Growing up in Spain, taking an afternoon, “siesta” was the norm. As a kid, I just looked at it as something done by adults when all I wanted to do was play. Now as an adult living in the United States, I’ve figured out that there was something about these siestas that helped everyone feel great.
So, if you want to learn how to take a nap and feel refreshed after you wake up, I’m going to share tips with you that are part research, part trial-and-error, and part asking my uncles who are pros at taking siestas.
How Long to Nap
If you’re running a sleep deficit and you want to know how long to nap to make up for the loss of sleep, you’re going to be disappointed.
Naps do not replace lost sleep; rather, they are meant to recharge and help the body to keep going.
The key to waking up refreshed from a nap is all about timing. There are different lengths of time for a nap, each with different benefits. Ask yourself before napping: what am I trying to achieve and how long do I have to nap?
20 Minute Naps aka: Power Naps
You might have read about those 20-minute naps, also called “power naps” and wondered, can I really get the benefits of napping with just 20 minutes of shut-eye?
A 20-min power nap can provide alertness, enhanced mental and physical performance, and put you in a better mood.
These short naps keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, so it’s easier to “get moving” after you wake up. Pro tip: make sure to set an alarm for this nap session so you don’t snooze for too long.
30 to 60 Minute Naps
With a 30 to 60 minute nap, you’ll hit deeper stages of sleep. This enables your body to fully relax, your brain activity to slow down, and fall asleep.
This is my least favorite length of sleep because when I wake up, I feel groggy, almost as if I woke up with a hangover. This length of time is not worth it from a productivity standpoint because you will often come out of a nap feeling worse off than when you laid down.
90 Minute Nap: The Optimal Nap Length
A 90-minute nap? Yes, you read this right. This is the optimal length of a nap because your body will have enough time to make it through one complete sleep cycle.
This means that you’ll lightly fall asleep and then navigate down to a deep stage of sleep, and come back up through a light stage right before you wake up.
This complete sleep cycle should wake you feeling refreshed and studies have shown that this length of time can help boost your memory, creativity, and productivity.
A caffeine nap is where you drink a caffeinated drink right before taking a short, power nap. This nap should be kept at the 20-minute time-limit so when you wake up from your nap, the caffeine has taken effect and you can start fresh.
How does this happen exactly? When you drink coffee right before a nap and then you fall asleep, your brain activity levels slow down and your adenosine fall; therefore, allowing the caffeine to take effect and bind to the receptors in your brain.
In simple terms: taking an immediate nap will boost the caffeine’s ability to give you an increase in energy and focus.
I drink caffeine before my power naps and I have found this method to be very helpful when I need help to focus with work.
A word of caution: consuming caffeine too late in the day will interfere with your ability to fall asleep later at night, so I prefer to do this caffeine nap before 1pm.
Best Time To Nap
Growing up in Spain, where “siestas” were the norm, I can say that the best time to nap is about one hour after your mid-day meal. This is because after lunch blood sugar and energy levels naturally fall as the body focuses on the digestive function.
For most people, the best time to nap might fall between 2 and 3 pm in the afternoon. Coincidentally, this is when most people feel sleepy.
The best time to take a power nap is within an hour of your mid-day meal. I’ve also found it to be a good time to take a caffeine nap.
If you’re planning on taking a long, 90-minute nap, it’s important you start it before 3pm in order to not disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night.
If you’re trying to take a long nap to help you stay awake later into the night, past midnight, you can push your naptime to late afternoon, before 5pm.
Couch Nap vs. Bed Nap
Should you take a nap on the couch or should you go lay down in bed? And, does location make a difference? Yes and no. Nap location makes a difference but mostly in the way our bodies are trained to sleep.
Short, power-naps are best taken on the sofa or in a guest room, where your mind and body don’t associate it with long stretches of sleep. These quick-naps in a “new” place tend to leave you more refreshed and make it easier to wake up from a nap.
Longer naps, like the 90-minute nap, can be taken in your normal bed. One thing I love doing is taking a long nap on my bed, on top of the covers, covered by a blanket. This signals my mind and body that it’s a longer period of rest but not an overnight sleep.
A Dark Room vs. a Light Room for Taking a Nap
Regardless of nap length, all naps should be taken in a quiet space. A dark room vs. a light room doesn’t make a difference for long naps but for many people drawing the black-out shades can make it difficult to wake from a power nap. For this reason, power naps are best taken in a room with diffused light because you’ll be less likely to hit the snooze button.
Power Nap Vs. Long Nap
So after reading the differences between nap lengths; you might be wondering if you should take a power nap or a long nap. I feel you. I experience this dilemma often. Here is how I decide between the two:
- How much time do you have to allocate to taking a nap? If you have less than one hour, take a power nap.
- What will you be doing after your nap? If you need to work or do something creative, a long nap might help with a “reset” and give you a new round of being productive.
- How late in the day is it and how late do you plan on staying up? If it’s after 3pm and you want to be back in bed by 10pm, you might want to consider a power nap. A long nap might disrupt your ability to fall asleep later that night.
- How much sleep did you get the night before? If you got less than your optimal average of sleep, consider doing a long nap.
How to Feel Refreshed After a Nap
The real question is, how does one feel refreshed after a nap and not tired or groggy? If you want to feel refreshed, then a “nap” isn’t something to go take lightly. Meaning, it’s something to plan for. My tips to feel refreshed are:
- Timing is everything. Not too late and not too long.
- Take a caffeine nap. These work!
- Avoid the 60min nap. Go short or go long, no in-between.
Best Apps for Naps
There is a science to both tracking sleep cycles and waking up from a nap. Thankfully, with technology, we’re able to track naps and improve our nap schedule over time.
- Power Nap App. This app promises to help you prevent “hangover” naps. It’s intended for short naps.
- Sleep Cycle Power Nap App. I’ve been using the Sleep Cycle App to track my nightly sleep for more than 5 years and I really like the Power Napp.
- Pzizz App. This app uses relaxing music to help you fall asleep. You can select if you’re trying to sleep, take a nap, or want to focus. It’s a good all-in-one app.
- Breethe Meditation App. While not intended as a “power nap” app, I use this app to meditate mid-day and I have found that I nearly always fall asleep while meditating and wake up refreshed from a power nap. If you are seeking to reduce stress and anxiety from a nap, this app is where it’s at.
No matter how you choose to nap it’s important to recognize why you need to nap in the first place. If you’re trying to take a nap because you can’t fall asleep at night, suffer from insomnia, stay awake due to anxiety, or simply are not getting enough hours of sleep because you stay up too late and get up early; fixing your sleep patterns and getting a better night sleep will be the only long-term fix.
If you just need an occasional pick-me-up, then a nap is definitely the way to go.