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Do You Need to Nap or Do You Need to Sleep?

We all know that sleep is vital for keeping our bodies and minds operating at their full capacity, but sometimes you just can’t fit in a full night’s sleep. New parents are especially prone to restless nights of sleep, often only catching an hour or two (if they’re lucky) at a time rather than the recommended 7-8 hours. People who work night shifts or a combination of day and night shifts also lose sleep regularly, and many of them are working around heavy machinery or people (nurses, doctors) and so need to be alert at all times. Napping might be the only way they can successfully get through a shift. Other people are in the habit of staying out late and getting up early.

If they’re lucky, parents, swing-shifters, and night owls can sneak in a nap during the day to catch up on some rest. If they plan ahead, they can definitely find time to nap during the day, which will be detailed later in this article.

But what happens when you nap? Is it better to fall into a deep sleep or just get a 20 minute power nap on days when you’re just slugging along? Read on to find out the best way to catch up on your zzzzs, no matter the reason for losing out on a full night’s sleep:

The power of the power nap

The phrase “power nap” refers to a brief, 20-30 minutes or so, nap that you take during the day to refresh yourself. During this brief stint of time, your body enters the first two of five stages of sleep. A power nap doesn’t give you all the benefits of full sleep, but it does give you enough benefits to recharge and power through the rest of your day. The short duration is one that many adults can fit into their schedule, particularly if they work from home.

Body benefits of a power nap

When you take a power nap, your body benefits in several ways. Your temperature lowers, your muscles relax and your brain slows down. Going through the first two stages of sleep is enough to get these benefits, but not enough to allow your body go through its repair process. That means you can use power naps to supplement a poor night of sleep, but they shouldn’t be considered the same thing as going into deep sleep.


To get the benefits of a power nap without feeling groggy, set an alarm for 20-30 minutes after you lay down. This will ensure that you don’t fall into a deep sleep that you have to wake up from.

Deep sleep

An average adult needs about 90-120 minutes to go through all five stages of sleep, which is often a lot more time than most adults have to chill out on the couch in the middle of the afternoon. This is why you might wake up after an hour long nap feeling groggier than you did when you went to sleep–your body was asleep long enough to fall into a deep sleep, but not so long that it went into the Rapid Eye Movement (REM)stage, which is the final stage of sleep.

Body benefits

A full cycle of sleep (one which gets through all five stages including REM) is what your body needs to restore and repair itself. During one cycle of sleep, your body goes through crucial repair stages including memory consolidation, muscle repair, tissue repair, hormone release, and energy restoration.

If you really didn’t sleep the night before, and you know you have at least an hour and a half to take a nap, then sleeping rather than power napping might be a better way to get the health benefits your body needs. Make sure you have enough time, though, since waking up during deep sleep can cause sleep inertia, which can make you feel even worse than you did when you lay down in the first place.

Tips to ensure a successful naptime

Where you nap can be as much of a factor as when and how long you nap when it comes to feeling rested and refreshed afterward. Here are some tips for preparing for your naptime so you can focus on sleeping rather than external factors:

  • Time it right: Based on circadian rhythms, research has shown that the best time to take a nap is between 2 pm and 4 pm. This is probably the time you feel sluggish anyway, so go ahead and schedule a nap for this window during the afternoon to get refreshed for the evening without interfering with your nighttime sleep.
  • Set up your napping spot: A great nap will be planned ahead of time so your sleep environment is optimized. This means no disturbances, no distractions, no light, and a comfortable place to lay your head. More on this later.
  • Order yourself one “nappuccino,” to go: The thought here is that it takes about 15-20 minutes for caffeine to hit your system, which means having a shot of espresso immediately before laying down for a nap can have a double impact. You’ll nap long enough to feel refreshed and wake up just in time for the caffeine to take effect.
  • Try meditation if you can’t fall asleep: Meditation is an effective way to calm your mind if you need to fall asleep but just can’t keep your mind from racing. You can download guided meditations for free online to help you focus on something other than your to-do list while you’re trying to restore yourself.

Finding a place to nap

Your nap won’t happen if you don’t have a spot for it. After all, pretty much every workplace frowns upon people sleeping at their desk. At the very least, it’s unprofessional along with distracting. Here are some ideas of where to nap, whether you can sneak home on lunch break or you’re stuck at the office:

At home

If you work from home, stay home with the kids, or are able to drive home during lunch, you’ll have to consider the type of nap you want to take before figuring out where to take it:

  • Your bed: Your bed should be the most comfortable spot in the house to sleep, which is why it should be reserved for your deeper sleeping naps. You’ll be tempted to stay in bed for longer than 20 minutes, so find somewhere else to take your power naps.
  • Comfy chair: A comfy chair or couch is ideal for power naps. It will be comfortable enough for you to fall asleep for 20 minutes but not so comfortable that you want to stay there all day.
  • Somewhere dark and quiet: Anywhere you nap during the day should be dark and quiet so you can sleep without distractions. Plan this out ahead of time if you’re able to sleep at home during the day. New parents, this means taking that annoying advice to sleep when the baby’s asleep! Doing the dishes can wait. You need to sleep while it’s quiet.

At work

Aside from your oh so comfortable desk, where can you lay your head during the workday? If you don’t happen to work at an office with a dedicated napping lounge (yes, those do exist but no, not nearly as frequently as we’d like), then try out one of these places:

  • Your car: What you do in your car is nobody’s business, and if you’re able to park far away you can probably get away with napping without anyone even noticing. Just make sure to set an alarm. Bring a sleep mask with you if you have a hard time falling asleep in the bright light of day.
  • Conference room: If your conference rooms are like most, they don’t have any windows and can be scheduled ahead of time. Schedule the smallest one for yourself, lock the door, and rest for 20 minutes. If your door doesn’t lock, just sit close to it so you can react if someone opens it.
  • Your office: If you’re lucky enough to have your own digs, pull the shades and sleep in your office. Put a note on the door saying “back in 20” so nobody disturbs you.

Napping and sleeping are awesome, and they’re also good for you. Now that you know the difference between napping and sleeping, along with the best spots to nap during the day, go ahead and schedule one in for today. And be sure to Contact Us if you need more info on the power of naps.