Here’s How Long Your Nap Needs To Be in Order To Ease Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

Photo: Getty Images/JGIJamie Grill
Living in the always-on, boundary-defying world that we do, satisfying the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation of snagging seven to nine hours of sleep each night is no small feat. As such, many folks have leaned into napping in order to counteract the effects of sleep deprivation. And amid the pandemic, especially, the practice may be beneficial, given research that has noted the positive effect napping has had on stress levels for some during this time. But, what's the best nap length for energy that allows you to reap those benefits and counteract the effects of sleep deprivation?

Experts In This Article
  • Jerrold Kram, MD, Jerrold Kram, MD, is a sleep-medicine doctor based in California, who has been working in the field since 1980.
  • Rebecca Robbins, PhD, assistant professor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital

A recent study found that short naps between 30 and 60 minutes were ineffective for correcting an issue of sleep deprivation, but they did mitigate certain negative effects to an extent. "While short naps didn't show measurable effects on relieving the effects of sleep deprivation, we found that the amount of slow-wave sleep that participants obtained during the nap was related to reduced impairments associated with sleep deprivation," according to the report.

Slow-wave sleep is the deepest and most restorative sleep, and it can be entered into in just 20 minutes of being asleep, meaning that a 30- to 60-minute micro nap can be regarded as the best, most efficient nap length for a quick boost of energy. And while the report noted that a short nap of this sort won't alone compensate for sleep debt, sleep deprived study participants made fewer errors in directives they were given with every additional 10 minutes of slow wave sleep they gleaned from a nap. So, as an energy Band-Aid of sorts, the research shows micro naps can be considered a short-term win.

Benefits of taking short micro naps

“A ‘micro’ or ‘power’ nap, defined as a short episode of sleep that's usually less than 30 minutes in duration, has been shown to promote alertness and reduce fatigue among shift workers,” says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, adding that short naps have also been shown to increase physical performance among athletes.

While that may be true, sleep-medicine doctor Jerrold Kram, MD, says the effectiveness of a micro nap depends on how sleep-deprived the person is to begin with. “If fairly well-rested, a short ‘micro’ nap can be refreshing and allow better processing,” he says. “If already sleep deprived, then it may not have much benefit.”

To wit, the recent study does specify that slow-wave sleep gleaned from short naps only minimizes negative effects of sleep deprivation but doesn't resolve them. With that in mind, the quick solution may well be the best nap length for energy in a pinch but not a sustainable solution for optimum sleep health.

How long a nap needs to be in order to ease symptoms of sleep deprivation

Dr. Kram points out that a nap will never alone be a replacement for a good night's sleep, and will also likely not counteract the symptoms and effects of sleep deprivation. But, there are helpful hints to make sure your naps are optimized to your needs. “Achieving deep, slow-wave sleep is more crucial than REM in a nap, though REM is also essential,” Dr. Kram says. “To get a full sleep cycle including REM usually takes at least 90 minutes, which may not be practical for a nap.”

Ultimately, a quick nap may make you feel rested, but working to get on a schedule of regular and sustained sleep is vital to your overall health and well-being. Humans are wired to sleep in one consolidated block, ideally between seven to nine hours in duration, to support optimal heart, immune, brain, and body health,” Dr. Robbins says. “Unfortunately, many struggle to maintain sleep, which experienced in the longer-term may be a sign of the sleep disorder insomnia, at which point it may be a good idea to speak to a sleep specialist.” If you regularly find yourself struggling through the day with low energy, a nap might be just what you need to perk back up.

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