It has been a long week. Maybe you have been working around the clock or the baby has not been sleeping well. Whatever the cause, you’re short on sleep and craving a nap. But how much time should you carve out for a quick snooze? Ten minutes? An hour? Thankfully, science is helping answer that question and more.
We all have awoken from a nap and felt more tired and groggy than we did when we fell asleep. That phenomenon is known as “sleep inertia” and can be triggered by taking too long of a nap and falling into a deep sleep, only to wake-up an hour or so later. While you won’t stay out of it for long, if you need to be alert right away, that grogginess can get in the way.
Longer naps may also affect nighttime sleep, especially for those who struggle with insomnia or have inconsistent sleep quality.
However, if short-term alertness is not a concern (maybe it’s Saturday and you want to rest up for the evening) taking a nap longer than 30 minutes may help with cognitive performance.
No matter the length of time, we know there are benefits to napping — and negative health impacts sleep deprivation can pose.
A recent study found sleep deprivation has been linked to many health problems including diabetes, obesity, heart attack and stroke. Even losing one night’s sleep can cause neurons in our brain to fire slower than usual, meaning it takes us longer to respond to stimuli we encounter every day, which could translate to slower reaction times.
The good news is that if you are lacking sleep, taking a quick morning or mid-afternoon nap can greatly improve your alertness, enhance performance (memory and reaction time) and reduce mistakes, not to mention reduce your fatigue and improve your mood.
However, before you lay down, there are some important things to know to make sure you are getting the most out of your catnap.
- Keep it short. Aim for a 10-30 minute nap. This time range has been shown to have best results in improving memory and cognitive functioning. Anything longer can potentially make you drowsier. So, be sure to set an alarm before you nod-off.
- Avoid later afternoon napping. If you lay down for a nap after 3 p.m., there is a greater likelihood it will interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. Aim to nap between the mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
- Find a quiet and relaxing place. Seek out a relaxing environment – ideally a quiet and dark room. Laying down somewhere with little to no distractions will help ensure you can fall asleep faster.
Nothing can beat a solid eight hours of sleep, but if you are feeling tired or haven’t had the chance to get a good night’s sleep, following the above guidelines for getting the most out of nap just might help you get through the day.