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Nap vs Sleep & Best Time to Take a Nap During the Day

Who doesn’t like naps? Best feeling ever, or is it?
Author avatar: Andrew Jolie Andrew Jolie March 11, 2024 4 min read

Understanding the differences between napping and sleeping can help optimize your rest and improve your overall health. Because…there is definitely a difference. Let’s take a look at the differences, the impact of napping on nighttime sleep, and the best times for a daytime nap.

What is the Difference Between Nap and Sleep?

As you probably gathered, napping means short periods of sleep, usually during the day, while full sleep cycles occur over longer periods, typically at night (if you’re not a shift worker). The primary distinction is the duration and depth of sleep. Naps are shorter and don't typically involve deep REM sleep, making them less restorative than full sleep cycles.

How Does a Nap Affect Your Sleep?

Research suggests that napping can affect nighttime sleep, mainly if the nap is long or taken later in the day. Short naps of 20-30 minutes can enhance brain function without interfering with nighttime sleep, but longer naps may disrupt sleep patterns, potentially making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep at night.

Does Napping Count as Sleep?

While napping can contribute to your overall rest, it does not provide the same benefits as a complete sleep cycle. Naps are beneficial for immediate relief from sleepiness and can improve alertness and performance. However, they are not a substitute for the comprehensive benefits of nighttime sleep, which is crucial for deeper physical and mental recovery. So, it’s not a great idea to turn napping into a habit to replace regular sleep.

When is the Best Time to Take a Nap During the Day?

The ideal time for a nap is typically in the early afternoon, around 1 to 3 PM. This timing works well with the body’s circadian rhythm, preventing the nap from being too close to your bedtime. Napping during this window can help boost your energy levels without compromising your nighttime sleep.

How Long Should a Nap Be vs Sleep?

The optimal length of a nap is different depending on individual needs and circumstances but generally, a short nap of about 20–30 minutes is recommended. This length allows you to rest without entering deeper stages of sleep, preventing grogginess when you wake up. In contrast, nighttime sleep should ideally last between 7 and 9 hours to allow for complete sleep cycles.

Benefits of Napping

Napping offers several benefits, including improved mood, increased alertness, and better performance. It can also reduce fatigue and increase cognitive function, making it a valuable and amazing tool for managing sleepiness, especially if you don’t get enough sleep at night or whatever your regular sleep schedule looks like.

FAQs About Napping vs Sleeping

Are Naps as Effective as Sleeping?

Naps are obviously not as effective as a whole night's sleep. They primarily boost alertness and improve short-term performance, rather than providing the deep, restorative stages of sleep you get during a more extended nighttime rest. Napping can be beneficial in the context of short-term recovery and managing fatigue during the day, but it should not be used as a consistent substitute for nighttime sleep.

Is Taking a Nap a Good Way to Catch Up on Your Sleep?

While naps can temporarily alleviate sleep deprivation symptoms, they don’t replace the need for consistent, adequate nighttime (regular) sleep. Short naps can help supplement sleep, especially under circumstances of restricted nighttime sleeping, but they are not nearly enough to recover entirely from extended sleep deficits.

When is it Too Late to Take a Nap?

It's generally best to avoid napping after 3 PM as naps taken too late in the day can interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. Timing a nap earlier in the day helps boost your energy without messing up your regular sleep cycle.

At What Point Does a Nap Become Sleep?

A nap extends into full sleep if it lasts longer than 90 minutes, as this period allows most people to enter deeper stages of sleep, including REM sleep. These extended naps can be incredibly refreshing but may affect nighttime sleep quality and timing.

Are You Fully Asleep When You Nap?

During a typical short nap, you do not enter the deep REM stage of sleep, which has more profound healing effects on the mind and body. Instead, you stay in the lighter stages of sleep, which are easier to wake from and less likely to leave you feeling groggy.


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