How to Power-Nap Without Feeling Groggy When You Wake Up

Updated 04/16/18

If I had to make a list of all the things I am passionate about, that list would include reading, writing, my family, my two dogs, coffee, and naps. The latter, in particular, is something that I do at least twice a week (if not more), no matter the time, day, or season. It's snowy and blustery in the midst of winter? My bed calls to me like a siren to sailors in an ancient Greek epic. It's bright and warm in July, you say? I'll find the time to take a little siesta, hiding away from the sun and the heat if only for a half hour or so.

There's just something about taking a nap that soothes and unwinds the brain and body. 

The problem is that I haven't quite found the perfect nap formula (if you will). Some days I wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized. Other days I wake up groggy, having lost all sense of time, location, and reality. It's these days that I desperately grab my phone, trying to decipher the century I've awoken in. Basically, what I'm saying is that napping is a 50/50 game for me. I have yet to master the consistent art of the power nap, which is that mythical midday sleep that results in a more energy and clarity.

According to experts like Holly Phillips, MD, general internist, and Manhattan author of The Exhaustion Breakthrough, there is indeed a formula. As long as you follow the power-nap rules, it's quite simple.

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The key seems to be to keep the nap under 20 minutes. That's a short nap, depending on who you ask (like me), which means power-napping might take a lot of practice and self-control—no two-hour naps here. "Generally, naps 30 minutes and under limit the body to light NREM sleep," Phillips says. "Your body doesn't have enough time to slip into the deeper sleep cycles which can result in post-nap grogginess. Twenty minutes seems to be the magic number for many people, and naps of this length have been shown to improve energy and alertness," Phillips explains.

Christopher Winter, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and CNSM Consulting, agrees that 20 minutes is the optimum length for a power nap. "Any longer and you start moving into deeper stages of sleep that often leave people feeling groggier than they were before the nap," he says. This post-nap grogginess is commonly referred to as "sleep inertia," though he's coined it PNF (which stands for post-nap funk). We love that.

Oh, and don't you worry about messing up your good night's sleep by taking a short power nap. Phillips says it won't necessarily give you that dreaded circumstantial insomnia when you hit the hay. In fact, certain research has proved this. "Short naps generally do not have a negative effect on established sleep cycles and sleep quality." Just keep in mind, the longest that a "short nap" should go for is only 30 minutes. If you sleep longer than that (or much longer, according to my standards), you'll run the risk of a bad night's rest.

Clearly, the key to a successful power nap is in the length of time you stay asleep. It's also in the time of day you choose to get some shut-eye. Assuming you wake up from 6 to 7 a.m. and go to sleep around 10 or 11 p.m., Phillips says the best time of day for a nap is mid-afternoon, somewhere around 1 to 3 p.m. "It's a great remedy for the post-lunch slump." (Speaking of that post-lunch slump, find out why it happens and how to prevent it.)

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