How Long to Nap for the Biggest Brain Benefits
Waking up from a refreshing nap feels great. You’re no longer exhausted, have more energy and can focus on what you need to get done. The problem is that not every nap falls into this category.
Sometimes our naps last too long, leaving us disoriented when we wake up, and somehow, even more tired than before. Or maybe we put ourselves down for a nap but never actually fall asleep, so 20 minutes later we’re just as tired—and also frustrated.
If it sounds like figuring out the perfect nap is a science, that’s because it is. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of carefully planned naps (hi, parents and other caregivers!), but for those who are able to prioritize daytime sleep, there’s research behind how much we should sleep and when. Here’s what you need to know:
Types of napping
As it turns out, there are three types of napping, according to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Planned napping (also called preparatory napping) is when you take a nap before you actually get tired. This is a good option if you know you’re going to need to stay up later than usual.
- Emergency napping is exactly what it sounds like: falling asleep because you’re suddenly very tired and can no longer continue with the regularly scheduled activities of your day. Pulling over to the side of the road to take a nap if you’re drowsy while driving is an example.
- Habitual napping is when someone takes a nap at the same time each day. Though this is most common for young children, adults can certainly get into the habit too.
The benefits of a nap can vary depending on how long you’re asleep. Here’s a breakdown of what happens to your brain during naps of different lengths:
- 10 minutes: Believe it or not, even just a 10-minute nap can make a big difference. In a 2016 study published in the journal Sleep, researchers found that snoozing for 10 minutes can immediately increase alertness and boost cognitive performance for as long as three hours.
- 20 minutes: The National Sleep Foundation says that 20 minutes is an ideal nap length, allowing you to reap benefits like improved alertness, enhanced performance and being in a better mood.
- 60 minutes: If you are able to sleep for a full hour in the afternoon, you may be less impulsive and more tolerant of frustration, according to a 2015 study. However, napping for more than 30 minutes during the day may disrupt your sleep later that night, Robert Oexman, M.D., chiropractor and sleep director of the Sleep to Live Institute told NBC News. This is because naps longer than a half hour can mean that you enter deep slow wave sleep, so you may wake up feel disoriented or even more tired than you did before the nap, he says.
- 90 minutes: Though a 90-minute nap is usually too long, that’s not necessarily the case if your sleep was severely disrupted the night before, sleep expert, Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D. told NBC News. Having said that, napping for an hour and a half can provide the same cognitive benefits as an eight-hour sleep period, Sara Mednick, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside noted in an interview with the American Psychological Association. Also, the National Sleep Foundation says that a 90-minute nap can boost your creativity.
While you’re planning your nap, don’t forget to time it during the right time of day as well. You may also want to time your caffeine intake with your naps to maximize the benefits.