How Long Does the Perfect Nap Last?

Maybe you’ve had a long morning full of meetings. Perhaps you’re dragging because you stayed up a little too late the night before. Regardless of the reason, we all have those afternoons where nothing sounds better than a few minutes of shut-eye.

Taking a nap can be a great way to feel refreshed and more alert. However, snoozing for a couple of hours could do more harm than good.

How Long Should You Aim To Nap?

Most sleep experts agree that the ideal nap is short and sweet. The Mayo Clinic suggests 10- to 20-minute naps, the Cleveland Clinic recommends lying down for 15 to 20 minutes, and Harvard Health thinks the 20-minute mark provides the best rejuvenation.

Sleep longer than this, and you may enter into deeper stages of sleep, which may be harder to wake up from. This puts you at risk of sleep inertia — that feeling of grogginess that happens when you wake up from a long nap, not knowing where you are or what time it is. A long nap might also disrupt your circadian rhythm (internal body clock), which could throw off your whole sleep schedule.

There’s an exception to this rule, however. Some research has found that for older adults, napping between 30 minutes and an hour and a half may provide optimal benefits in terms of memory and focus. This may be because we tend to need more sleep as we age.

Other Napping Tips

Certain strategies can also help you get the most out of a quick nap. For your best shot at feeling reinvigorated, try:

  • Napping in the early afternoon — Your circadian rhythm helps control when you wake up and fall asleep and affects feelings of sleepiness throughout the day. Energy levels tend to dip after lunch, so naps might be most effective then. Naps later in the afternoon or early evening, on the other hand, may make it harder to get to sleep at night.
  • Finding a comfortable spot — Can’t make it home for a nap? You may be able to still get in a solid nap at your office. Try to find a cozy location, eliminate distractions, and turn off the lights if possible.
  • Avoiding stressing about an inability to nap — While napping is nice, it’s not for everyone. Some people just can’t seem to sleep when daylight is streaming through the window. This is nothing to worry about — just make sure you get enough sleep at night!

The Benefits of a Good Nap

Napping can improve your mood, helping you feel refreshed and banishing feelings of irritation or frustration. It may even fight stress at the cellular level.

A good nap may also sharpen your mind, boosting your ability to focus. Some research has found that naps may improve your ability to learn and remember. Tiredness can lead to accidents while driving or using machinery, so a good nap could help keep you safe.

The Benefits of a Good Nap

When Napping Could Be a Problem

Occasional naps are perfectly fine, but if you find that you can’t get through your day without one, it could be a sign of an underlying issue.

Frequent napping may indicate that you’re not sleeping enough at night. It may be a good idea to move up your bedtime to make sure you’re getting the rest you need. Keep in mind that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night!

On the other hand, napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. When you feel like you’re constantly napping and you’d rather cut back, try to get back on a regular schedule by skipping naps for a week or two, even if you feel tired.

Feel like you’re spending a lot of time in bed at night, but you’re still tired enough to need a nap during the day? You may be getting low-quality sleep due to a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. Ongoing tiredness can also be a symptom of conditions like infections, heart disease, diabetes, lupus, thyroid conditions, depression, or anxiety. If you suddenly find yourself needing more naps than you used to, but there aren’t any obvious causes, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

For the most part, however, there’s no need to worry if you like taking the occasional nap. Just keep it short to help prevent grogginess and ensure you’ll still be able to get to sleep later!

By Mo McNulty

Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. She has spent over a decade researching the genetic causes of — and possible treatments for — multiple types of cancer. Maureen is now a medical writer who is passionate about helping people use science to enrich their lives.