Let’s say you’re working from home. Your morning was jam-packed with meetings and wrangling kids and all that jazz. Now it’s the middle of the afternoon and you can barely keep your eyes open. You could reach for another cup of coffee, but that means you’ll never get to sleep tonight. So you contemplate a nap. A sweet, glorious, horizontal reprieve from the stress and fatigue of the day. But is that really the best idea? How long should your nap be? Will you be able to fall asleep tonight? We checked in with Dr. Rebecca Robbins, PhD and sleep expert to Oura, a personal health tracking device, to answer all of our questions about a midday snooze, including the best nap length and why insomniacs should probably skip naps altogether.
1. Naps Can Be Good for Your Health (But Shouldn’t Replace Regular Sleep)
There’s a strong biological tendency toward sleepiness in the afternoon, Dr. Robbins tells us. “There have been several studies done [like this one by researchers atThe City College of the City University of New York] that provide evidence that we all, when allowed to operate on our natural schedule without environmental interference (conference calls, childcare responsibilities, etc.), are sleepy in the afternoon and would nap if given the opportunity.” She adds that there are a host of benefits linked to napping, including improved alertness, productivity, performance on vigilance tasks, and even short-term memory. Still, naps shouldn’t be a substitute for a full night’s sleep. Pointing out that napping can be a Band-Aid for some folks—especially new parents or shift workers—but that napping is meant to work “as a supplement to, not a replacement for, regular sleep at night.”
2. The Perfect Nap Is Ten to 20 Minutes Long
Timing is everything, and Dr. Robbins points to studies (like this one published in the journal Sleep) that have concluded ten to 20 minutes is the perfect nap length. “Napping for less than ten minutes can’t guarantee you the stimulating effects of napping, and snoozing for 30 minutes or more may send you into that deep sleep zone, making it harder for you to wake up,” she notes. A so-called “power nap” of about 20 minutes should be just enough rest to allow you to get over the afternoon slump without reaching for caffeine or other stimulants that will damage your nighttime sleep.
3. The Ideal Time to Nap Is Between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
OK, so you know that you should be aiming for a ten to 20-minute nap, but does it matter when those ten to 20 minutes occur? Yes. The ideal time of day to nap is in the afternoon between approximately 2 and 4 p.m. Dr. Robbins explains, “Our body temperature dips during these hours, which is one of the factors that happens in conjunction with sleep onset at night, further increasing our urge to sleep in the afternoon.”
4. You Shouldn’t Nap If You Have Insomnia
While naps can be beneficial for many people, Dr. Robbins warns that the one group who shouldn’t nap are those experiencing insomnia. “These individuals would be much better served not napping, and building their ‘sleep pressure,’ or urge for nighttime slumber so that when their bedtime comes around they are optimally tired and stand the best chance of getting nighttime sleep.” Sorry, perennially tired friends.
5. You Should Nap at the Same Time and Place Every Workday
Consistency is key, folks. Dr. Robbins tells us that napping at the same time and same place every workday primes your body to get into the habit. “You’ll not only fall asleep more quickly, but you’ll also learn to wake up without an alarm.” A standing nap appointment? Every day? We’re in.