It starts with finding the right time: the hour that is neither too early nor too late for a successful snooze. Beyond that, you need to identify the right place to settle into. Perhaps that upstairs couch or the spare bedroom that’s well out of earshot.
One of the biggest challenges, however, has to do with the length of your nap. Like Goldilocks, you’re looking for the perfect middle – a nap that is neither too long nor too short to give you the rest and refreshment you’re after.
What counts as a nap?
Technically, a nap is simply a shorter sleep than the one you have during the night. There’s no magic number that defines what is and what isn’t a nap. Some sleepers take power naps that last for mere minutes. Others will doze for a few hours. Most people nap during the middle of the day, but some shift workers may do so at other hours.
So, is napping the same as sleeping?
Thanks to the observations and research of sleep scientists, we know that there is a significant difference between napping and sleeping. “True sleep” occurs when your body goes through a full sleep cycle (which has five distinct phases). For most people, it takes somewhere between an hour-and-a-half to two hours to complete this cycle.
Most nappers don’t make it all the way through these stages. As a result, their sleep isn’t considered “true sleep,” even though they weren’t awake for a period of time.
Are there good reasons to take a nap?
While it may not register as “true sleep,” a nap can bring valuable benefits. This daytime rest can give you more energy, which in turn improves your mood and performance throughout the rest of your day. Your brain will also reward you with greater focus and retention.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all standard when it comes to naps. Some people will never need or want them, while others – especially those who suffer from insomnia or chronic fatigue – will find them almost necessary to make it through the day.
So, how long should I nap?
For adults, a general rule of thumb is to limit your naps to 15 to 20 minutes. This time is long enough to renew your energy without falling into a deeper sleep – the stage that’s hard to shake off and can leave you feeling groggy.
Older individuals may require a long nap for the same benefits. And, if you’re struggling with insomnia or interrupted sleep, you may need to give yourself two or three hours of rest to make up for that lost time. The key is to pay attention to your body and listen to its cues.
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