Everything You Need To Know About Naps, From A Sleep Specialist

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

overhead of woman napping

Some folks have their nap routine down to a science and swear by their afternoon snooze. But others may wonder, how can I effectively nap so I wake up energized and not overwhelmed by sleep inertia and grogginess? To find out, we asked naturopathic sleep doctor Catherine Darley, N.D., who gave us the lowdown on how to nail your next nap time.

First things first—are naps actually good for you?

If you can swing a midday nap, Darley says to go for it. According to her, naps are a healthy addition to a normal sleep routine. "I think napping every day can be a fine lifestyle," she says.

"The good thing about naps is they do improve performance and alertness for four hours after," she notes, mentioning that she often naps around 2:30 p.m. herself, which she finds makes her afternoons and evenings run smoother.

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That said, if you feel the urge to nap multiple times a day, it could be a sign that you're not getting deep enough sleep at night. In that case, you may want to turn your focus to your sleep hygiene habits: Reduce screen time at night, cut back on caffeine and alcohol, create a nightly ritual, and check out a sleep-promoting supplement like magnesium+.*

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How long should naps be?

So, once you've decided to take a midday snooze, how long should you actually nap for? Given a person's natural sleep cycle (where we phase through light sleep, deep sleep, and a bit of REM) lasts roughly between 90 and 110 minutes, Darley says the ideal nap time is 30 minutes or less—or a full hour-and-a-half sleep cycle.

If you stick within one of those time frames, you should be able to wake up while in a lighter sleep phase. "You want to avoid waking up out of deep sleep," Darley explains, as that will make cause grogginess. Plus, she says, "Performance is impaired for about 20 minutes after you wake up during deep sleep."

"If a person is sleeping in the middle of the day, they likely won't take long to fall asleep," she adds. With that in mind, consider setting your alarm for 35 or 95 minutes after you lie down, to give yourself a few minutes to fall asleep.

What time of day is best to take naps?

And as far as when you should actually take your nap, Darley had some additional advice for working with your body's circadian rhythm.

"I think the ideal time to nap is at your circadian lull," she says, which is the point in the early afternoon when you experience a dip in your core body temperature, typically between 1 and 3 p.m.

What you really want to avoid is interfering with your nighttime sleep, so the earlier in the day you nap, the better. "One of the things people fall into is that after-work nap," she adds, "and that can really mess a person up because it's too close to nighttime sleep—so I caution against the 5 or 6 p.m. nap in the armchair."

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The bottom line.

Naps can be a great resource to turn to midday to re-energize and catch a few more zzz's. But they can't replace a good night's sleep and have to be done right. By timing a nap for waking up during light sleep, and making sure to nap earlier in the day, we can wake up refreshed afterward—and still get to bed at a reasonable hour later.

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