The Ultimate Guide to Daytime Napping
9 min read
Last Modified 17 March 2023 First Added 29 July 2016
At some point or another, we’ve all wanted to dabble in daytime napping. After all, in a busy 21st-century world, taking a nap during the day can be the difference between a productive day and one that falls short. Whether you’re thinking of taking a 20-minute power nap before a night shift or an afternoon nap before the grandkids arrive, it can often feel as rejuvenating as an eight-hour sleep.
However, the art of napping can be a tricky thing. Too long a nap and you’ll be tired all day; too short a nap and you won’t feel the benefits. There’s a lot to consider, so to achieve a nap that’s just right, here’s the guide to a great daytime doze.
Sleep experts recommend keeping afternoon naps to fewer than one and a half hours to avoid interfering with night-time sleep.
For most people, the regular power nap of 15–30 minutes is best for a quick energy boost while still letting you sleep at night.
Prime napping time is in the afternoon, between 1 pm and 3 pm, which is ideal for combating post-lunch sleepiness and avoiding interfering with your night-time sleep.
The optimum nap time for you depends on when you wake up. For example, if you wake up at 6 am, 1:30 pm might be the best time to nap, and if you wake up around 9 am, your recommended nap time would be around 3 pm.
The best conditions for a snooze are where you won’t be distracted in a quiet and dark environment. Make sure you have blinds or curtains that help to avoid the daylight peeking through, and set the alarm to prevent sleeping your day away.
Sleep researchers suggest drinking coffee before a nap to boost alertness after a quick nap. Caffeine takes 20-30 minutes to take effect, so it will kick in just as you wake.
Looking at these two terms, eyes tired and wondering what they mean, can be confusing. Generally speaking, there are three main differences between a regular nap and a power nap:
Consider these differences when considering which one to take, but don’t let them stop you from getting the rest you need. “A lot of people do find they benefit from naps,” says Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, director of the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey. “If you feel you don’t get enough sleep at night, it can be helpful to catch up. You will feel less tired and stressed. Countless studies have shown that napping benefits disease prevention.”
Sleep cycles refer to the stages your body and brain go through while resting. Until the early 20th century, it was believed that sleep comprised your body going into one state of rest until you awoke.
However, by monitoring the brain’s activity, scientists discovered that your brain acts differently after amounts of sleep, which plays a massive role in deciding the length of your nap.
Let’s explore the different lengths of naps and how they benefit the body:
20 mins: A 20-minute nap will result in mostly stage 2 sleep. This improves your mind’s alertness, reduces anxiety and stress, and improves your motor skills.
20 – 45 minutes: Extending your nap to 45 minutes will usually result in you reaching the sleep stage, including Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This stage of sleep is known for helping produce necessary proteins in the body and improving creativity and sensory processing.
45 – 90 minutes: A nap that comprises between 45 and 90 minutes will result in you reaching deep sleep and waking up while your body is halfway through that phase. This will make you feel highly groggy when you wake up and take a while to come around. If you want a nap longer than 45 minutes, we’d recommend setting your alarm for at least 2 hours after you plan to nod off. This will give you 15 minutes to get to sleep and then beyond the necessary 90 minutes to allow your body to complete an entire sleep cycle.
Let’s talk about the good things about napping, and the strengths that a little daytime rest can give us for the rest of the day:
Ever wake up after doing something and return to it, only to find it much easier than before? That’s because sleep helps the memory and helps you learn.
By triggering changes in the brain that strengthen the connections between brain cells, sleep is known to help cement events and new learnings in our memory. Consider taking a daily power nap if you struggle to fit in enough hours at night. When learning new theories or skills, our brains undergo three distinct phases: acquisition, consolidation, and recall.
The acquisition is the phase where we learn a new skill. This only happens during wakefulness. As does the third stage, which is where we recall it from our memories. But the second stage, consolidation, has to do with sleep. There have been many studies on the long-term memory benefits of sleep, and generally, it tends to aid with retaining information. While different amounts of sleep are suitable for different types of recall, it’s safe to say that getting an extra sleep cycle throughout the day is bound to help.
Like improved memory, a significant benefit of taking a nap is the improved mental alertness you are granted. By strengthening synapses and enhancing the function of your nervous system, incorporating power naps into your routine can help speed up your response time.
Research suggests that a better approach to sleep can improve the function of the T-Cells in your body. T-Cells play a crucial role in the function of the immune system, searching out infections and breaking them down before they have time to grow.
Sleep is hugely important for keeping your hormones balanced. Without enough sleep, your body can’t regulate your blood sugar. This is because when the body lacks rest, it is difficult to react to the hormone insulin – a key component for controlling blood sugar.
Other hormones that are impacted by sleep or the lack of it control growth and development, hunger, cell reparation, and plenty more.
All these hormones play a role in how energetic you feel, which may make a nap the key to getting things under control.
Without enough sleep, our amygdala – the response centre of the brain – becomes overly responsive. In turn, we react to situations more intensely. This causes our blood pressure and heart rate to increase and can sometimes result in panic attacks or heightened anxiety.
This is also a big reason why power naps can be helpful. Getting that extra lunchtime mini-snooze helps reduce anxiety and stress, and this, in turn, helps your general mental awareness.
If you’re a fan of keeping fit or playing regular sports, a benefit of napping is improved performance in the gym or on the field. When you sleep, your body can focus on repairing cells and resetting your body to its normal state. If you’re awake too long, your body has to focus on dealing with the day. For example, sleep is shown to play a vital role in healing and repairing both your heart and blood vessels – crucial players in any sport.
As great as a daytime nap can be, there can be some downsides. This is most noticeable in those who have insomnia and struggle to sleep at night. A European Society of Cardiology study has shown that regular naps of over 60 minutes can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.
So, regulate your naps to ensure you’re getting the benefits and not harming yourself.
Still feeling guilty about napping? Here are some pretty successful people who swore by a daytime doze:
“Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one – well, at least one and a half.” – Winston Churchill.
In the end, a quick nap, or a longer one, is a lovely thing. Not only can it be a bit of self-care, but it can also get us through the day and make us feel fresh and ready to take on whatever life throws our way. So go on, get snuggly into bed, and take a little break!
To summarise everything we have discussed, take a look at our napping infographic below.