The Dos and Don'ts of Taking the Perfect Nap

Woman napping on couch
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Sleep deprivation is said to be a "public epidemic" by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with an estimated fifty to seventy million Americans who have a sleep or wakefulness disorder. While there are practices that you can utilize to get better sleep, sleep deprivation is often a fact of life. One of the best ways of managing sleep deprivation is by taking a nap.

Naps have not only been found to help in the recovery process after sleep deprivation, but have also been said to increase alertness, creativity, memory and productivity.

Not all naps are created equal.

This article discusses some "dos" and "don'ts" of taking the perfect nap, so that you can make sure you are maximizing a nap's potential to give yourself the boost you need.

Do: Nap at the same time daily

The idea is to get your body used to the same schedule, much like it is important to try to maintain consistent sleep and wake times at night and in the morning. Ideally, schedule your nap seven to eight hours after waking, when you may be most in need of it. For most people, this would fall in the early afternoon.

Don't: Nap after dark

If you nap after dark, your body might think that it is actually going to sleep for the night. Napping after dark can make it harder to wake up afterwards. A late morning or early afternoon nap is a better idea than napping after dark.

Do: Eat before napping

Napping after lunch is a great time to get your rest. By eating first, you will be less likely to be woken from your nap by hunger.

 It is not a good idea to eat foods heavy in fat or sugar, as these foods can make it more difficult to fall asleep. A better choice of food includes those higher in calcium and protein, which are more likely to promote sleep.

Don't: Drink alcohol or take sleeping aids to induce a nap

The point of a nap is to feel refreshed, but if you drink alcohol or take sleeping aids prior to your nap, you will wake up feeling groggy and possibly even more tired than prior to sleeping.


Do: Keep your naps short and sweet

"Power naps" are known to be right around twenty minutes. It is important to keep your naps short so that you only go through stage one and two of sleep, without entering into the deeper sleep associated with stage three, which is harder to wake up from. 

Don't: Sleep for too long

You probably know that feeling of waking up from a nap and feeling more tired than when you originally put your head on the pillow. The solution to this problem is to shorten your nap time. Sticking to shorter naps will prevent you from falling into deeper levels of sleep that are harder to come out of than the lighter sleep that is associated with the first two stages of sleep.

If you can get the timing right, do: Drink coffee before napping

Much advice out there says to skip the coffee before your nap, as caffeine can interfere with your sleep or make it impossible for you to fall asleep. If you can get the timing right, however, coffee before napping might result in even greater alertness upon waking. According to a study of sleep deprived drivers, researchers found that caffeine ingested before a fifteen minute nap was most effective in the reduction of sleepiness and driving impairments upon waking.


A perfect nap may only take twenty minutes, but can make a big difference in your life, especially if you are having a hard time getting enough sleep otherwise.


Banks S, Van Dongen HPA, Maislin G, Dinges DF. (2010). Neurobehavioral dynamics following chronic sleep restriction: dose-response effects of one night for recovery. SLEEP, 33(8):1013–1026.

Greenfield, B. (2014). Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health, and Life. USA: Victory Belt Publishing, Inc.

Horne, JA, Reyner, LA. (1996). Counteracting driver sleepiness: effects of napping, caffeine, and placebo. Psychophysiology, 33(3): 306-309.