In terms of health, sleep is a pretty big deal. “Overall, sleep is a major contributing factor to our health and wellness. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night is linked to a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke,” says Dr. Kent Smith, President of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy, a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, and founding director of Sleep Dallas. “What’s more, a recent study also found that an adequate amount of quality sleep each night may also lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.”
But there’s another form of sleep that could help deliver additional sleep-related benefits—and that’s napping. Let’s take a look at naps—their health benefits, how long you need to snooze to reap those benefits, and how to make the most out of your daily nap:
How long do you need to nap every day to reap the rewards?
You might think that a good, solid nap—and all the health benefits that go along with it—would require at least an hour or two. But the good news? You can reap all those health benefits in as little as 15 or 20 minutes. Plus, shorter naps may actually be better for you than a longer snooze. “The optimal duration of a nap is anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. Any longer than that will put your body into a REM cycle, making you feel groggy when you wake,” says Smith.
As mentioned, these shorter sleep cycles (commonly known as “power naps”) offer a variety of health benefits, including:
- Increased alertness. A recent NASA study found that pilots who took naps for 26 minutes experienced a 54% improvement in their alertness compared to pilots who didn’t catch any midday shut-eye. Pilots who napped also showed a 34% increase in their job performance.
- Better endurance. Want to boost your athletic performance? Try incorporating daily naps into your training. One study found that runners who took short afternoon naps experienced improvements in their endurance levels compared to runners who didn’t nap.
- Increased creativity. Feeling stuck? A short nap might be just what you need to get the creative juices flowing, as short naps have been linked to increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain—the side associated with creativity.
- Fighting the risks of an improper sleep schedule. If you struggle to get enough high-quality shuteye every night, napping can help. One study found that a 30-minute midday nap can help to reverse the negative impact of a night of poor sleep, including lowering stress and boosting immune function.
- Lowered risk of heart disease. A daily snooze session might even help you fight heart disease (and live longer in the process). One study found that adults who regularly took a midday nap were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease.
And the best part? You can start reaping the benefits of your daily nap practice pretty much immediately. “The benefits of a power nap occur almost immediately upon waking,” says Alex Dimitriu, MD, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.
When’s the best time to schedule your daily nap?
How long you nap every day is important—but so is when you settle in for your daily siesta.
“The ideal time for a power nap is around the siesta time in some countries, which is usually between 1-3 PM,” says Dimitriu. If you can’t get in a nap in before 3 PM, it’s best to push through until bedtime. “Try to avoid napping later, especially too close to bedtime, as this can impact nightly sleep,” says Dimitriu.
How to make the most out of nap time
Ready to incorporate a power nap into your daily schedule? Here are a few tips to help you maximize your nap time—and reap all the health benefits in the process:
- Have a cup of coffee. Coffee before bed is a no-no. But as it turns out, a healthy dose of caffeine may actually make your mid-afternoon nap more effective. Research shows that having a cup of coffee immediately before a nap can help you avoid going into deeper stages of sleep, which can make you feel groggy—and will help you feel alert and focused when you wake up (right around when the caffeine is kicking in).
- Create the ideal napping environment. It’s going to be hard to fall asleep if you’re in a bright, noisy room full of distractions; so if you want to get the most out of your nap, you need to create the right environment for sleep. “Maximize your nap time by adjusting the thermostat to a cool temperature; limit background noise and ambient light,” says Smith. “If noise is a problem, a white noise machine or earplugs may help. If the room where you are attempting to nap is too bright, try blackout curtains or a sleep mask.”
- Try meditation. Meditation has a host of benefits, including when it comes to naps. “Learning to meditate is one of the most useful things we can do to learn to fall asleep, or fall back asleep…and also with attempts to nap,” says Dimitriu. If you want to fall asleep faster (and get the most out of your short nap), try incorporating a few minutes of meditation into your daily routine. (Not sure how to meditate? You may want to try some of Fitbit Premium’s Mindfulness tools to get you started with your practice.)
Naps are great—but don’t forget to get a good night’s sleep
Naps are great. But just to be clear, they can’t replace consistent, high-quality sleep. “Naps do not make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep,” says Smith. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep every night, and then try supplementing that sleep with a mid-afternoon nap. Because while they’re not a replacement for catching enough Zzz’s, daily naps can help you feel healthier, better rested, and more alert—so if you can find a few minutes in the early afternoon to catch some shut-eye, it’s definitely worth a try.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.