How Long Should Naps Be?

The benefits and drawbacks of napping. The lesson details the different stages of sleep, timing and duration of naps, and the cognitive benefits of napping. It is suggested nappers are able to move through sleep stages more easily, while non-nappers may experience more deep sleep while napping, making them groggy afterward.

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Lesson Article

It’s lunchtime and you still have so much to do. Would taking a nap help or would it derail your day? In this lesson, we will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of napping, the different stages of sleep, and how timing and duration can affect the results of a nap.

The Stages of Sleep

Sleep, both at night and in naps, is made up of approximately 90 minute sleep cycles with four stages each. As you fall asleep, you enter Stage 1: the first two to five minutes of sleep. Stage 2 comes next, for about 30 minutes. In Stage 2, body temperature drops, muscles relax, and breathing and heart rate become more regular. Your neurons start to fire in unison, creating waves of activity that sweep across the cortex, punctuated by rapid bursts of neural activity called sleep spindles.

As you enter Stage 3, or slow wave sleep, the rolling waves increase as your neurons fire in coordination. This phase lasts about 20 to 30 minutes and is where your deepest sleep occurs. Then, you enter REM sleep, which lasts about 10 to 20 minutes in a nap. In REM, the brain becomes more active, more like your brain activity while awake. The end of REM signals the completion of a sleep cycle.

The Benefits of Napping

Will a nap make you feel better? Well, that depends on a few things—especially what stages of sleep the nap includes. Take a 30 minute nap, which consists mainly of Stage 2 sleep. Stage 2 sleep is associated with long-term potentiation, a process that’s thought to strengthen the synapses between neurons, which is essential for learning. A 20 to 30 minute nap stops short of Stage 3’s deep sleep, making it relatively easy to wake up from.

A 30 to 60 minute nap, meanwhile, has the benefits of Stage 2 sleep and also takes you into the deeper sleep of Stage 3. During Stage 3, multiple brain areas work together to transfer information from short-term memory storage to long-term storage, stabilizing and strengthening long-term memory by coupling sleep spindles with slow waves. Stage 3 is the most difficult stage to wake up from. So while napping for 30 to 60 minutes can make you feel refreshed, it can also leave you feeling groggy for a short time. Therefore, it is important to consider the length of your nap and the stages of sleep you are entering when deciding whether or not to take one.

Cognitive Benefits of Napping

Taking a nap can have cognitive benefits, but those benefits typically don’t kick in until about 15 minutes after waking up. Naps lasting 60 to 90 minutes enter the REM stage, which is associated with a decrease in inhibition and cognitive control. This decrease can lead to wild associations between emotionally charged topics, which may help us make innovative connections between ideas upon waking. Additionally, the time of day matters when it comes to napping; morning naps are dominated by REM, midday naps have about equal parts of REM and deep sleep, and evening naps contain more deep sleep.

The Differences Between Nappers and Non-Nappers

Interestingly, researchers have found that people are evenly split between nappers and non-nappers. Nappers consistently show cognitive benefits from napping, but non-nappers may not. This is likely because nappers are able to stay in a lighter sleep and move through sleep stages more easily, while non-nappers may experience more deep sleep while napping, making them groggy afterward.


So, will a nap help? The only way to find out is to take one and see how you feel afterward. However, it’s important to keep in mind the length and timing of your nap to ensure that you are getting the most out of it.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever taken a nap during the day? Did you feel refreshed or groggy afterward?
  2. Do you think the benefits of napping are worth the risk of feeling groggy afterward?
  3. How do you think the time of day affects the benefits of napping?
  4. Do you think people who are able to nap easily have an advantage in terms of cognitive benefits?
  5. Do you agree that napping can increase creativity? Have you ever experienced this?
  6. How do you think napping compares to other methods of improving cognitive function, such as caffeine or exercise?
  7. Do you think the benefits of napping vary depending on the individual? Why or why not?
  8. How do you think workplaces and schools could incorporate napping into their schedules to improve productivity and cognitive function?

Lesson Vocabulary

nap – a short period of sleep, especially during the day – I took a 20-minute nap after lunch.

benefits – advantages or positive outcomes resulting from something – Regular exercise has numerous benefits for physical and mental health.

drawbacks – disadvantages or negative outcomes resulting from something – The main drawback of living in the city is the high cost of living.

sleep cycles – the natural patterns of changes in brain waves, body temperature, and other physiological functions that occur during a night of sleep – The average sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes.

stages of sleep – the different phases of sleep, typically divided into non-REM and REM sleep – The stages of sleep include light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep.

slow wave sleep – a stage of non-REM sleep characterized by slow delta waves that occur at a frequency of less than 4 hertz – Slow wave sleep is important for physical restoration and growth.

REM sleep – the stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement and heightened brain activity, often associated with dreaming – REM sleep is important for cognitive processing and emotional regulation.

cognitive benefits – positive outcomes related to mental processes, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving – Physical exercise has been found to have cognitive benefits, including improved memory and attention.

short-term memory – the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind over a short period of time – Remembering a phone number for a few minutes is an example of using short-term memory.

long-term memory – the ability to store and retrieve information over a longer period of time, ranging from minutes to years – Remembering the name of your first-grade teacher is an example of long-term memory.

nappers – people who take naps – Some people are avid nappers, while others prefer to stay awake all day.

non-nappers – people who do not take naps – Despite the benefits of napping, some people simply can’t fall asleep during the day and are therefore non-nappers.

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