How Long Is the Ideal Nap?

Most people are either nap people, who find napping easy and beneficial, or they just aren’t. Some people who hate napping dislike it because they can’t fall asleep or because they wake up groggy and struggle to get back to their day.

If you can’t sleep, it’s quite possible that you are getting plenty of rest at night and don’t need to nap. If you’re struggling with grogginess, though, it’s likely that you’re napping too long. One of the keys to the art of napping is sleeping long enough for the nap to be beneficial, but waking up before you feel fuzzy and confused. Here’s how to get it right.

Sleep Cycles and Naps

The reason that timing your nap is so important has to do with your sleep cycles. When you sleep, you go through 5 different cycles. In stages I-IV sleep, you sleep deeper in each stage. Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure and your body temperature get lower, and your eyes stop moving.
In REM sleep, which usually happens after Stage IV, you dream. Your heart rate rises, your eyes move again, and your blood pressure and temperature go up. In fact, your body acts almost as if it were awake, except that your brain is still unconscious.

Altogether, it takes about 90 minutes to go through an entire sleep cycle. This is an important number when it comes to napping because you either want to get through an entire cycle or wake up before you enter Stage III sleep. This leaves you with a couple of options:

  • The Power Nap. Power naps are usually 20-30 minutes long. This gives you plenty of time to go through Stage I sleep and get some good time in Stage II, but it keeps you from entering deeper sleep. If you don’t have time to sleep through an entire cycle, this is your best option because it allows you to get all of the benefits of napping without any of the lingering grogginess and drowsiness that occur when you wake up in the middle of Stage III or Stage IV sleep.
  • The Long Nap. If you have a couple of hours to nap, try to get through an entire sleep cycle. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to fall asleep, stay asleep for at least 90 minutes, and wake up as slowly as you need to. When you do this, you’ll go through Stages I-IV sleep, as well as one round of REM. These naps give you the maximum nap benefits without leaving you disoriented afterward.

Be sure that you don’t nap any longer than one sleep cycle. Doing so can throw off your circadian rhythms. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep or sleep deeply at night. If you’re so sleep deprived that you can’t help it, take steps to get more rest at night so you don’t have to take long daytime naps.

The Benefits of Napping

Still not convinced that napping is for you? Consider some of the benefits.

Napping makes you more alert, which is particularly important if you are working on something technical or you need to operate machinery (like your car!). It also improves your mood, which your co-workers might appreciate even if you don’t! Overall, it will help you perform better, no matter what you’re doing.

Napping has also been shown to reduce stress. This means that a nap leaves you with a lower risk of developing all sorts of conditions, like having a stroke, getting diabetes, gaining weight, and even having a heart attack.

Even if you don’t notice these benefits, napping will likely help your body and brain to function better. So carve out a chunk of time, decide how long you want to sleep, and try a nap today!

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