Taking a Nap Is Good for You, As Long As You Time It Right—Here's How 

Master the mid-day snooze without spoiling your nighttime sleep. 

orange cat sleeping with a yellow sleep mask
Photo: Anna Rise/Getty Images

For babies and young kids, naps are a regular and necessary part of everyday life and essential for growth, development, and overall health. In fact, experts estimate that most infants and toddlers should take anywhere from two to three naps per day. But what about adults—should we be napping too? If you're lucky enough to have a free window during the day to catch up on lost Zs, shouldn't you seize it wholeheartedly? Or does napping actually become detrimental to our health as we get older? Even though one-third of U.S. adults take a nap daily, the truth is, there's no crystal clear answer (yet!).

There's been a decades-long discussion over whether or not napping as an adult is definitively good for your health. Napping certainly can be beneficial, if done correctly and under the right conditions (the time of day, the length of the nap, and so on). In other words, whether or not that cat nap you've been taking mid-day is good for you ultimately depends on how and when you nap. So, yes, it can get a bit complicated. Here's what sleep experts have to say about napping in the context of the enduring sleep-health conversation—plus their top dos and don'ts for taking a restorative nap without spoiling your nightly sleep schedule.

How do naps affect your health?

Naps can do wonders for health. A solid nap can improve your mood and energy level and help you feel refreshed. Beyond feeling good, however, "napping improves most, if not all, aspects of physical and cognitive performance," says Major Allison Brager, neuroscientist and deputy chief science officer at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Brager has studied survival under extreme conditions, including sleep deprivation. "The impact [of a nap] is almost immediate.

As an advocate of naps, Brager says these brief moments of sleep can improve strength, power, and stamina, as well as a person's ability to learn and remember information. They can also boost heart health: A British study of nearly 3,500 people found that those who napped once or twice a week were 48 percent less likely to experience a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack, than those who didn't nap.

Even still, the research is conflicting. One 2015 meta-analysis of 11 studies discovered that people who nap for one hour or more a day had a 1.82 times higher rate of cardiovascular disease than those who didn't nap; nearly double the risk factor. But according to Carolyn D'Ambrosio, M.D., FCCP, associate professor of pulmonary medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and chair of the Sleep Medicine Network with the American College of Chest Physicians, it isn't always the nap itself that's the source of harm, but the reason behind the nap.

"Napping routinely can be a sign of poor sleep quality or significant sleep deprivation, both of which can be bad for you as they increase risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and car accidents," Dr. D'Ambrosio explains.

However, some people truly do benefit from regular naps. "Night shift workers or people who are tired before going into work or driving, may benefit from a short nap ahead of time," she says. She also recommends that pregnant women take naps during the day, especially if nighttime sleep is disrupted. "New mothers and parents need naps, as their sleep at night is fragmented due to caring for an infant."

"A common myth is that high performers don't nap," Brager adds. "The best athletes and many army soldiers take naps to ensure they're performing at their best."

Smart Napping Guidelines

To get the full benefits of napping (without oversleeping, which can lead to health consequences, increased tiredness, and a spoiled nighttime sleep schedule), it's wise to follow some proper napping best practices.

How long should you nap for?

"Try to limit [your naps] to 20 minutes," Dr. D'Ambrosio recommends, as does The National Sleep Foundation. A 20-minute nap (do set an alarm!) provides you with some light sleep without dipping into the deeper stages of sleep—this helps you feel refreshed and still avoid throwing off your nighttime sleep. Naps that last longer than 30 minutes, on the other hand, can make you feel groggy or impaired.

Interestingly, though, a longer nap that lasts around an hour and a half has benefits too, especially for shift and emergency workers. Though longer naps can make you feel more tired or drowsy, a 90-minute nap specifically will let your body sleep through a whole sleep cycle—or cycle each phase of sleep one time, a process that typically takes 90 to 110 minutes—without interruption. A 2020 study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 90-minute naps were more beneficial than 40-minute naps for improving attention, physical performance, mood, muscle recovery, and feelings of fatigue in male athletes.

When is the best time of day to take a nap?

"If you need to nap, the best time is the early afternoon," Dr. D'Ambrosio says. Napping too close to bedtime—really, anytime at or after 3 p.m.—can result in fragmented sleep and poor sleep quality.

Don't replace nighttime sleep with frequent naps.

Brager explains that the idea that multi-phasic napping can replace nighttime sleep is a myth. "This has become a fad in recent years in the biohacking community," she says. "If you're napping six times a day in place of getting a full night's rest, you could get sick and your body may take even longer to recover."

Understand why you need a nap.

Dr. D'Ambrosio says that if you've gotten seven or more hours of solid sleep per night, there shouldn't really be a reason to nap. "A need to nap may indicate a problem such as poor sleep, sleep deprivation, or other conditions like obstructive sleep apnea," she says. Dr. D'Ambrosio says to ask yourself two questions before you nap: did I get a good night's sleep last night? And, am I getting seven to eight hours of sleep consistently every night? If the answer to either is no, you may want to consider a nap. That said, long or frequent napping may be a sign of chronic sleep issues and may ultimately make falling and staying asleep at night more difficult, which should be addressed with your doctor or a sleep specialist.

Bottom line: Is napping good for you?

Yes, napping is healthy for you, as long as it's done right. If you're taking relatively quick cat naps lasting around 20 minutes to boost alertness and decrease drowsiness, or you're pregnant or a night-shift worker, then taking a 20- to 30-minute nap (or a longer, 90-minute nap) can be a smart move.

However, if you find yourself napping often throughout the day despite getting the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep at night, there may be an underlying reason for your frequent or long siestas that's worth checking out.

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