How to Take a Power Nap: Tips from the Latest Research

Elizabeth Saenger, PhD

Use these evidence-based tips on strategic napping to:

  • increase your energy level
  • sharpen your memory
  • improve your health

Bigger Isn’t Better

A recent study of napping during a simulated night shift compared people who napped for ten minutes with people who napped for thirty. The experiment found the shorter naps were:

  • beneficial immediately
  • more effective during the day than at night
  • better than longer naps. Shorter naps resulted in less fatigue, and less “sleep inertia,” or initial disorientation upon waking, than longer naps.

Evidence from other experiments also seems to find that naps under 30 minutes are best. For example, one study followed elderly adults for as long as nineteen years as they lived in the community. The researchers found that naps of 30 minutes or more were associated with:

  • depressed mood
  • coronary heart disease
  • cancer

In general, longer and frequent naps, especially for older people, are associated with poor health. However, when assessing the meaning of naps, it is important to look at the total amount of sleep a person gets, including sleep at night.

Nap After Learning

Studies usually, but not always, find that taking a nap after learning improves your memory of the material and your cognitive performance. This occurs in many different kinds of people, and situations, such as:

  • three-year olds who learned novel verbs more effectively when learning was followed by a nap (vs a period of wakefulness)
  • pre-schoolers whose executive attention increased after naps (vs no naps)
  • sleep-deprived adolescents whose impaired processing speed was partially compensated for by naps (vs no naps)
  • young adults who were asked to remember words, and had greater recall and recognition of those words after an afternoon nap (vs a period of quiet wakefulness)
  • elderly adults, whose improvements in cognition were associated with naps, but only if the naps were less than 90 minutes.

The benefits of napping extend to learning physical skills, too. A 2017 study of juggling found that after instruction, volunteers who had a 70-minute nap (vs a rest period) performed better. The researchers concluded that adding naps to daily athletic training might improve outcomes. However, they did not explain why a longer nap (vs a nap under 30 minutes) would be so beneficial.

Try Strategic Naps

Under some circumstance, napping for a reason may change, or even save, your life. For example, research suggests if you:

  • drive at night professionally, a short nap before your shift may increase alertness, and reduce the chances of a car accident
  • take a nap of 20 to 30 minutes midday, your mood will improve
  • take medication for narcolepsy, multiple naps can help you manage excessive daytime sleepiness