A man taking a power nap on a couch.

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Are Power Naps Actually Helpful? Here's What Sleep Experts Say

In many cases, yes. Here's everything to know about when, how, and why to take a power nap.

By Michelle KonstantinovskyOctober 31, 2023


Let’s be honest: There are plenty of healthy habits we know we’d be better off adopting, but they can’t all make the cut every single day. It can be tough enough finding time to incorporate regular exercise, eat healthy foods, and keep our mental health routines on track—all while balancing life’s many other demands. Sometimes you simply don’t have the bandwidth to check off all the good-for-you to-dos on your list, and many times, the thing that falls by the wayside is getting sufficient, quality sleep.

In an ideal world, we’d all be getting that sweet, expert-recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night. In reality, many of us are falling short for a million different reasons (see: stress, a snoring partner, a crying baby, and/or an accidental social media marathon). While we should all continue to strive for optimal rest every night, sometimes we simply can’t get the Zzzs we need. 

So, in the absence of a good night’s sleep, can a “power nap” really power you through the day and help you tackle your work and your workouts? We asked the pros, and it turns out, a power nap can be surprisingly effective in a pinch.

What Is a Power Nap?

While a “nap” refers to some amount of sleep outside of regular sleep hours, a power nap is a specific snooze strategy that’s similar to a siesta: short and sweet with the ultimate objective being boosted energy

“A power nap is taken during the day, typically lasting anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes,” says Funke Afolabi-Brown, MD, a triple-board-certified sleep medicine physician and founder of Restful Sleep MD. “The primary goal of a power nap is to provide a quick burst of rest and rejuvenation without entering into the deeper stages of sleep.”

Ultimately, a power nap (which was coined by psychology professor James Maas) is an intentional, dedicated effort to cram some solid rest into a set amount of time without going overboard. 

Power Naps and Sleep Stages

To understand why and how power naps can be so potent, it helps to have some basic information about the sleep stages. There are two major phases: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. That second phase is divided into a few stages of its own: stage 1, stage 2, and stage 3. Every night (if you can get the ideal seven to nine hours of sleep), your body typically cycles through the three NREM stages and back to REM anywhere from four to six times, averaging about 90 minutes per cycle.

“When you fall asleep, you first go through the light stage 1 sleep, the regular stage 2 sleep, and then land in the deep stage 3 sleep—you stay there a while until you emerge again into light sleep (and usually a REM period),” explains Michael A. Grandner, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and director of both the university’s Sleep & Health Research Program and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic.

“A power nap could be described as falling asleep and waking up before you hit the deep stage 3 sleep,” he says. “The amount of time that entails will vary from person to person (some people drop into stage 3 faster), time of day (you get there faster the later in the day it is), and how much sleep you got the night before (you drop into it faster if you're sleep deprived).”

How Long Is a Power Nap?

“Typically, a power nap should be less than 30 minutes,” Dr. Brown says. “Longer naps increase the chance of getting into deeper stages of sleep, which will lead to sleep inertia, a feeling of grogginess as we wake out of deep sleep.” The idea is to get the most out of your power nap without overdoing it; too little rest, and you won’t feel much better when you get back up, and too much can actually backfire.

“Longer naps tend to create more sleep inertia,” explains Chris Winter, MD, a neurologist, sleep specialist, author of The Rested Child and The Sleep Solution, and host of Sleep Unplugged with Dr. Chris Winter. He equates that sleep inertia to "drunkenness" that leaves you feeling groggy, but notes that you won't get much benefit from a power nap that's too short, either. “I don't think there is much consequence to a nap that is too short—like a snack consisting of one Goldfish cracker,” Dr. Winter says. “No problem, but did it really help or do anything?”

Grandner says the ideal power nap duration depends on waking up before hitting stage 3 sleep. “This is usually 20 to 30 minutes, especially if you are napping closer to the middle of the day,” he says. “If it is later in the day, even this can be too long. If it goes too long, then you will wake up from stage 3 sleep and feel terrible. The brain really does not like to wake up from stage 3 sleep.”

How Power Naps Benefit Your Health and Performance

If used occasionally and with purpose, power naps can provide some serious perks. “Power naps can offer several potential benefits for overall health, workout performance, focus, and productivity,” Dr. Brown says. “They can also help with reducing stress, improving your mood, creativity, and problem-solving skills.”

