Ah, napping. There's so much to love about naps, and so many people who have claimed a napping ritual. And if you follow science, it's possible to nap in a way that makes you more refreshed and ready to take on the world.
"Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits of napping, such as improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood," Sleep.org said. "Naps of that length keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, making it easier for you to get up and go after your snooze session."
But fear not, dedicated nappers. There's also a strong body of research that indicates 90-minute naps are beneficial, just in a different way.
University of California-Riverside psychologist Sara Mednick found way back in 2003 that people do better with a visual learning task after they've had a good night's sleep, and not right after they learn it. Mednick also determined that the same test advantage occurred after a 60-90 minute nap.
"What's amazing is that in a 90-minute nap, you can get the same [learning] benefits as an eight-hour sleep period," Mednick told the American Psychological Association. "And actually, the nap is having an additive benefit on top of a good night of sleep."
A more recent study from University of Michigan doctoral student Jennifer Goldschmied and colleagues showed that people who got a 60-minute nap in the middle of the day helped them cope better with difficult people, an effect scientifically described as a boosted tolerance for frustration.
Beyond choosing from the 20 minute or 60-90 minute nap menu, there are several science-backed tactics that will help make your naps more productive:
Set an alarm. "Setting an alarm is really helpful for napping," psychologist Janet Kennedy told Huffpost. "It can be hard to fall asleep if you are worried about whether you will wake up at the right time. Setting an alarm takes the pressure off."
Consider a preparatory nap. According to the National Sleep Foundation, taking a nap before you're actually sleepy in preparation for a late night can ward off fatigue.
Use the nap wheel. Mednick has also developed a wheel that will help you schedule a personal time for the slow-wave sleep cross, a perfectly balanced state in which REM and slow-wave sleep are equally proportioned.
Power up with a caffeine-nap combo. This works well, according to Sleep Junkies, "because it takes around 20 minutes for the body to respond to the effects of caffeine. By taking a short nap immediately after consumption, the stimulant effect kicks in just as you are waking up. Not only will you feel revived from your power nap, you'll also have the added benefit of the caffeine boost."
If you still prefer an extra-long nap on the weekend, you can get a scientific high five for that. In a paper published in the August 2019 Heart journal, researchers followed 3,462 Swiss subjects for 5.3 years. They found napping in the daytime once or twice a week lowered an adult's risk of heart problems.
Naps wielded power over potential heart disease and stroke. However, to reap this benefit, the magic number was one or two naps per week. Adding an extra nap in a given week or taking extra-long or very brief naps did not add to or subtract from the benefits. So as long as you take at least one nap per week, you're good.
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