We are all increasingly busy people. We are continuously trying to fit more activities into our schedules. Whether it’s work, family life or entertainment, there are only so many hours in the day and we have limited energy reserves.
Having a quick snooze instead of sleep, or in addition to it, has become a fashionable tool in our armoury. How long is a ‘power’ nap though? How long should a nap be for adults? For children? Does snoozing count towards sleep? Does it improve your energy levels? Do they help you sleep at night? Are they good for you or are they a bad habit to fall into?
Our experts have studied the evidence to create this quick guide for you. After reading it you will know whether napping or sleeping is best for you.
The Different Types of Naps
There are many reasons for catching up on sleep during the day. Sleep scientists have identified six broad categories to describe napping behaviours. Understanding which type you need is important. It will help you pick the optimal time for napping and choose your ideal nap length. We have summarised them below.
If you are feeling distracted, forgetful, confused or short-tempered through tiredness, you may need to reset your brain. In these cases, a 10 to 20-minute nap can recover your mental energy and sharpness. They should be used sparingly. Being in regular need of recovery naps might be a sign your broader sleep pattern isn’t working for you.
Prophylactic or preventative naps are typically used to prepare for a broken sleep cycle. Getting one or two hours of shut-eye in before a night shift, for example, has been seen to have positive results in workers. Reducing tiredness helps them stay more productive, reduces mistakes and avoids accidents.
Appetitive napping describes the process of grabbing a snatch of sleep simply because you feel like it. 30 minutes of napping because the mood takes you isn’t in any way harmful. In fact, it is likely to have a positive impact on your mood and energy levels upon waking. There is, of course, a line between fancying a quick nap and needing one to get through the day. The latter is, perhaps, a sign something is not quite right with your routine.
There are reasons your body might need you to top up your sleep on an ongoing basis. The most obvious example is young children who may need a nap in the afternoon to help them developmentally. Chronic illness or the effects of old age might lead to sleep requirements that need fulfilling. Patients often schedule such naps in consultation with medical professionals.
Sometimes your body craves a nap out of self-preservation. Over tiredness or sickness can be overwhelming and the result sends you to bed. Listening to your body and embracing the need for sleep is an important part of self-care. Listening to your body and having a quick snooze when it feels essential can help prevent a wide range of physical and mental health issues from worsening.
Nano or Mini Naps
We’ve all experienced dropping off for a brief period, maybe even just a few seconds, unintentionally. These very brief, unexpected periods of sleep can be harmful and dangerous. Experiencing them regularly is definitely a sign there is something wrong with your sleep routine that needs investigating.
The Benefits of Napping
Is napping good for you? The simple answer is yes. Managed healthily, napping as an adult can have a wide range of physical and mental benefits. The first may be self-evident, but they are proven to aid relaxation and reduce the stresses associated with fatigue. After a nap, humans are typically more alert and perform better on intellectually capacity tests. Reaction times and memory recall also show improvements. Nappers report great levels of happiness and satisfaction after a quick sleep too.
Napping in children, especially babies and toddlers, plays a key role in their development. Developing brains need regular sleep to grow the connections and capabilities required to make sense of the new things they are constantly discovering.
What Is The Ideal Nap Length For Children?
Babies under three months spend most of their time sleeping (or crying, of course!). They can need up to five or six naps a day of up to two hours each. The routine will naturally evolve as each child grows. As a general guide, an 18-month-old toddler should be having shorter naps, between thirty minutes and an hour, twice a day. Once a toddler reaches three years old, one nap is probably sufficient. By the time a child reaches five or six, they should get all of their sleep during the night and be able to leave daytime napping behind.
What Is The Ideal Nap Length For Adults?
The ideal length for a nap will depend on the type of nap you are enjoying. Generally, anything over two hours is best avoided as, at that level, you’re slipping into proper sleep. A short twenty minutes is seen as ideal for a recovery nap, whereas you might sleep for longer as a prophylactic nap.
To judge the ideal length, it is important to have a goal in mind. If you’re looking to wake up refreshed and re-focused, napping too long might leave you feeling groggy. The exact opposite of what you intended. If you need a nap as part of recuperation from an illness, for example, the longer you can rest the better.
How to Get The Best Out of Your Naps
The best type of napping is one that fits your routine. You’ll likely get enough benefits from napping if the whole process feels natural. We have, however, included some top tips below to get you nodding off when you need to.
Think ahead. Plan your sleep schedule.
Set an alarm to keep to time.
Turn off the lights and close your curtains and blinds.
Find a quiet spot with limited noise.
If you need to, consider investing in earplugs or an eye mask.
Try white noise to help you relax.
Why Can’t I Nap? Bad Nap Habits To Avoid
If you’re struggling to sleep despite feeling the need to, you might be falling into bad habits.
It can be impossible to nap if you’re feeling stressed. Consider meditation as part of your pre-nap routine. It’s worth avoiding caffeine and other stimulants during the day. That said, coffee straight after a nap has been proved to make recovery more successful.
It’s probably best to avoid napping at your desk or any place too associated with work. Apart from your employer taking a dim view, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to switch off. Similarly, avoid technology and leave your phone out of reach too, ideally in another room.
Finally, don’t stress too much. Your body is a great regulator of your behaviour. If you are unable to nap, it might be simply because you don’t need to. Your issues with sleep and energy levels might lie elsewhere.
Should You Include Naps In Your Sleep Routine?
Do naps count towards sleep? Not necessarily. There isn’t a simple formula whereby you can replace hours during the day for hours during the night. They can, however, help alleviate over-tiredness, revitalise your routine, compensate for night-working or help during periods of illness.
Depending on your issues, it might be worth speaking to a medical professional about napping. The benefits will generally outweigh the risks.
Does napping during the day affect nighttime sleep?
Yes, both positively and negatively depending on the problems you are facing. A nap before a long night, for example, might help you regulate your pattern to eight hours. . If you’re worried about insomnia and fewer hours of nighttime sleep it might be worth checking with your doctor.
When should daytime naps stop for children?
Every child is different but few children over the age of five or six should be napping during the day.
Does having a nap make you more tired?
It can be depending on the type of nap. A short 20-minute recuperating nap, perhaps with a coffee when you wake up, can have the opposite effect. It can make you feel rejuvenated and wide awake.
When should I start a nap routine?
Most people end up starting a nap routine to counter disrupted sleep patterns. They can be a preventative measure if you know you are going to work late or have broken sleep.
Are naps as good as sleep?
No, the best routine is a minimum of 8 hours of nighttime sleep, but naps can help if that is interrupted by work, illness, noise, work or stress.
How long is a power nap?
A power nap is generally 20-30 minutes. You might need longer naps depending on the reason you’re missing out on sleep. Consult with a medical professional for the right nap length for you.
Can naps replace lost sleep?
Not permanently. The best routine is a minimum of eight hours of nighttime sleep. Naps can be a useful short-term fix but if your sleep pattern has become a long-term problem, you need to get advice.