How Long Should I Nap? Here’s What You Need to Know

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It is easy to neglect the sleep we need. But sleep experts agree that a bit of shut-eye can make a big difference.

Our sleep health affects all other aspects of our lives, including our concentration levels, our motivation and even our relationships.

So, it is worth the time and effort to get enough sleep every day. You can achieve this goal in various ways, and if your normal routine is causing you lost sleep, or you want a little bit of extra energy when you hit that afternoon slump, then it might be time to take a nap.

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How Long Should I Nap?

During any sleeping period, you will go through different stages of the sleep cycle. When deciding on how long you should nap, you need to consider which part of the sleep cycles you’ll be waking up in and how that will affect you.  

Whether at night or when we’re having a nap, our sleep is made up of a 90 minutes sleep cycle with four stages in each. People can nap from 5 minutes up to 3 hours, so a nap may contain full sleep cycles or just a couple of stages.

It’s important to factor in which stage of our sleep cycle we’ll be waking up from when planning an afternoon nap.

If we’re taking quick power nap but oversleep and wake ourselves up during the deep sleep phase of our cycles, there’s a good chance you might wake up more tired than you did when you went to sleep.

10-20 Minute Nap

In a 10 – minutes nap, you will move through two stages of the sleep cycle. The first stage we move into is a very light sleep that only lasts about 2-5 minutes.

The next stage of sleep is a lot longer, lasting for around 30 minutes. In this stage, our body temperature drops, our muscles relax, and our breathing becomes more regular.

During the second stage of sleep, the synapses between our neurons are strengthened, which can be highly beneficial to learning.

And because we only reach the second stage of sleep during a 10-20 minute nap, we avoid falling into a deep sleep, which can be harder to wake up from.

This is a great length of nap to take before going to a class or lecture and will leave you feeling refreshed and full of energy.

How long should I nap - A nap before a class can aid in learning
A nap before a class can aid in learning

30-Minute Nap

That being said, a 30 to 60-minute nap can still be beneficial, gaining all the cognitive benefits of being in the second stage of sleep whilst also going into the deep restfulness of stage 3.

During stage 3 sleep, our brain waves lower into delta and theta waves that help us transfer information from short term memory storage to long term storage.

However, this stage of sleep is the hardest to wake up from, and you might feel groggy and tired upon waking.

So, while you will still gain all the cognitive benefits from the nap, it will take a little while for them to kick in.

The perfect Time for this nap would be after you engage in learning, allowing your brain to soak in all that new information.

How long should I nap - Waking up in a deep sleep can cause grogginess
Waking up in a deep sleep can cause grogginess

90-Minute Nap

If you manage to nap for 90 minutes, then you’ve completed an entire sleep cycle. In the last stages of sleep, we enter REM, when our brains become more active and have our most vivid dreams.

This happens because the Prefrontal Cortex, responsible for inhibition and cognitive control, slows down, while the Amygdala and Cingulate Cortex, the regions of our brains responsible for motivation and emotional processing, become heightened in activity.

The inhibitions and cognitive control decrease lead to strange and fantastic dreams, where we make profound associations. Due to the Amygdala and Cingulate Cortex being active, those associations can often be highly emotionally charged.

In this stage of sleep, our minds are at their most creative, creating new and innovative connections between different ideas.

A 90-minute nap might be perfect if you’re trying to create something new and need a boost of creativity.

Also, because you’re closer to the end of a natural sleep cycle, you should find waking up in REM sleep easier than waking up in stage 3, deep sleep.

How long should I nap - We have our most vivid dreams in REM sleep
We have our most vivid dreams in REM sleep

What Time of Day Should I Nap?

Nap length isn’t the only thing to consider when you’re planning your mid-day snooze. Naptime also plays an important factor.

Our sleep cycles contain longer REM periods at the end of the night, which means that your morning nap will contain more REM than if you took it later in the day.

As the day progresses, so does the brains need for stage 3, deep sleep. This might cause problems because a later afternoon nap will contain more stage 3 sleep than an earlier nap.

Meaning you won’t have the same need for deep sleep when it comes to your actual bedtime, making it harder to sleep at night.

After reading this, you may be considering using the power of a nap to boost your creativity.

Naps can help you remember new information and feel refreshed after a long day at work. However, there is an optimal time for napping that will make it more effective.

Naps later in the day will most likely contain stage 3 deep sleep, which may cause you to wake up feeling groggy and disoriented.

Napping earlier in the day will give your brain plenty of Time to process all the stage 2 sleep before we need to wake up again for stage 3 deep sleep during nighttime hours.

Key Facts

  1. Naps can help us increase our cognitive performance and
    reaction times, decrease blood pressure and improve our memory performance.

  2. A short nap can give you an extra boost and prepare your brain for learning.

  3. A longer nap can help you process new information but waking up in the
    deep stages of sleep cause you to feel groggy.

  4. If you nap later in the day, you might cause yourself to have poor quality nighttime sleep.

Griff Williams

MindEasy founder & meditation teacher

Griff Williams is an accredited meditation teacher and founder of MindEasy. He spent 12 years working as a London firefighter before changing paths to pursue building MindEasy. He received his diploma in meditation teaching from The British School of Meditation.