The good, the bad, some tips, and things to try to have a successful nap. 

Look, we all love a good nap – but do the benefits outweigh the consequences? Sometimes, yes! Let’s take a look: 

Benefits

Napping for certain situations can be beneficial. Sleep Foundation asserts that short naps have a number of benefits, such as fighting drowsiness, improving memory, workplace performance, and physical performance for a short time. According to Cleveland Clinic, a 20-30 minute power nap can “give you all the benefits of sleep without leaving you feeling groggy when you wake up.”

In addition, NASA performed a study on pilots flying a 9-hour leg of a flight. They found that pilots who were allowed a short break for a nap in the cockpit seat were more vigilant and performed more consistently, especially throughout the last stages of the flight, than pilots that were not allowed a nap break. 

So if you’re feeling that post-lunch slump and have the time (and an understanding employer), see if you can take a quick snooze! It’s backed by science. 

Longer naps can also be beneficial, if used strategically. Naps of 60-90 minutes can help you catch up on sleep debt (if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before) or help you stay awake longer or past a normal bedtime. These naps can be helpful for shift workers, emergency workers, or partygoers who don’t want to pass out in the corner of a club at 1am after a few drinks. 

Drawbacks

Of course, we all know that not all naps are created equal. All of us have woken up from a nap feeling even more tired than before, or jolted awake feeling so disoriented that you don’t know what day it is. 

Napping for too long (generally, longer than 20-30 minutes unless you’re being strategic) can leave you more tired and groggier than before. This is because your body uses the time to settle into deep sleep – and it’s much harder on your body to wake from deep sleep than from a light sleep. In addition, napping too close to bedtime can also disrupt your normal sleep patterns or cause you to wake up frequently during the night. Since good sleep relies on routine, disrupting your routine can disrupt your sleep for several days to come. 

It’s also important to recognize why you’re napping. If you’re frequently napping because you’re not getting enough sleep most nights, then a nap is just a band-aid for a chronic sleep debt that can’t be napped away – the real solution is an earlier bedtime or later wake-up time. Or if you’re procrasti-napping (we’ve all done it!), the sleep won’t make the problems go away. It might even make you more stressed, because now you’ve lost precious time!

In addition, napping regularly or involuntarily can be a sign of deeper health problems, such as depression or anxiety, sleep apnea (which affects the quality of your sleep during the night), or narcolepsy. If you find that you exhibit other symptoms associated with these health issues, consult with your doctor or health professional. 

Tips

  • Keep it short – 20-30 minutes is usually the best time frame for an effective nap. You get the benefit of feeling refreshed without the grogginess that comes with being woken from deep sleep. Toward that end, set an alarm so that you don’t settle into deep sleep unintentionally. 
  • Go somewhere comfy – sometimes it really is tempting to fall asleep in a hardback chair at your desk, but if you can find a more comfortable place to lay out, then do that! If you can’t find a better piece of furniture, try seeking out a room that is cool, dry, and dark. Those conditions are best for successful napping. 
  • Don’t nap too close to bedtime – like we said above, don’t nap too close to bedtime because it’ll disrupt your sleep patterns. Medline Plus says napping works best before 3pm (which is about 8 hours before most people go to bed). 

Types of Naps

If you think you might benefit from a nap, then here’s a few types of short naps to try: 

Coffee nap

Y’all have heard that you shouldn’t drink caffeine after noon, but have you heard of drinking caffeine right before a nap? Because that’s a thing – and it’s called a coffee nap!

Coffee naps, according to Sleep Advisor, involve quickly drinking a cup of (preferably black) coffee or espresso, then laying down for a 20-minute snooze. Since caffeine, on average, takes anywhere from 15-20 minutes to take effect, you can sleep in the meantime. But by the time you’re ready to wake up, the caffeine has settled into your body and is ready to give you that extra boost!

Siesta

Here in the USA, the word “siesta” is often used interchangeably with “nap,” but in Hispanic countries, especially Spain, a siesta is a specific kind of rest. 

A siesta is a period of a couple hours where the working populace takes a two-hour break from the workday for a long lunch (which is usually a social affair in Spain, not the twenty-minute, wolf-down-a-sandwich-and-get-back-to-work situation here in the US) and a post-lunch nap. 

Sleep Foundation suggests that, if you take a siesta, you still keep it short – 20-30 minutes. If you struggle with heartburn or acid reflux, you may consider napping before your meal. Otherwise, the pain would disrupt your sleep and render the effort pointless.