Best length of Time for a Power Nap

Increased productivity, better memory, lower stress levels and lower risk of heart disease. These are just some of the benefits of regular napping. But how long should a power nap actually last? - In this guide, we explore the best length of time for a nap which allows you to quickly “recharge your batteries” without disrupting your sleep cycle.

Sleep phases

To find out what the best length of time is for a nap is, let’s first look at what the sleep phases look like and what processes occur during each of them:

Sleep phases are states of the brain involving its electrical activity. We distinguish two sleep phases:

  • NREM (non-rapid eye movement, consists of 4 stages)
  • REM (rapid eye movement, consists of 1 stage)

The sleep cycle begins with the 4 stages of the NREM phase and ends with REM sleep. The order of the sleep stages is as follows:

NREM1 NREM2 NREM3 NREM4REM 

The entire cycle takes about 90 to 100 minutes and repeats about 5 times during nighttime sleep.

What sleep stage do we want to enter during a power nap?

When taking your nap, you ultimately want to enter stage 2 of NREM sleep. That way, you won’t get into “Deep Sleep” (which you reach in stage 3 of NREM Sleep), but will still gain increased concentration and a better mood during the rest of the day. 

Skipping “Deep Sleep” may sound counterproductive to many, but in the context of power naps, it’s a good thing! 

After waking up from the third stage of NREM sleep without having undergone a full number of sleep cycles, you will actually feel sleepier than you did before your nap. this feeling of “muddling” can last for an hour or two after waking up.

This is also known as sleep inertia, and it’s counterproductive. After all, most of us are concerned with increasing productivity in our work/study. In this manner, stage 2 of NREM sleep is where you want to reach.

What happens during stage 2NREM sleep?

In the second stage of NREM sleep, eye movements gradually disappear, and muscle tension drops to minimal levels. Moreover, your body temperature drops significantly, and your heart rate slows down. During this sleep stage, the brain will start to cleanse itself of toxins, which will make you feel “fresh” after waking up, as after drinking a strong cup of coffee. 

 It’s not so easy to wake up from 2NREM as you stop reacting to all outside stimuli. Therefore, having an alarm clock handy when power napping is indispensable. 

The 2NREM sleep stage usually lasts about 25 minutes but may last as short as 10 (especially for older/sick people).

The best length of time for a power nap

So far, we have reviewed the different phases of sleep and their stages. The next question is how much time does it take to enter the second stage of NREM sleep but avoid getting into the third stage. Or, in other words — what is the best duration for a nap without waking up tired?

10-min nap

15-min nap

20-min nap

30-min nap

90-min nap

Develop your nap routine

For most people, the optimal power nap length will be between 20 and 25 minutes. That being said, a significant factor will be how much time you need to enter the first stage of NREM sleep. 

If you are tired and there is not much noise around you, it may take you less than 5 minutes. However, if the conditions for falling asleep are less than ideal, you will likely need more time for your nap.

Like so many things, developing a strong napping routine takes practice and consistency. Figure out how much time you need to fall asleep and devote the same point of each day to napping to develop strong sleep patterns. In time, as your ability to fall asleep quickly increases, you will need less time to achieve the perfect power nap.

Sources

Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep”, Office of Communications and Public Liaison, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, US National Institutes of Health, 2017

Power Sleep”, Dr. James B. Maas, 1998

Siestas and your heart: Can you nap your way to health?”, Harvard Medical School, 2008

“Day-to-day variability in sleep parameters and depression risk: a prospective cohort study of training physicians”, Daniel B. Forger, Elena Frank, Srijan Sen, Cathy Goldstein, 2021

Older People Sleep Less. Now We Know Why”, Anna Almendrala, 2014