Have you ever woken up after a midday nap and felt even more tired than before? Chances are - you have overslept.
But then how long should I nap to be more productive, you might ask?
Let me give you a brief overview of what scientists and other experts say about sleep cycles and what is the best amount of time to nap.
Also, throughout this article, you can expect to find quite a few interesting facts about famous people napping and tips to sleep better.
Table of Contents
- 1. Put It Short - How Long Should I Nap?
- 1.1. Stages of Sleep
- 2. Wake Up In The Initial Stages
- 2.1. Ask the President
- 2.2. When Is the Best Time to Nap?
- 2.3. Where Should You Do It?
- 2.4. Health Benefits of Napping
- 2.5. Side Effects
- 3. Those Who Are Allowed to Sleep at Work
- 4. Great Minds Napped Too
- 5. Tips and Tricks
- 6. Conclusion
Put It Short - How Long Should I Nap?
Well, briefly said, it could be 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes. It could also be somewhere between 1,5 to 2 hours!
But why such a big difference? Is it really that hard to answer clearly how long should I nap?
Well, first of all, you need to understand what happens during your sleep. Then it should become clear. The question “How long should I nap?” did not only arise to us, common folk, but also to scientists. Studies show that the best amount of time to nap strongly depends on the stages of sleep.
Stages of Sleep
We, human beings, are governed by the laws of nature. No wonder you feel differently at 3 AM and at 3 PM. Our brains react to the amount of light and therefore decide when to release melatonin (a hormone that makes us sleepy). That’s why we’re most sleepy at night.
Scientists have researched human sleep quite extensively and found that there are certain stages to our sleep. All of them rotate in around 90-minute intervals. Therefore, different waking times result in different experiences.
Remember the time when someone woke you up and you felt disoriented? That’s probably when you were in a deep sleep stage and were pulled out from it.
And when the amount of time to nap was only 10 - 20 minutes? A lunch break at work, for example. You’ve probably woken up full of energy and ready to climb a mountain, right?
Wake Up In The Initial Stages
The fact is - waking up in the initial stages of the sleep cycle will make you feel most rested, energized and alert. That’s somewhere between 10 to 30 minutes. Though some researchers argue that a 10-minute power nap is the most effective for an afternoon nap. In the end, it really depends from person to person.
Unless you have around 2 hours in the afternoon. Then you could go through a full sleep cycle and boost your memory and creativity as well.
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Ask the President
The question "how long should I nap?" could also be asked to many American Presidents. They seem to have been professional nappers.
When in office, B. Clinton had his 15-30 minute power naps, R. Reagan also jokingly admitted that his office chair should be inscribed “Ronald Reagan slept here”, J.F. Kennedy was often having lunch in bed and napped right after for about 1-2 hours every day.
A well-timed nap is a huge boost to your system, but make it too long and you’ll wake up worse than before. That is called sleep inertia - when after a nap you feel disoriented and sluggish.
If you’re still unsure how long should you nap to get the most from it, just experiment different times for yourself and see how you feel. Try switching from 10 minutes to 20, to 30, and you’ll find the best time that suits your system.
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When Is the Best Time to Nap?
Since it is already clear that if you’re on a tight schedule, the best amount of time to nap is around 10 - 20 minutes. The next question might arise - when should I nap?
Well, according to scientists, our brains work best roughly from 10 AM to 2 PM and from 4 PM to 10 PM. Adding the fact that our body drops in temperature in the afternoon, and brains produce a dose of melatonin (remember - a sleep drug from our brains?), it leaves us to say that the best time to nap is somewhere between 2 PM and 4 PM.
So, right after your lunch at work, instead of going for a dose of caffeine from Starbucks, you could embrace that natural gift from your brains and doze off for a minute or two (ten or twenty, that is).
Do it too late and you risk having a hard time going to sleep at night. Do it too early and you’ll struggle to switch off.
Of course, it doesn't apply to everybody. Some insomniacs, irregular sleepers or geniuses (like Thomas Edison) find it easy to fall asleep anytime during the day.
There’s no strict rule when exactly you should have your afternoon nap. If you need one, you will definitely feel it. Sometime after lunch, you should naturally feel your body going a bit down on energy and your head nodding involuntarily.
If you’re full of energy and completely alert - just continue without one. The question “how long should I nap?” has no meaning if one just doesn’t feel like napping. Simply put, don’t force it.
Where Should You Do It?
Obviously, you have to provide your body and brains the best conditions to get the most from your nap. Curtains and a comfy bed would do the work. But not all of us are British Prime Ministers who have their own bedrooms in the Parliament.
Though many giant companies like Google, Nike, NASA already recognize the benefits of a midday nap for their employees. They have quiet rooms or even futuristic looking nap pods to catch a quick snooze or meditate.
You need not ask “how long should I nap?” since the pods have inbuilt automatic 20-minute time trackers.
If you can’t “close the curtains” in your workplace, or lay in your own personal bed or high-tech pod, then consider getting an eye mask for a similar effect. Find some quiet, dark and cool place to lay back and snooze.
Speaking from personal experience, having your eyes and ears covered greatly increases the effectiveness of a nap.
Also, if you can’t escape the outer noise - try using “white noise” app or track. It is reported to have soothing and harmonizing properties.
Health Benefits of Napping
There are many great health benefits that regular napping brings:
- First of all, it recharges your energy levels and resets your brains. This way you can continue your work as if it’s another day.
- It also reduces stress and anxiety levels. Nobody wants to work with a person that is constantly freaking out.
