As you undoubtedly recall, the fairytale character Goldilocks sampled three bowls of porridge. She discovers that one bowl is too hot, one is too cold and the third is just right.
You can apply the Goldilocks approach to the perfect duration for a nap. You might realize that a 20-minute nap is just right, while your spouse, for example, prefers a one-hour snooze. To discern the best napping schedule for you, sleep experts advise experimenting, just as Goldilocks did.
Opinions about the optimum length of a nap vary.
The Mayo Clinic, for example, recommends adults take naps lasting 10 to 20 minutes each. Longer naps can lead to grogginess. However, younger adults might be fine napping longer, the Mayo Clinic says.
Meanwhile, Julie Lambert, a certified sleep expert at Happysleepyhead.com, a mattress review website, says a nap should clock in at no more than 90 minutes, as that’s the length of a typical sleep cycle. For older adults, who often experience health-related sleep disruptions, a two- to three-hour nap might be in order, Lambert says.
“In any case, the rule of thumb is to avoid napping when it’s less than two hours before bedtime. This way, you will not experience insomnia,” Lambert says.
Certified sleep science coach Bill Fish, co-founder of Tuck.com, which reviews sleep products, suggests testing different durations for naps but not slumbering for more than 60 minutes.
“Many people swear by a 20-minute power nap, while some people find that 45 minutes is the sweet spot for them,” Fish says. “Our bodies need rest, especially as we age, so a nap isn’t a bad thing at all, but the effects vary from person to person.”
Extending a nap beyond the 60-minute mark signals to your body that it’s ready for deep sleep, Fish says. Therefore, snoozing for more than an hour can leave you feeling grumpy when you wake up.
A shorter nap, however, can recharge the mind and body, Fish says. According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of napping for healthy adults include:
- Decreased fatigue
- Improved alertness
- Better mood
- Heightened performance
In addition, research published in 2007 found a midday siesta reduced deaths due to heart problems by one-third among men and women. The study showed that people in Greece who regularly took siestas — defined as napping at least three times a week for an average of 30 minutes or more — saw a 37 percent lower rate of heart-related deaths than those who hadn’t napped. Even occasional nappers enjoyed a 12 percent decline in heart-related deaths. Researchers attributed these results to the stress-alleviating advantages of naps.
To enjoy the benefits of napping, you should follow a few rules for resting.
The Mayo Clinic suggests taking naps in the early afternoon, as a post-3 p.m. nap can impede your nighttime sleep. Fish says that if you typically wake up at 6 a.m. each day, your ideal time for a nap would be 1 p.m., or seven hours after getting out of bed.
Aside from time of day, other factors to consider for your napping schedule include your usual sleeping routine, age and medication regimen, the Mayo Clinic says.
“Experiment with naps at different times of day as well as durations to find out what leaves you the most refreshed,” Fish says.
Certified sleep science coach Jason Piper, founder of Build Better Sleep, which helps clients improve their sleep habits, says the best window of time for a nap is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., as that period aligns with the afternoon “slump” — a dip in energy, alertness and concentration — that many of us feel.
Piper says we can even benefit from 20 minutes of downtime each day, without falling into full-on sleep mode. During this quiet time, you can simply settle into a calm environment, close your eyes, and avoid distractions such as email and phone calls. If you happen to nod off, though, be sure you don’t pull a Rip Van Winkle and take 40 winks for 20 years.