens

Optimize Your Naps

By Jared Minkel, Ph.D.
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
July 01, 2024

For many of us, the idea of taking a good nap in the midafternoon sounds great. But often, in reality, we snooze too long—or too hard—and end up feeling worse than we did before our slumber. Why is that? As a sleep researcher, I can tell you that there's more to napping than you might think.

Who Shouldn't Nap

Napping can be really helpful for some people but a bad idea for others. So, you need to figure out which group you fall into.

Avoid naps if your doctor advises you against them. Napping may be a bad idea for people with certain health conditions like chronic insomnia or migraines. If you already get pretty good sleep at night and feel fine during the day, naps are probably not right for you.

How to Take an Effective Nap

If you do plan on midday slumber, here are five tips on how to nap better.

Consider the Length of Time…

A 20-minute power nap can be refreshing without letting you slide into a really deep sleep that's difficult to wake up from or that may leave you feeling groggy. It also won’t prevent you from falling asleep at your normal bedtime.

Set an alarm to make sure that you don't go over your nap time and give yourself an extra five or 10 minutes to account for how long it takes you to drop off.

…and the Time of Day

The best time to schedule a nap is during the “midafternoon dip” period. For most, that happens sometime between noon and 3 p.m., but it may take a little experimentation to find the time that works best for you. Night owls, for example, may find their dip comes a little later. Ideally, you want your nap to start at the earliest time in that window, when you can fall asleep quickly.

Go Longer If Needed, Within Reason

If work or social obligations keep you up later than usual, you might benefit from a longer nap. Start by figuring out how long it takes you to go from light sleep to deeper sleep to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, or one full sleep cycle. For most people, this will take one to one and a half hours.

Time it right and you’ll wake up feeling alert; time it wrong and you’ll feel groggy and out of it for 20–30 minutes. This grogginess, also known as sleep inertia, is normal. It's a process your brain goes through when switching from sleep to wakefulness.

Set an alarm for 90 minutes, and if you naturally wake up before the alarm, that’s a good sign you had the right length of nap for you. If you’re still asleep when the alarm goes off, you might want to extend it by 10 or 15 minutes.

If you work a late shift, say midnight to 8 a.m., it may be helpful to take a longer nap before your shift starts. Just make sure you wake up an hour or so before you need to go to work.

Stick to Your Regular Sleep Schedule

Sleeping late the morning after a nap can set off a vicious cycle of poor sleep at night and increasingly late wake-up times. If you’re in this kind of cycle, napping will just make things worse. If you get up at your normal time, avoid naps, and don’t go to bed too early, your sleep will be back to normal in a few days. If you can't seem to shake this cycle, reach out to a sleep specialist.

Find Your Slumber Sweet Spot

Finding the perfect length for your power nap or a longer snooze can be a matter of trial and error. Start by taking your best guess and try it out for at least three days. It can help to write down your reactions. Did you feel more energized? Did it improve your concentration and mood?

Then, make one small change and try it again. If you start with a 20-minute nap at noon and find that on each of the three days you’re wide awake and get no benefit, you might move your 20-minute nap to 1 p.m. for three days. If, after that tweak, you find that you fall asleep easily but see no benefit, try taking a 90-minute nap at 1 p.m. You may find that you fall asleep quickly and awaken alert and well rested after about one hour.

Congratulations, you've optimized your nap!

Jared Minkel, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist who develops digital therapeutics at Twill.

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