The 20 minute power nap: Is it all it’s hyped up to be?

February 20, 2020 | Evolistic Health

Blog Summary

  • A 20-minute nap is the shortest nap time that will provide cognitive benefit to you, but not the most beneficial. 

  • A 90-minute nap is a sweet spot that allows the brain to go through a full sleep cycle and thus provide great restoration. However, it is time-consuming and may affect the subsequent night's sleep. 

  • A nap in between is great if you want to feel extremely groggy!

  • When you nap is one of the biggest determinants of how long you should nap for!

The evidence showing naps effectiveness at improving mood, memory and focus is plentiful. When I was a kid, I used to nap a lot. I would often settle down for my naps after school, and my sister would always tell me that a 20-minute nap was the sweet spot. In fact, she would say 22 minutes! (I’m pretty sure NASA was her reference - safe choice, who dares question NASA, or their older sister!). I would set my alarm for 22 minutes, and off I went. After waking, I would often fantastic! Sure why wouldn’t I feel so good, NASA told me it works! 

If would like to know why 22 minutes might be so effective, then join me and let's delve into the art and science of napping, and just like south Dublin has perfected oat milk flat whites, you will soon be able to perfect the nap!

 

                                                                  

 

How long should you nap for? 

As you may have guessed, not all naps are created equal. Just like 8 hours of sleep does not leave you feeling the same as 4 hours of sleep, a 20-minute nap will leave you feeling profoundly different from a 60-minute nap. But why?

As we have mentioned over on our Instagram page many a time, our brain is active during sleep. How active it is, depends on what stage of sleep we are in. That’s right, there are different stages of sleep. In fact, there are 5, and each one has a different and necessary purpose. These stages are classified as non-rapid eye movement stages 1 through 4, and the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Our brain will go through each of these stages 5-6 times per night. Together, these stages are known as a cycle, and each cycle lasts ~90 minutes. 

Being woken from deep sleep is something we have all experienced. You feel terribly groggy, often referred to as being “hit by a bus”. When we nap for 20 minutes, we don’t enter deep sleep. This doesn’t happen until we have been asleep for at least 30 minutes. So the great thing about 20-minute naps is that they don’t leave you with that grogginess feeling, they have been shown to provide some great benefits, and lastly, they take the least amount of time out of your day. 

                                                           

Before you leave thinking you have cracked the da Vinci code to naps, hold your horses. What about a 30-minute nap? Or 60? Or even 90? These are all great questions. A 30-60 minute nap is likely to provide more benefits than a 20-minute nap because you will have entered further into the sleep stages (remember, each stage has its own benefits). However, this then means that in order to wake up, you will be disturbing yourself while you are in a deep sleep, causing you to feel extremely groggy on waking, and possibly for the remainder of the day. 

You may be thinking that a 20-minute nap seems to be the only way forward here. However, a 90-minute nap will allow your brain to go through one whole cycle of sleep. This will mean you will wake up in a much lighter stage of sleep, leaving you feeling very refreshed. You will also have gotten the benefits of a full cycle of sleep, which includes an increase in creativity and memory. So in this sense, a 90-minute nap trumps a 20-minute nap. 

One thing to bare in mind is that although a 90-minute nap seems most beneficial, it may end up taking away from that night’s sleep, unless you are sleep deprived. 

When should you nap? 

This question depends on so many factors, but one of the main things to consider is your bedtime. The last thing you want your nap to do is to keep you lying awake in bed counting sheep! If you tend to wake up early (6-8am) and go to bed early (9-11am), I would say napping some time around 1pm is good. If you wake up later (9-11am)), and go to bed later (11-1am), I would say around 3pm is a good time for you. This is all going to be very individual though, so try different nap times out yourself and see what works!

                                                      

 

In relation to everything I have said so far, I feel it is vital to state one thing. Naptime is the time you are asleep for. A 20-minute nap is not a 20-minute nap if you spend the first 15 minutes trying to fall asleep, so just bare that in mind! 

So, to sum everything up, a 20-minute nap is the shortest nap time that will provide cognitive benefit to you, but not the most beneficial. A 90-minute nap is a sweet spot that allows the brain to go through a full sleep cycle and thus provide great restoration. However, it is time-consuming and may affect the subsequent nights sleep. A nap in between is great if you want to feel extremely groggy!

 

                                                   

Key tip: If you are going for a 20-minute nap, and it is no closer than 10 hours before bedtime, try a coffee before the nap. Caffeine takes around 30-45 minutes to peak in the bloodstream. So if caffeine helps you feel good and you are looking for a real boost in energy and focus, this duo can work great!