Power Naps: What They Are and How to Take One

Naps aren’t just for kids! Research shows that a 10- to 30-minute power nap can boost your productivity.

A woman laying on a cream couch taking a nap. Her glasses lay on a side table next to her.
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Naps aren’t just for the preschool set. A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by clinical psychologist William A. Anthony revealed nearly 70% of people take a nap during the day.

Getting sufficient sleep at night (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for most adults) is still the optimal way to get and stay well-rested, but more and more research is suggesting that napping can be a boon to your physical and mental health — if you do it right.

The first step is nailing the timing. While a long nap may sound luxurious, it’s not always the best choice, even if you can manage to carve out time for it. Why? Your body naturally cycles through phases of non-REM and REM sleep, with each full cycle lasting about 90 to 120 minutes. If your alarm rouses you during a deep-sleep phase, which occurs roughly 30 minutes after falling asleep and can last from 20 to 40 minutes, you’re at greater risk of waking feeling disoriented and groggy (a feeling called sleep inertia) instead of alert and refreshed.

If the purpose of your nap is to provide a quick midday pick-me-up (and who doesn’t need that?), sleep professionals say a power nap is the way to go

What is a power nap?

Power naps are short naps lasting between 10 to 30 minutes. Also called NASA naps or catnaps, these quick bouts of sleep can take the edge off fatigue and help you motor through the rest of your day with energy and focus until it’s time to say good night.

Much like how a snack curbs your hunger and provides fuel between meals, a power nap is not meant to replace lost sleep.

“This is not a lay-around-in-your-pajamas-on-the-weekend nap, or a nap taken when you are sick,” notes Dr. June Seliber-Klein, a sleep physician based in Monterey, California. “It’s not a medical term, but what a sleep physician means by a power nap is: The sleeper awakens before entering the deeper stages of sleep. The goal of a power nap is to restore your mental sharpness so you can continue your productive workday."

It’s called a NASA nap because of the science that backs it. Research from NASA scientists shows that power naps were able to boost their pilots’ performance by 34% and improve alertness by up to 54%.

Benefits of a power nap

Sleep specialists say power naps can benefit your mental clarity, job performance, mood, and focus and concentration.

“Research shows that 10- to 30-minute power naps are refreshing and can make a person feel more awake,” says Kristina Lenker, Ph.D., a sleep psychologist and an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at Penn State. “In particular, napping for less than 20 minutes improves alertness and functioning right away, with little or no grogginess after waking up. The power nap is particularly good for alertness and motor learning skills like typing and playing the piano.”

In one study, pilots were given a 40-minute opportunity to nap while in the cockpit. On average, the pilots slept for 26 minutes, and upon waking had increased performance and alertness. They were also less likely to unintentionally fall asleep in flight. Another study involving nurses working the night shift found that when the nurses were allowed to take a 30-minute scheduled nap, they reported lower levels of sleepiness after the nap and had better job performance compared to nights when they weren’t allowed to nap.

But power naps aren’t just a boon for your brain.

In another study, researchers looked at Spaniards, who are notorious for their afternoon siestas, and found that those who napped for 30 minutes or less fared better than those who took long naps and those who took no naps. Specifically, they were 21% less likely to have high blood pressure compared to non-nappers. Conversely, those who napped longer than 30 minutes had a higher BMI, larger waist circumference, higher fasting blood sugar, and higher blood pressure than those who didn’t nap.

The researchers found that the long nappers smoked more frequently, went to bed later, and had more calorie-ladened lunches than those in the non- or short-napping groups, which helped to explain their poorer health. What’s more, they theorized that short nappers released fewer stress hormones during their limited siestas, helping to protect them from heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure.

But while power naps have a lot going for them, experts caution against using them to gas up a nearly depleted sleep tank.

“A power nap is usually taken not to treat larger sleep issues,” said Seliber-Klein, “but as a way of providing a quick burst of energy to optimize productivity. Power napping when you are sleep deprived is challenging, because even in 20 minutes you may lapse into deeper sleep or REM sleep due to the sleep pressure which has been building up in your neurons due to the sleep deprivation.”

When napping indicates a problem

While most experts are in agreement that the occasional short nap, like a power nap, can be good for you, frequent or long naps can be associated with health problems.

A 2022 study published in the journal Hypertension found that those who napped regularly were 12% more likely to develop high blood pressure and 24% more likely to have a stroke than those who didn’t nap. The study didn’t time the naps, only looking at their frequency.

While more research is needed, experts suspect that taking long or frequent naps may indicate the napper is getting poor-quality sleep at night and/or suffering from a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea.

“Studies on napping are complicated, as people are often napping because of health problems. There have been many associational studies between napping and health conditions, but causal relationships have not been established,” says Seliber-Klein.

“If someone has the persistent need to nap due to fatigue or excessive daytime sleepiness, that could be an indicator that there is an underlying sleep disorder or other comorbid mental or physical health issue at play,” notes Lenker. “If you have chronic insomnia, or a medical issue like sleep apnea that’s interfering with your sleep, a power nap during the day isn’t an appropriate solution. The solution would be to treat the underlying problem or sleep disorder.”

How to power nap: tips and tricks

How and when you take a power nap are crucial to reaping its benefits. Sleep experts offer these tips:

  • First, aim to take your power nap in the early to midafternoon. Taking a nap in the late afternoon or early evening can interfere with your nighttime sleep, setting you up for sleep deprivation.
  • Get comfortable in a cool, quiet, dark environment. Try using ear plugs and an eye mask to block out noise and light. “A calm sleep environment is as important for your power nap as it is for your night sleep,” says Lenker.
  • Set an alarm for somewhere between 15-30 minutes to safeguard reaching deeper levels of sleep that will be harder to wake from. “And if you nap later than the initial goal time,” says Lenker, “anticipate a later sleep onset, given your sleep drive, or ‘hunger’ for sleep has been satiated by the nap.”
  • Go outside for some sunshine or reach for a caffeinated beverage (as long as it’s eight hours before your bedtime) if you awaken from your power nap and still feel like you need a pick-me-up. Bright light has wake-me-up properties, and caffeine is a tried-and-true stimulant.