The Ultimate Guide to Napping

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Napping continues to be one of the most controversial subcategories in the world of sleep. Consult the oracles online, and you’ll find plenty of sleep specialists who regularly hype the benefits of naps and an equal number of experts who warn against snoozing during the day. 

So, what’s the truth about naps? 

Well, it turns out naps are a bit of a gray area — whether they’re helpful or unhelpful can be significantly impacted by the time of day you nap, as well as how long you’re snoozing. 

Spoiler alert: It’s ok to nap, but believe it or not, there’s a right way and a wrong way — at least, if you want to reap the benefits and avoid downsides. Find our guidance below.

Long Story Short

  • Napping offers a wide range of benefits to our physical, cognitive, and mental health.
  • Napping can be restorative in many ways; grogginess and disrupted nighttime sleep are some of the more notable downsides.
  • Naps should be well-timed and limited to 30 minutes.

The Benefits of Napping

Those partial to an afternoon snooze might be happy to know that napping can offer a host of physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits. Here’s a quick rundown. 

Cognitive and Emotional Benefits of Napping

Improved alertness and cognitive function. A licensed psychologist and founder of Fox Chapel Psychological Services, Deborah Gilman, tells Sleepopolis that “Naps can help you feel more awake and focused, improving your ability to learn, problem-solve, and make decisions.” NASA corroborates as much, as their research shows that a 26-minute power nap can enhance alertness by as much as 54 percent. (1) (2)

Enhanced mood. By regulating the production of cortisol (your body’s primary stress hormone), Gilman says, “Naps can help your body return to a calmer physiological state, reducing stress and irritability, leaving you feeling more positive and optimistic. To nicely demonstrate this point, we found one study from 2022 which showed that while a break can improve perceived stress and improved working memory, naps more profoundly improve negative emotions that accompany stressors. (3) (4)

Improved memory. “Napping can help consolidate memories, making it easier to recall information you learned earlier in the day,” says Gilman. She explains, “Naps can enhance memory and learning by facilitating a process called synaptic consolidation. This involves strengthening the connections between brain cells that were recently used, ultimately solidifying new information.” (5)

Increased work performance and concentration. When poor sleep leaves your brain feeling foggy and the workday is slow and uninspired, research shows that an afternoon nap can improve your concentration and boost productivity. (6)

Physical Benefits of Napping

Reduced sleepiness. If you’re reeling from a sleepless night, a well-timed nap can do some pretty heavy lifting to reduce your sleepiness. (4)

Lowered blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health. “Studies suggest napping may have a positive impact on cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease,” says Gilman. (7) We’ll add here if you’re adding naps to your daily routine for the sake of your heart health, the research shows that duration matters. While some research shows that short naps may benefit cardiovascular health, others show that longer naps are not necessarily heart-healthy. (8)

Migraine treatment. Poor quality sleep is a known trigger for migraines, but research shows that napping may be a fantastic non-pharmacological approach for migraine relief. (9

Potential Downsides of Napping

While napping can be a great addition to any self-care routine, Gilman warns that it also has some downsides. 

Sleep Inertia  

Daytime naps typically feature the same sleep stages as nocturnal sleep, with the difference being the length of time spent in each stage as a factor of one’s age. (10)

While short naps are fine, Gilman says, “Long naps (30+ minutes) can lead us into deeper sleep stages. Waking from those deeper stages can trigger sleep inertia, leaving people feeling disoriented, groggy, and sluggish for up to 30 minutes, ultimately defeating the purpose of the nap.” (11)

Disrupted Nighttime Sleep 

As you might have guessed, long afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night, which can trigger a cycle of sleepless nights and daytime naps. 

Gilman adds, “Naps can be good, but they can also disrupt the delicate balance of the sleep-wake cycle. Frequent naps (multiple per day) or long naps can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin — the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. This makes it harder to fall asleep at night, leading to a vicious cycle of daytime fatigue and reliance on naps.” (4)


A constant reliance on naps may indicate underlying sleep deprivation. Gilman adds, “Chronic sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences, and addressing the root cause of your fatigue (whether it’s poor sleep hygiene, medical conditions, or stress) is crucial for long-term well-being.” 

The TLDR: Napping is fine, but it should never be a substitute for good quality nighttime sleep. 

The Sleep Cycle and Napping

Nap duration tends to vary from person to person and schedule to schedule. Depending on duration, they can have different effects on the body and brain.

The Power Nap

A power nap is a short period of rest that aims to improve alertness or physical endurance. These types of naps can be between ten and thirty minutes long.

Power naps are usually only long enough to cycle through the first two stages of sleep, known as N1 and N2 — the lighter stages of sleep. (12) Due to their brevity, power naps won’t reach the deeper stage of sleep (N3). As a result, waking from a power nap is usually quick, with little to no disorientation or residual grogginess (aka sleep inertia).

