Napping: Health Benefits And Drawbacks


Medically Reviewed

Dr. Heidi Riney is the chief medical officer of global sleep health leader Nox Health.
Heidi Riney, M.D. Sleep Medicine / Sleep Health / Neurology
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Hey, Health Coach,

I’m holding down two jobs and not getting enough sleep. I’m always exhausted by the weekend and have been napping a lot more lately. Are naps good for me, or do they disrupt my sleep at night?

— Running On Empty

Dear Running On Empty,

Napping can be one of the sweetest, most satisfying experiences of being alive. It can also be a juggernaut that knocks you out cold and leaves you feeling sapped, disoriented or, as you mentioned, wide awake at night.

Matthew Walker, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, wrote in his book Why We Sleep that humans are biologically predisposed to “biphasic” sleep, a pattern of sleeping for long stretches at night with shorter naps in the early afternoon.

This pattern can explain the lull in energy and attention many of us experience after lunch and why you might be feeling a natural pull toward napping—especially since you’re working two jobs. Under the right circumstances, the benefits of napping can reach far and wide, but timing and duration can make a big difference in your ability to wake up again and fall asleep easily at night.

The ideal schedule differs for everyone, but extensive scientific evidence is available to help you identify the perfect rhythm to stay rested and productive.

Benefits of Naps

Research supports a number of potential health and wellness benefits of napping, many of which are described below.


Under the right circumstances, studies show that naps can increase alertness and cognitive performance, helping you stay focused and energized during the day.

Memory and Learning

From kids to college students to adults, naps are shown to help improve both memory and learning ability.

Mood and Stress Relief

Napping can also help support emotional resilience, reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being.

Physical Recovery

A 2021 systematic review of studies in Sports Medicine shows that naps can help reduce fatigue and enhance physical recovery, especially when people are sleep deprived or engaged in demanding workouts or other activities[1].

Heart Disease Prevention

A major study in Archives of Internal Medicine of over 23,000 healthy adults in Greece found over a period of six years, those who napped occasionally had a 12% lower risk of dying of heart disease, and those who napped regularly had a 37% lower risk[2].

More broadly, while napping no more than 30 minutes at a time is associated with better health outcomes in older adults, longer naps (at least 90 minutes) are associated with greater health risks[3]. For this demographic, longer naps may be a result of underlying conditions rather than a cause, although more studies are needed to explore these associations.

What Are the Drawbacks of Napping?

Napping can have a few potential downsides as well.

Disruption of Nighttime Sleep

Your primary concern isn’t unfounded, Running On Empty. Research shows napping too close to bedtime or taking very long naps can interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. However, if you stick with shorter naps earlier in the day, you may avoid disturbing your evening shut-eye. In some cases, napping can actually help increase nighttime sleep, but it can also push your bedtime later into the evening.

Sleep Inertia

Longer naps may lead to sleep inertia, a groggy, disoriented feeling that can affect performance immediately after waking up from a nap. The feeling can last about 30 minutes on average and is generally worse when people are sleep deprived.

Sleep Disorders

If you have insomnia or any other sleep disorder, napping could have unintended consequences. Also, if you’re unintentionally napping or feeling they need to nap because you can’t stay awake, such symptoms may be suggestive of an underlying sleep disorder. If you’re prone to insomnia, irregular, haphazard napping patterns can increase your risk. Check with your health care provider if you think naps could be interfering with your sleep schedule.

How Sleep Works During Nap Time

As I mentioned in a previous column about managing insomnia, Dr. Walker reports that the urge to sleep comes from two different forces: circadian rhythms and sleep pressure.

Circadian rhythms are your daily, natural sleep-wake cycles primarily regulated by light exposure, genetics and the temperature of your home. Meanwhile, sleep pressure is the product of a neurotransmitter called adenosine that builds up through physical and psychological activities throughout the day until we succumb to feelings of fatigue.

Sleep pressure can build up long before your circadian rhythm cues you to go to bed at night, and a short nap can help alleviate that pressure, boosting your energy long enough to get some work done.

Regardless of the time of day, there are four stages of sleep:

  • Stage 1 marks the transition from waking to sleeping and is the lightest stage of non-REM sleep.
  • Stage 2 includes light non-REM sleep where brain waves and breathing slow.
  • Stage 3 features slow wave, deep non-REM sleep where muscles relax and heartbeat and breathing are at their lowest levels.
  • REM sleep is the dream stage in which the eyes move rapidly from side to side, brainwaves are variable similar to when you’re awake and heart rate and respirations can increase.

Whether your nap should be long enough to allow all four stages depends on your circumstances, the demands on your time and body, and how well you sleep at night.

How Long Should a Nap Be?

Athletes or night workers may benefit from long naps of 90 minutes to two hours, but for most people, research suggests 10 to 20 minutes of stage 2 sleep is the most effective way to get an energy boost. However, achieving that second level of sleep takes time. Some people take longer than others, so a 20- to 30-minute nap window could be a healthy length of time for most people.

Tips for Taking a Great Nap

To take full advantage of nap time:

  • Put screens away.
  • Make the room dark, cool and quiet.
  • Get horizontal (rather than trying to sleep upright in a chair).
  • Keep it short—20 to 30 minutes should do.
  • Take your nap before 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.

Listen to Your Body

It sounds like you’re under a lot of pressure, and your body is asking for a break in the middle of the day. Only you can know for sure—from experience and experimentation—if naps benefit you, make you sluggish or disrupt your nightly routine.

Experimenting with the timing, length and frequency of naps can help you find a reliable schedule that works for you, but according to the data, an early-afternoon siesta could be a healthy and very satisfying addition to your daily routine.

“Hey, Health Coach” is for informational purposes only and should not substitute for professional psychological or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your personal situation, health or medical condition.

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