In A Nutshell
There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of napping, and taking differently timed naps during the day can provide you with quite the variety. Short naps lasting no more than about 20 minutes will increase your immediate processing ability, while slightly longer, 60-minute naps can provide you with a boost to your creativity. And 45-minute naps will leave you with health benefits like lowered blood pressure.
The Whole Bushel
As much as we might have hated the necessity of taking naps as children, chances are good that we can’t seem to get enough of them as adults. Naps have always had a very distinct sort of stigma attached to them. However, in some parts of the world, taking a mid-afternoon nap means that you’re probably doing something you’re not supposed to be doing all night, or that you’re just inherently lazy. Other parts of the world find it absolutely acceptable to have an afternoon siesta, and according to science, they’re the ones that are getting it right.
Humans are programmed to sleep not in one eight-hour stretch, but in smaller sections. It’s been shown to reboot our brains and make us better problem solvers, learners, and workers. Not all naps are created equal, though, and how long you nap depends on what kind of benefits you’d like to get.
Many experts—such as those over at the National Sleep Foundation—recommend a relatively short nap of between 20 and 30 minutes for an immediate boost in productivity and alertness. Nap for any longer than that and you’re likely to have trouble falling asleep later.
There’s also the problem of something called “sleep inertia.” That’s the recovery time you need to wake up completely after a nap, and spending more than half an hour sleeping during the day will leave most people with a prolonged, groggy feeling that completely negates the idea of napping in the first place. This differs between people, and some of us can’t nap for more than about 10 minutes without struggling to wake up.
The improvement to alertness and brain function that we experience after a short nap lasts only between one and three hours, on average, before we’re feeling tired again. Longer naps of more than half an hour will give us a much, much longer period of feeling better, once we shake off the groggy feeling and recover from the shortened sleep period.
There’s also a very different and bizarrely specific type of nap that’s been called the six-minute nap. Because of the length of time that our sleep cycle takes, sleeping for six minutes can help us become more efficient at accessing our long-term memory. Similarly, napping through a few of these cycles can also help lengthen the improvement of our recall, as long as we’re in that six-minute time frame.
For those of us with irregular schedules, we might also try a 90-minute nap. Putting your head down for 90 minutes has been found to produce a minimum amount of the above-mentioned sleep inertia, while completing one of our full sleep cycles. This means that if we’re looking for a boost to our creativity or a little stability to our emotional state, a 90-minute nap is the way to go.
Different naps have different associations with physical benefits, too. Nap for 45 minutes, and you’ll find you’re lowering your blood pressure. Nap for 30 minutes a day on a regular basis, and you’re 37 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease.
Aside from duration, there are other differences in naps. Taking a nap purely for relaxation and enjoyment is called appetitive napping, while those who work naps into their daily schedule are habitual napping. Emergency napping happens when you’re in the middle of doing something and become so run down and sleepy that you just can’t keep doing what you’re doing without a break to recharge. And those of us that prepare for a late night out with a quick afternoon nap? That’s planned napping.
Show Me The Proof
io9.com: The science behind power naps, and why they’re so damn good for you
National Institutes of Health: The effects of napping on cognitive functioning
National Sleep Foundation: Napping Benefits & Tips