Naps are an important way for us to maintain healthy levels of rest, because it’s pretty much a sure-thing that you don’t always have the time for a full night’s sleep. Maybe your job enters a stage requiring longer periods of work or maybe you just like to stay up late watching TV, whatever the case, catching a few Z’s when you have a chance can be a big help.
Of course, we need to budget time for a nap, so knowing the best nap length allows you to wake up more refreshed, not groggy.
Napping is like paying off a debt
Ever heard of a sleep debt? It’s basically what happens when you fall behind on the amount of sleep you need (7-9 hours every day). This debt doesn’t disappear at the end of the day, but instead accumulates over time, meaning habitually missing out on rest makes you feel worse and worse.
Important note: If you get too little sleep on working days, the weekend is not really enough time to repay your debt. You’ll just end up liking Mondays even less.
Luckily, naps are a convenient way to repay the debt.
How much sleep do you need?
You take a nap to make up for sleep you missed at night. Before getting into nap length, then, let’s recap how long your body needs to sleep each evening.
While the optimal time can vary depending on your age and level of fitness, you generally want to average around 7 to 9 hours of sleep. If nothing else, you should always keep your average above 6, as less than that can cause serious health issues over time.
Knowing how much is best for you is most easily done with a little trial and error. Generally, whatever makes you feel the best when waking is the amount of time you should be sleeping. Simple, right?
OK, OK, so how long should I take a nap for?
Since quality is as important as quantity with sleep, you can take shorter naps if you do it right. In general, you want to take naps of about 10 to 30 minutes. This will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep.
Beyond that and you’re likely to enter the deeper stages of sleep. If that happens you may wake with grogginess and lethargy, which are a couple things you probably don’t want during your day.
How to take the best nap possible
A little preparation can make your experience all the more rewarding.
Ever hear of a siesta? It’s a midday nap often taken after a meal, that’s popular in various cultures, and there is science to back up why it can be so useful. Our bodies have what’s known as a Circadian Rhythm. It’s because of this rhythm that we tend to get sleepy during the middle part of the day, i.e., the early afternoon.
If you can manage a nap around 2 or 3 p.m., your body will fall asleep more easily.
Also, it helps if you have a quiet, comfortable and dark space for your nap. Even if you feel like you can sleep through anything, bright lights, noises and the stress they cause can disrupt your sleep pattern, diminishing the benefits of your nap.