Is there anything more blissful than the perfect nap? You know what we’re talking about: It happens at the exact right time of day, is just long enough but not too long, and leaves you feeling energized, focused and ready to take on the remainder of the day. It makes sense that a high-quality nap can turn your day around. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a 20-30 minute nap for short-term alertness, and a study at NASA conducted on military pilots and astronauts discovered that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.
Unfortunately, naps can go awry pretty easily. Sometimes falling asleep proves impossible, other times you sleep for too long and wake up feeling groggy and disoriented. So, what can you do to achieve the perfect nap? Here’s what the experts have to say.
Create the right napping environment.
Just as practicing good sleep hygiene is important for getting a good night’s sleep—electronics out of the bedroom, going to bed at the same time every night, the list goes on—it’s important to create an optimal napping environment that will help you fall asleep quickly and easily.
“Make sure that the sleep environment is comfortable, dark quiet and cool, and turn off your phone and your computer” suggests Dr. Shelby Harris, sleep expert and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia: Get a Good Night’s Sleep without Relying on Medication. “If you’re at home, try to nap only in your bed. If you aren’t at home, find a place where you can either lie down or recline. Block as much light as possible from coming into the room (or get a light-blocking eye mask), and consider using a white noise machine, fan, or silicone earplugs to block the noise around you.”
Aim for 20-30 minutes.
We’ve all woken up from a nap feeling groggy and out of it at one point or another, which defeats the purpose of the nap altogether. To avoid this, aim for very specific napping windows. The ideal time for a nap is either 20-30 minutes or around 90 minutes. “Short naps prevent you from having to wake up out of deep sleep,” explains Dr. Sunjay Kansagra, Mattress Firm sleep expert. “Similarly, after 90 minutes, you have gone through a full sleep cycle and are back in lighter stages of sleep, which makes it easier to wake up and restart your day.”
Kansagra adds that even if you do miss these optimal windows, the feeling of post-nap grogginess is usually temporary. “You might wake up feeling worse than you did prior to taking the nap, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have benefits later in the day,” he explains.
Consider planning your nap.
Babies get planned nap times, so why shouldn’t you? By creating a regular napping window, you might find that an effective, energizing nap is easier to come by. “Some may find that taking an occasional nap while sleepy is useful, while others find that daily, planned naps work better for them,” says Harris. “For example, shift workers often use brief naps just before night work or during a break, with some needing a nap before driving home to get back safely. Patients with narcolepsy find that planned short naps are crucial to managing their sleepiness every day.”
Remember that a nap isn’t a replacement for a good night’s sleep.
There’s no doubt about it: For the most part, naps are a good idea. But it’s important to remember that they will never be a replacement for your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep every night, so don’t fall into the trap of staying up too late and telling yourself you’ll make up for it with a nap the next day.
“I always stress this to my patients: A brief nap does NOT make up for all the sleep we lose on a regular, nightly basis. You still need to make your nighttime sleep a priority,” says Harris. “And if you struggle with falling or staying asleep at night, napping is not always advised as it might actually worsen insomnia.”
Long story short: With the right tweaks, strategies, and precautionary measures, you should feel free to nap away. Our recommendation? Take them regularly and reap the benefits.
Hilditch CJ, McHill AW. Sleep inertia: current insights. Nat Sci Sleep. 2019;11:155‐165. doi:10.2147/NSS.S188911
Mantua J, Spencer RMC. Exploring the nap paradox: are mid-day sleep bouts a friend or foe? Sleep Med. 2017;37:88‐97. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2017.01.019