The Slow-Wave Nap

Naps longer than 20 to 30 minutes may allow the body to enter the N3 sleep stage. Also known as slow-wave or deep sleep, this is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. (12) When naps are long enough to cycle through the first two sleep stages and into N3 sleep, the sleeper usually becomes more difficult to wake. (12

Those who let their naps slip into deep sleep will likely find that waking up during this sleep stage almost always causes sleep inertia, with impairments to mental performance that can last anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. (12)

How Long Should You Nap? 

Daytime naps are not the no-no some of us may have been led to believe they are, but the key to napping lies in limiting their length. 

“Naps can complement your sleep cycle, but depending on their length and timing, they can also disrupt it,” says Gilman. She adds, “Short naps promote alertness without entering deep sleep stages that can lead to grogginess.” And existing research corroborates as much. One study from 2023, in particular, showed that while naps lasting from 10 to 60 minutes had a clear impact on positive mood and alertness, 30-minute naps seemed to “have the best trade-off between practicability and benefit.” (4)

When to Nap

While she notes that “individual sleep schedules and age can play a role in determining the best time of day to nap, Dr. Audrey Wells, a board-certified sleep and obesity medicine physician and advisor at, says, “The best time to nap is in the early afternoon when your circadian rhythm naturally takes a dip. This is typically sometime between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.” (13)

With another warning on nap duration, Wells adds, “A short nap is not likely to interfere significantly with your sleep cycles. Longer naps, on the other hand, can negatively affect your sleep cycle.”  

How to Optimize Your Naptime

Believe it or not, there’s a right way to nap and a wrong way to nap. Ahead, Gilman shares some tips to help you level up your nap

Set a Nap Schedule and Stick to It

Why: Just like bedtime, having a consistent nap schedule helps regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. This makes it easier to fall asleep during your nap and helps you wake up feeling refreshed. 

However, Wells says, “If you need a nap every day, that could indicate a deficit in sleep quality, sleep quantity, or sleep timing. If efforts to improve your nighttime sleep don’t eliminate the need for napping, an undiagnosed or undertreated sleep disorder may be at play” — and it might be time to speak with your doctor. 

How: Aim for a nap between 20 and 30 minutes long, ideally in the early afternoon (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.). Set an alarm to ensure you don’t nap for too long.

Create a Relaxing Nap Environment

Why: A quiet, dark, and cool environment promotes deeper sleep during your nap. (14)

How: Dim the lights in your bedroom or nap area — use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block out light if you need to. Turn off electronics, find a quiet space away from distractions, and don’t forget to adjust the room temperature to a comfortable level. Your sleep spaces should be slightly cooler than usual.

Prime Yourself for Sleep

Why: Winding down before your nap signals your body that it’s time to relax and sleep.

How: Avoid caffeine and heavy meals for at least an hour before your nap, as they can interfere with sleep. (15) Dim the lights, listen to calming music, or meditate for a few minutes to quiet your mind and prepare for sleep.

Wake Up Gradually

Why: Abruptly jolting awake from a nap or waking up in the wrong sleep cycle can lead to grogginess. (11)

How: Set your alarm to go off a few minutes before you need to wake up fully. Use a gentle alarm sound or nature sounds instead of a harsh buzzer. Sit up in bed and stretch lightly to help your body transition to wakefulness gradually.

Avoid Napping Too Late

Why: Napping too close to bedtime can interfere with nighttime sleep, making it harder to fall asleep. (16)

How: Avoid napping after 3 p.m. If you must nap later, keep it short (10-15 minutes) to minimize grogginess and nighttime sleep disruption. (17)


What is a caffeine nap?

A caffeine nap refers to the newish practice of drinking caffeine (usually in the form of coffee) before napping. While it may sound counterintuitive, early research shows caffeine and a nap may be even more effective. One small pilot study from 2020 demonstrated that a caffeine nap improved alertness and subjective fatigue in nappers up to 45 minutes post-nap. More research is needed to substantiate this study, but right now early research is backing up caffeine nappers.  (16)

Is it possible to nap too much?

Napping can offer a host of benefits for our physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being. However, nappers should ensure that their nap times don’t regularly exceed their sleep requirements based on age. Wells says, “If you need a nap every day, that could indicate a deficit in sleep quality, sleep quantity, or sleep timing. If efforts to improve your nighttime sleep don’t eliminate the need for napping, an undiagnosed or undertreated sleep disorder may be at play” — it might be time to speak with your doctor. 

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

Napping can be beneficial to our physical and emotional health and well-being, but it cannot replace the restorative benefits of a full night’s sleep. While it can be a fantastic addition to any self-care routine, it’s important to keep some “napping best practices” top of mind. Keep them short, and don’t schedule them too close to bedtime, or you may be in for another restless night. 


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Gilman, Deborah. Personal Interview. June 7, 2024.

Wells, Audrey. Personal Interview. June 17, 2024.


Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health and beauty, parenting, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.