By Chris Obenschain
It's 2 p.m. and you're tired. You've been busting your you-know-what since midmorning, and even though you have hours left in your day, you're mentally and physically exhausted. But what if we told you there was a way to refresh and recharge -- that taking a nap could help perk you up, plus it could boost your memory, creativity and even lower your blood pressure? So could you spare 90 minutes? No? What about 60 minutes? Or 25, 10, or 6? Yes, really -- six minutes. And there's no hard-and-fast rule for how long you're out. Napping for almost any amount of time has its benefits, so check out this guide (and your schedule) to see what nap length will best work for you and when.
Ninety-minute naps are great -- if you can afford to take the time. Sleep cycles run in 90-minute patterns, taking us back and forth between lighter and deeper sleep. Most of us have between four and six sleep cycles a night, so if you can manage to take a 90-minute nap, you're getting an entire sleep cycle. After awakening from one of these epic naps, you'll likely be more mentally focused and productive, plus you'll probably notice a boost to your physical energy and feel more balanced emotionally.
Unlike hour-and-a-half-long naps, 60-minute naps don't allow you to finish a complete sleep cycle, so they can leave you feeling a little weary. But if you have the time (lunch break, anyone?) they're usually still worth it. According to Michael Breus, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of upwave's sleep experts, 60-minute naps can help improve memory-related tasks. "Sixty-minute naps improve memory," he says, "though because they can make you groggy, taking a shorter nap is usually a better option."
30 To 45 Minutes
In a 2008 study, 45-minute naps helped lower the blood pressure of patients of participants facing psychological stress. But there's a downside. "Naps longer than 30 minutes will likely cause sleep inertia," says Russell Sanna, Ph.D., the executive director at the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and an upwave sleep expert. "Scientists tell us longer naps can cause grogginess."
10 To 20 Minutes
This is arguably the most effective nap length (unless you have an hour and a half to spare, of course). Ten- to 20-minute naps will help you perk up with little to no grogginess, so you can rally throughout the afternoon and don't have to worry about crashing later. In a study of first-year medical students, brief afternoon naps improved the mental acuity and alertness of participants, which are benefits we could all use a little more of.
Breus is a fan of 25-minute naps. "Twenty-five-minute naps work best," he says, "because you get actual rest, which reduces the body's need for sleep without causing the sleep inertia that comes with 30-minute and longer naps."
If you're flagging in the afternoon, taking a six-minute snoozer will likely perk you up, as super-short naps are thought to improve alertness and memory. One study found that "a sleep episode as short as six minutes was enough to significantly boost memory performance." And we're talking declarative, or long-term memory, meaning that you'll have an easier time tomorrow remembering what you did today. All after just six minutes of shuteye.
But it's important to remember that a six-minute nap can't take the place of a proper night's rest. "Six-minute power naps are helpful if you're getting enough sleep," Breus says, "but if you're sleep deprived, they probably won't be enough. Your body needs more rest."
So if you're getting sleepy-eyed, take a short (or a long) snooze. We'll still be here when you wake up, and you'll probably feel better for it.