How to achieve the perfect nap

BY James Wilson

11th Apr 2024 Wellbeing

3 min read

How to achieve the perfect nap
Sometimes a quick snooze is just what we need to wake ourselves up again. From timings to caffeine, here are some tips on how to achieve the elusive perfect nap
Every now and then, we all find ourselves craving a nap. While sometimes it can be just the thing we need, other times it might leave us feeling groggy and even sleepier than before we took the nap. To find out the right times to nap and when you should resist the urge, Mattress Online spoke to the expert in all things sleep, The Sleep Geek (also known as James Wilson).

Key nap points

A person naps on a grey sofa
  • To avoid sleep disruption, nap before 2pm
  • Between five and 15 minutes is the optimum length to nap
  • Try out different locations for taking a nap—napping in bed can work well for some, but for others it makes it difficult to wake
  • Having caffeine before a nap provides some people with an additional boost of energy on waking, but it doesn't work for everyone

What are the benefits of napping?

Naps are a great way to battle the symptoms of sleep deprivation. They can give you a boost of alertness, make you more productive, and can help if you are sleeping against your natural circadian rhythm; for example, if you are a natural night owl who has been forced to get up at 5am for work.
"Naps can give you a boost of alertness and make you more productive"
They can also be a godsend for shift workers—a nap will fill the gaps in their sleep, helping them meet their sleep needs. This is particularly true when trying to sleep during the day.

Creating the best napping experience

A person lies on top of their bed asleep, cuddling a Nova Scotia Tolling Retriever, who looks at the camera
Consider your location carefully
Taking a nap under the covers in bed can make it harder to wake up when the alarm goes off, and a 30-minute nap can easily become a six-hour sleep. Instead, opt for somewhere else you find relaxing, using an eye mask and ear plugs if you need dark and absolute quiet!
Pick your timing
Napping before 2pm will make it less likely to impact your night-time sleep. In terms of how long, research shows the optimum time for a nap is five to 15 minutes. However, it is hard to control sleep in this way.
"Napping before 2pm will make it less likely to impact your night-time sleep"
Set your alarm for 30 minutes—it might take you ten to 15 minutes to fall asleep, and then you get ten to 15 minutes of napping. This will be enough to leave you alert and active, but not so much that you are heavy-headed and confused.
Consistency is key
You’ll get more out of napping if you do it regularly at the same time, particularly if your lifestyle means that not napping will see you failing to meet your sleep needs, leaving you sleep deprived.

Can caffeine benefit your naps?

A white cup of coffee on a white saucer, on a grey wooden surface
Finally, and rather counter-intuitively, it's said that one way to get more from your nap is to have a shot of caffeine beforehand. Caffeine takes roughly 30 minutes to metabolise, and as you wake, you can get the double benefit of nap rejuvenation and caffeine alertness. It’s important to note that everyone’s preferences are individual to them, so a caffeine nap may work for some, while not for others.

Is there a dark side to napping? 

Naps don’t really work well if they impact "sleep homeostasis"—one of the internal systems that manage our sleep. Consider sleep homeostasis as a type of "sleep pressure". It’s your body trying to keep you balanced with enough sleep.
"Naps don't work well if they impact 'sleep homeostasis', which manages our sleep"
The longer you go without sleep, the more your sleep equilibrium is disrupted and the sleepier you get. The subsequent feeling of tiredness is your body forcing you to catch up on lost sleep. However, it also works the other way; take a nap close to bed and you suddenly have a surplus of sleep on your clock, making it hard to turn in for the night.
The main drawbacks of napping include:
  • The nap cycle of doom: for some people, a nap in the day actually makes it harder to sleep at night. Naps can impact not only deep sleep but also REM sleep, leaving you tired the next day. And the result of that is you’ll need to nap in order to fully meet your sleep needs
  • Damaged sleep: for others, any nap or extended period of sleep at all can damage their night-time sleep, and even just an overlong night-time sleep might cause problems
Banner photo: From timings to caffeine, here is how to achieve the elusive perfect nap (credit: Pixabay (Pexels))
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