How Long Should You Nap?

There are numerous benefits to napping during the day if it’s done right. 10 to 20 minutes is the ideal amount of nap time for most adults. If naps last for more than 20 minutes, they can often lead to sluggishness and trouble with sleeping during the night. While naps that last shorter than ten minutes offer minimal rejuvenation.

Relationship between Napping and Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythm is the 24 hour biological clock our bodies follow regulating our sleep according to the presence or absence of natural sunlight. In the morning when the sunlight first appears, we wake up feeling more alert. This energy keeps us going until the sun goes down at night and we start to feel tired.

There are two very distinct phases in the circadian sleep cycle: REM sleep and non REM ( rapid eye movement) sleep. As soon as we fall asleep, the non REM phase begins. Our muscles relax, our heart rate and body temperature decrease and our brain activity declines. Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure all fall to their lowest levels. This “ slow wave” non REM stage usually begins about 30 minutes after we fall asleep.

As the slow-wave non-REM stage concludes the REM stage begins. REM is linked to deep sleep, dreaming, and shallow breathing. Except for our eyes, which dart back and forth (hence the name ‘rapid eye movement’), our bodies are basically motionless. Most adults will cycle through the full non-REM and REM cycle every 90 to 120 minutes, and experience four to six cycles per eight hours of sleep.  

The key to napping is to sleep long enough to experience the early stages of non-REM sleep, but to wake up before the slow-wave non-REM stage begins. In the early stages of non-REM, we wake up feeling refreshed and more alert. However, if we wake up during the slow-wave stage, we can feel groggy for long periods after the nap has ended. If naps reach the slow-wave stage, prolonged sleep latency can occur, which is how long it takes to fall asleep.

Why Should Naps Last 10 to 20 Minutes?

So, how long should you nap each day?

SLEEP — the official journal of the Sleep Research Society (SRS) — published a study in 2006, stating that 10-minute naps led to ‘immediate improvements’ in cognitive performance. Sleepers felt less fatigued and had more stamina, and this energy sustained for roughly 155 minutes on average.

The same cognitive improvements were reported from those who napped for 20 minutes, although most improvements began roughly 35 minutes after the nap ended. These sleepers experienced improvements for roughly 125 minutes once they began.

Those who slept for five and 30 minutes were also evaluated, as well as a control group who did not nap. Those who napped for five minutes reported cognitive improvements that were comparable to those in the control group, suggesting the five-minute napping duration was insufficient for most.

Those who napped 30 minutes experienced a period of cognitive impairment and grogginess in the period immediately after waking up from their naps. However, once the drowsiness subsided, the average 30-minute napper experienced cognitive improvements for roughly 155 minutes — the same period as the 10-minute nappers, who experienced little to no post-nap impairment.

Other Factors

It’s important to avoid napping close to bedtime. Do not nap at anytime in the three hours before your bedtime. Otherwise you may experience prolonged sleep latency.

In addition, the time of day is an important factor as well. Between the hours of 2pm and 4pm each day our bodies experience a natural drop in temperature. This signals the brain to produce melatonin, a hormone that induces feelings of sleepiness.

Napping during these afternoon hours coincides with this period of natural drowsiness. We fall asleep more easily, and tend to feel more refreshed when we wake up — as long as the nap doesn’t exceed the 20-minute mark.

Just as important, darkened rooms that are kept at a comfortable temperature are considered the best environments for napping. Bright rooms or those exposed to the sun are not ideal because your circadian rhythm is based on natural light. Areas that are too warm or too cold can also interfere with your ability to get comfortable and fall asleep. 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (or 15 to 19 degrees Celsius) is the optimal temperature for sleep.

A quality mattress is an important factor as well. If you prefer napping on your bed rather than sofa or armchair, then the comfort of your mattress can play a significant role in the quality of your naps. A new and comfortable mattress will help you fall asleep faster and get the most out of your naps. See what are our top rated mattresses and how they can provide you with a better sleep.

To conclude, the ideal napping duration will vary from person to person because every sleeper is different. However, for many adults, 10 to 20 minutes in the mid to late afternoon is all they need.