Yes, you read that correctly: In addition to boosting your mood and mental clarity, a power nap can help take your workout to the next level and potentially get you closer to that PR you’ve been chasing. While 20 to 30 minutes may be the ideal amount of nap time for some, a little bit of extra time under the covers might be beneficial for some athletes. According to a recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a daytime nap that lasts between 30 and 60  minutes can improve cognitive and physical performance, plus reduce perceived fatigue.

“There is extensive data showing that power naps can boost mental and physical performance,” Grandner says. “They help with learning, metabolism, memory, and also increase speed, strength, and reaction time.”

A woman taking a power nap in bed.

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How to Take a Power Nap

The key to getting the most out of your power nap is to get the setting, timing, and duration just right. Here are a few power nap tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep it short. Set an alarm and be careful not to get too comfy for too long, which could result in sleep inertia, i.e. an icky mood and temporary grogginess, as mentioned earlier. “Ideally, you want to keep the nap short,” Dr. Brown says. 

  • Schedule accordingly. “Find a quiet place free of disturbance and interruption,” Dr. Brown says. “Pay attention to timing and avoid taking a nap that is too late in the day. You can aim for mid-afternoon between 1 and 2 PM, which is when most people feel a natural dip in their alertness.”

  • Try sipping some coffee or tea before you get settled. Before lying down to snooze, consider having some pre-nap caffeine to offset grogginess, recommends Cathy Goldstein, MD, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center. “Take your nap either after lunch to leverage the sedating effects of food or during the ‘circadian dip’ (late afternoon when all of us have a decrease in alertness even if we have healthy, sufficient sleep),” she adds.

  • Set the scene and plan a post-nap activity. Dr. Winter recommends finding a quiet place to snooze and ending your naps at the same consistent time. “After a nap, seek light and movement to help shake off the effects,” he advises.

  • Don’t fight your body’s natural cues. “If you naturally wake up before the alarm goes off, just terminate the nap because it's a natural breaking point,” Grandner says.

Who Should Take Power Naps?

While power naps aren’t an everyday necessity for most healthy adults, they can make a big difference under the right circumstances. To put it simply: Anyone who has a rough night of sleep once in a while can benefit from a power nap, but anyone who depends on daily napping may want to seek medical advice. 

“An adult who is getting enough sleep at night without a sleep/health disorder should not need a nap,” Dr. Goldstein says. “However, alertness and performance can be improved by napping in individuals who are not getting enough sleep.”

For example, if you were up later than usual working, studying, or watching an entire season of your favorite show (oops), a midday nap can help you get back on track and give you the energy to complete your tasks for the day. If, however, you find yourself relying on power naps most days, it’s time to talk to a professional: There is evidence to suggest that too much consistent, long-duration napping could be linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and excessive daytime sleepiness could indicate an underlying health condition. 

“[Napping] is a great tool for some, but a real problem for others,” Dr. Winter says. “I always say, ‘napping is for efficient sleepers who need a little more sleep time.’ If it took you two hours to fall asleep last night, you are not an efficient sleeper—no nap for you. If your flight was delayed and you would have been home sleeping were you not in the airport lounge waiting—nap away.”

Potential Drawbacks of Napping

Aside from the potential cardiovascular risks of napping for too long, too often, napping may pose a problem for people with existing sleep issues. “For insomnia patients, napping can often worsen the problem,” Dr. Winter says. “It's like a snack before dinner. A nap should supplement sleep, not replace sleep. If it takes you hours to fall asleep at night, and that bothers you, this might not be a good strategy for helping your body fall asleep faster. Napping might be prolonging the problem.”

Timing can also make or break the potential payoff of a power nap. “Napping too long or too close to bedtime can lead to disrupted nighttime sleep and decreased total sleep time because you have an overall decrease in your sleep drive,” Dr. Brown explains. “While naps are beneficial overall, it's important to focus on prioritizing your nighttime sleep and optimizing the quality. If you feel you are dependent on naps, it's time to seek professional help to rule out an underlying sleep disorder.”

The Takeaway

Generally speaking, occasional, intentional, well-planned power naps can turn a sleepy, slow morning into a productive, energized afternoon in a matter of 20 to 30 minutes. While it’s important to consider the root cause of needing a power nap (for example, an infrequent all-nighter versus a chronic case of insomnia), squeezing in a well-timed snooze can make a big difference in mental clarity, mood, and yes, exercise performance. “Sleep in general is good,” Dr. Winter says. “So adding to the amount we are getting is typically beneficial in the long run—particularly when naps are consistent in terms of timing and duration.”

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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