By Allyson Hoffman
Updated March 23, 2021
While you may have taken naptime for granted as a child, you can still nap as an adult. There are plenty of benefits of napping, so you can enjoy a short snooze guilt-free.
The physical benefits of napping include a decreased risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and other cardiovascular diseases (1). Taking naps also reduces levels of stress and anxiety (2) and gives your immune system a boost.
Taking a nap may have benefits for your work, too. After a nap, people experience improved job performance (3), better concentration, and improved alertness. Plus, naps contribute to strengthening memories (4) and help you creatively problem solve.
One key to a successful nap is taking it at the right time. Too early or late of a nap can make you feel groggy. A poorly timed nap can also negatively impact the shuteye you get at night. However, following the natural sleepiness rhythms of your body can help you time your nap just right.
When Is the Best Time to Take a Nap?
The best time to take a nap for most people is either right before lunch, around 12:30 p.m., or during the post-lunch dip, around 2 p.m. (5). During the post-lunch dip, also called the nap zone (6), you are more likely to feel a little sleepy or fatigued (7). This after-lunch sleepiness can negatively affect your alertness, concentration, and memory (8).
There are a few factors that cause the post-lunch dip. First, the contents of your lunch impact your performance. Eating a large or carb-heavy lunch (9) can bring on feelings of sleepiness. A low-fat lunch can also affect performance accuracy.
Biology also plays a factor in ideal nap times. In human sleep behavior, there are two peak times in a 24-hour period in which you are most likely to fall or remain asleep (10). The first peak time is typically during the night when you sleep the deepest. The second peak time is about 12 hours later, at the halfway point to that first peak time. Because of this natural sleep rhythm, people experience tiredness during the post-lunch time frame, even if they haven’t eaten a meal.
Your individual sleep-wake rhythm should determine your nap time. If you work overnight, then your ideal nap time will be in the middle of the night or in the early morning (11) instead of in the afternoon.
When Is It Too Late to Take a Nap?
To align with a natural human sleep rhythm, avoid napping after 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. If you miss the post-lunch window, taking a nap later in the day can disrupt your evening sleep schedule.
However, a nap taken between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. is much better than a nap taken between 7 p.m and 9 p.m. (12). If you nap during this later time frame, you might struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. You might also wake the next morning feeling less than well-rested.
What Is the Best Amount of Time to Nap?
The best amount of time to nap is between 10 and 20 minutes (13). The trick to a well-timed nap is to make sure you enter stage 2 sleep (14) and wake up before you reach stage 3 sleep. During stage 1 sleep, which is only a few minutes long, your body relaxes and slows down (15). During stage 2 sleep, your body relaxes and slows down even more.
A nap of 30 minutes or longer risks running into stage 3 sleep. Stage 3 entails a deeper sleep and helps you feel refreshed in the morning after a full night of sleep. During a nap, you might struggle to wake up from stage 3 sleep. When you do wake up, you might feel groggy and experience a delay in the positive effects of a nap, also called sleep inertia, or you might not experience positive benefits from the nap at all.
Optimize Your Nap
Nap time and length are important for getting the right midday rest. However, other factors can also enhance your ability to successfully nap.
Create a Nap-Friendly Sleep Environment
Ideally, the place you sleep (16) is quiet, set to a cool temperature, and free of distractions. If you work from home, you may want to nap in your bedroom.
At work, you may need to modify your office or car to create a space appropriate for napping. Drawing the blinds or wearing an eye mask can block out light. Try using noise-canceling headphones, earplugs, or a fan to conceal excess noise. Remember to eliminate distractions when possible. Set your phone aside. If you nap in your office, leave a note on the door asking your colleagues not to disturb you.
Improve Your Post-Nap Boost with Caffeine
Research shows if you want an extra boost with your nap, have a cup of coffee (17) before you close your eyes. The caffeine-nap combination is more effective than a cup of coffee or nap alone.
Wake Yourself Up When Your Nap Is Over
As tempting as hitting the snooze button may be, resist doing so when your alarm goes off after your nap. Instead, stand up and get your body moving to signal that your nap is over. You might make a routine for yourself, such as walking down to a colleague’s office or doing a 30-second dance to a song, that inspires you to get back to work.
Practice Makes a Perfect Nap
Don’t worry if you can’t fall asleep during your first naptime. Use the time to close your eyes and rest. You can also meditate to help your body relax.
It may take some effort to determine what time, length, and location are right for your ideal snooze. You might experiment with napping before lunch for a week, then after lunch the following week. With time, you can discover what kind of nap leaves you feeling refreshed, energized, and ready for the rest of your day.
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