- Furthermore, it increases your mood. If you feel low or irritated, after a good nap you might become another person!
- Research shows that it also lowers your blood pressure. And as a consequence, reduces the risk of a heart attack.
- For those who spoil themselves with 2 hours of sleep in the afternoon, it also increases creativity and memory.
To put it short, a well-timed nap is a great overall performance and mood booster. But it too can be harmful if done wrongly.
While there are truly numerous health benefits of napping, there are side effects, too. Again, it all comes down to how long should a nap be.
Sleeping too long will result in you feeling worse. If you already have problems to sleep well at night, these feelings of grogginess can be even more severe and last longer. Also, if you nap too late in the afternoon, chances are - you’ll have trouble falling asleep at night.
Otherwise, it seems that if the question “how long should I nap?” is answered and done correctly, no side effects are there to hit you. Just remember - not too long and not too late.
Those Who Are Allowed to Sleep at Work
As mentioned before, there are companies that take their employees’ health seriously and recognize the benefits of a nap. It seems quite a number of them in the US have EnergyPods (spaceship-like chairs) installed in their offices for their employees to have some time off in the afternoon.
When Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of Huffington Post, collapsed from sleep-deprived exhaustion in 2007, she learned her lesson. Now her company takes great care for their employees’ well-being and has places to nap throughout their offices.
Uber, Google, Procter & Gamble, PwC and many more adopted similar measures, mainly - nap pods, in their offices.
Though nothing beats the good ol’ kingsize bed, curtained windows, a butler who wakes you up after a certain time, presenting watered whiskey and a cigar in your workplace (a reference to W. Churchill).
Though, honestly, would you ever come out of that soft, comfy bed if it was in your workplace...?
I feel it takes a great deal of willpower, for those who work from home, to not fall into the trap of their bed. Unless it already has its springs sticking out from the surface.
Back to the main topic, if speaking about famous people napping habits, there are quite a few fun examples of how great minds sleep...
Great Minds Napped Too
Those who worked a lot, had many responsibilities, ideas and tasks at hand, almost certainly napped throughout their day. Take Albert Einstein for example. To fuel his ingenious brains, he napped regularly. And same as another genius Salvador Dali, he used a technique called hypnagogic nap.
He was sitting in his favorite armchair and holding a small object, such as a pencil or key, between his fingers. When it fell, it made a noise that woke him up, thus stopping him from entering into the second stage of a sleep cycle. It is said to be effective in activating your imagery and sensation parts of your brain.
Another unusual character is Napoleon Bonaparte, a powerful XVIII century French Emperor. It is reported that he had insomnia and sometimes literally didn’t sleep for days. He was regaining his energy through frequent naps. And sometimes in the most unexpected places... like in the middle of a battle with numerous cannon shots booming all around.
Leonardo Da Vinci, a famous Renaissance artist from Italy, was probably the first one to take up the “I’ll sleep when I die” moto. He got used to what is called polyphasic sleep. Every four hours he slept for about 15 minutes, thus, in the end, totaling to only around 2 hours of sleep every day. (Maybe that was the secret to his ingenuity?)
These people did not ask “how long should I nap?”. They just did whatever worked for them, whenever they felt like it.
Nowadays we have science to back the best amount of time to nap. And as I’ve reviewed before, it is very similar to what those geniuses did back in the old days.
Tips and Tricks
If you want to become a pro-napper, answering yourself how long should I nap is not enough. You’ll have to learn some tricks.
I’ve gathered a bunch and laid them down here for you to choose:
- President B. Clinton reportedly gave a tip of how to doze off more quickly - just imagine a big hole in the back of your head and focus on that.
- You might as well try these techniques if you’re having trouble to fall asleep.
- If you’re planning to have a short power nap and happen to like coffee, drink a cup before you sleep. It might sound contradictory, but actually, caffeine starts to work only after around 20 - 30 minutes - just in time you wake up.
- Of course, sleeping in a huge bed with a soft mattress is great, no one's arguing about that. But to tell you the truth, it really isn’t great for a short nap. Why? Simply because it makes waking up much much harder. Who would ever light-handedly give up on this comfort and warmth?
- If you’re still unsure of how long should you nap, then try experimenting with different times every day and putting down your feelings on paper right after you wake up. Quickly enough you will be able to choose your best amount of time to nap.
- Use a blanket. Your body temperature falls down in the afternoon and you might get a bit cold.
- Wear an eye mask and earplugs. Seriously, the darker and quieter it is, the better your sleep will be.
Well, having all these tricks in your pocket, soon enough you will be able to put a new title to your CV - “the professional napper”.
By now you should have a pretty clear picture of how long should you nap and what are the best conditions for that.
In general, the question “how long should I nap?” is commonly answered “20 minutes”. But it might slightly vary from person to person.
Napping time has a scientifical backing. If you don’t want to feel terrible - don’t wake yourself up from a deep sleep.
To put it short, listen to your body, experiment with times, learn from experience and if possible - adjust your surroundings.
And for those "extras": if you happen to have a whole bedroom in your office, consider having one of these mattresses to improve your quality of sleep. Just mark my words - it will be difficult to get back to your work!
1. Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al.: 'Neuroscience. 2nd edition'
2. Amber Brooks, PhD, Leon Lack, PhD: 'A Brief Afternoon Nap Following Nocturnal Sleep Restriction: Which Nap Duration is Most Recuperative?'
3. Pablo Valdez: 'Circadian Rhythms in Attention'